Applied Theatre Action Initiative Interview

Applied Theatre Action Initiative Interview

I recently chatted to Rebecca Tantony to find out a little more about Applied Theatre Action Initiative, a new CIC creating opportunities for young people to become changemakers through spoken word and theatre.

Hello, please tell me a little about yourself and your business.

My name is Rebecca Tantony and I am programmes director for an organisation called ATAI, which stands for Applied Theatre Action Initiative. We have been established as a CIC for two months so we’re very new but the organisation started last year when we ran a pilot project at the Bristol Old Vic.

What we do is we offer a platform for youth to engage with spoken word theatre as a means to explore societal topics which affect them and to then creatively come up with solutions to change the things that are affecting them. What makes us unique is that we find two different youth groups around the world and get them to collaborate; a project we ran last year was between group in Oakland in California and a group in Bristol.  The project we are running next will be between a group in Bristol and a group in Stockholm, Sweden. We communicate through digital media to collaboratively create a piece of theatre and spoken word and to find similarities and solutions.
At the end they perform their work to an audience of community members, stakeholders, and the general public who will then engage in a question and answer session. We then offer phase 2 of the project, providing work opportunities and volunteering for the young people to implement the solutions found during their creative processes. That’s a really important aspect to it.

How has the business evolved from when you first started?

Through this mentoring and this programme at Social Enterprise Works. As I said, we’re a new CIC and what we found was that we have all these grand dreams in terms of the social impact we want to have – we’re very driven by young people. I’m a spoken word artist and my co-worker is a theatre practitioner and musician so we have a lot of experience in terms of the creative aspect of it but we haven’t ran a business before. We’ve been really just honing in our actual business model and working to find viable revenue streams, and working with the customer groups we’re presenting this model to. These things have all been influential in the development of this process. I feel like it’s really helped us to solidify what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and why it’s needed. That’s through a business aspect rather than just a creative aspect.

How do you find balancing being creative individuals and running a business at the same time? Do these things go together?

I think they do, actually. People say that you need different heads for different things but actually it all merges in together. The organisation is creative, and what we’re delivering is a creative project but it’s still a project that has, for want of a better word, business elements to it so we need to think practically about how it’s going to develop and what we’re providing and how it will impact the wider world at large – that’s what we’re doing in the programme itself, too, with the young people. We’re always looking at why and how. It’s almost taking that practical business model and creatively presenting it, there’s definite crossover. I think when you’re a creative practitioner you have to wear many hats anyway. You have to constantly present different things to different people and adapt accordingly, so it’s just a matter of doing that.

Is it important to you feeling that you are helping inspire young people?

Yes, it’s the main driving force of the programme to empower youth to be changemakers and help them realise that they’re not helpless, that they have a voice. We show them that they can work with some of the difficulties that they‘re finding with being who they are in this society at this point within their cultural background and see that they can do something about it. It might be something tiny, for example when we ran the last project, our main topic was the media’s effect of young people. Some of them felt that they were being portrayed in a way they felt didn’t represent them – that they always had their hoods up, that they were all running around in packs being violent and disruptive. The youth we worked with were saying that “actually, we have a voice, we have ideas, we have hopes and dreams and we want to have our voice facilitated within media”. We came up with an opportunity for them to run their own radio station and have a column in a newspaper. It may be small things but it’s definitely those little steps that we are helping implement which can make a bigger difference.

Have there been any challenges in the course of setting up the business and becoming a CIC?

Yes, it’s constant! Lots in terms of having a dream and having an idea but not being sure on how to practically implement it. I’m sure that, through the process of adapting it, by the end we’ll have something that is really secure and accessible to more people which is really the main thing. There’s been lots of small difficulties, things like setting up a business bank account but not having the right documents, or applying be a CIC making sure it’s all done correctly. All the little things which are always coming up.

I think that’s a really good point about having to adapt.

I’m sure that by the end of the process it will make it more secure. At the heart of what we want to do is simply to empower young people through creative means but we’re having to constantly think about the ways in which our criteria matches other peoples to make the business viable.

Do you have any advice for people just starting out in business?

In terms of advice, I think it’s really good to do the groundwork and research and stick to the ethos and intention of your business model. You are obviously starting a business because you have a belief in whatever it is that you’re doing, be it making jam or running and organisation like this, and I feel those initial dreams and ideas are important and you should stick to them. However, initially, I just wanted to jump in and get ahead with running it, but having this time aside to really work out our aims and objectives and research our organisation and slowly come up with the business model has been really beneficial for us. Being able to give yourself the time to do that is a brilliant thing.

Rebecca Tantony

Rebecca Tantony

Programmes Director

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