Battersea Arts Centre: At the heart of our community

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I can’t stop thinking about Battersea Arts Centre and the recent fire. Watching those images unfold across social media and news sites on Friday is fixed in my mind and they won’t shift no matter how much I try to get on with my weekend.

BAC holds a special place in my heart and it is only through something as tragic as a fire destroying the Grand Hall that I have realised just how important the venue is to me. For the past year I have been working in the building as Associate Producer with Ridiculusmus, an Associate Company with BAC. Each week I find myself immersed in the building. In the last year Ridiculusmus have performed twice there and whilst we’ve not been in the Grand Hall we have been part of the fibre of the building. Our office space sits alongside the staff of BAC and we watch each week the workings of the venue from within. It is a privilege to work alongside our colleagues at BAC, they are such an inspiring team. The offices are bursting with creativity and activity that reflects in the work they produce and foster. They are an extension of the Ridiculusmus family and to watch something so dear to all of us be devoured by flames is heartbreaking.

In 2012 when Maddy Costa and myself began dreaming of new relationships between theatre critics and artists with audiences we immediately turned to David Jubb and his team to align ourselves with their unique vision. Dialogue has had numerous residencies, Theatre Clubs, events and discussions across the BAC building. We’ve been supported and inspired by the work that spills out of each room in the building. The staff supported our vision and BAC as a building supported the foundations of a project that is rooted in experimentation. As a company we owe so much to BAC, we owe the foundations of our company, our vision.

The Grand Hall though, oh the Grand Hall, it is but a beacon of BAC. The hidden gem that lies behind the hive of daily activity at the front of the building. For me the Grand Hall is where the magic of BAC lies, not only in its grand roof or beautiful organ but in the work that is programmed within. This year I weeped silently to Song of the Goat’s Songs of Lear as the most heavily music reverberated around the Grand Hall. But it is my memories of Kneehigh that tug at my heart when I think of the Grand Hall. Watching Don John in 2008 and thinking that if this is the potential of theatre then I could not see another show again and be the happiest I’ve ever been. Stepping inside the Grand Hall that night was magical, it was, and I mean this with all my heart, the most transformative moment for me. It confirmed everything I needed to know: theatre is my joy, my life, and it was felt that night ten times over by the audience watching it under the canopy of the Grand Hall.

The reaction to the news of the fire was, as one person commented, like a kick to the stomach, it winded me. Until this moment I didn’t realise how much BAC meant to me until I saw it in jeopardy. Until I saw the roof ablaze and then an empty shell left behind, I just didn’t realise how much I cherished the building. It isn’t just about the memories of the shows, it isn’t the ethos of the staff and their mission for a new definition of theatre, it is the undeniable beauty of a building that sits in the hearts of an arts community and in the wider community of Wandsworth.

That is what BAC is for us, and by us I mean the collective arts ecology. I’m not trying to paint BAC as the saintly venue, it has its problems and friction just as much as any organisation but it does offer something joyous and unique. It offers a home, for artists, families, a community and a heart for a spirit. That is what has been shown clearly already in other responses and the words of devastation on social media. The Grand Hall may be destroyed but the spirit of the building, the heart of the work has not been taken from us, it rises, as the campaign has been rallying, like a Phoenix.

I’ve already donated towards ‘saving BAC’ via the NFS website, and you can too. If you’ve experienced the building in any of its forms then you’ve been touched by the spirit of BAC and know what I mean when I say it is transformative. Now is the time to donate. An average ticket costs £15 so I’d use that as a recommend donation, but whatever you can give, anything, will help.

Photo by Allegra Galvin on Twitter.