Q&A with new team member, Liam Gifford
We’re thrilled to welcome Liam Gifford to our Play to the Crowd family as our Young People’s Producer. Liam will take the artistic and strategic lead in developing and delivering a creatively exciting year-round programme of work for and with young people aged 18 and under, within the newly developed Playmakers brand.
What attracted you to Play to the Crowd and working in Winchester?
My passion is to be able to create theatre-making opportunities which unite and excite young people, working with them to produce new work and reimagine existing texts. Since Play to the Crowd's vision is to invite the community to 'escape from the ordinary' through connecting and participating with its work, I knew this was the company I wanted to join and work for.
To be given the opportunity to work for the people of Winchester and the district as Young People's Producer is a real honour, and I cannot wait to collaborate with them and develop opportunities to engage with Play to the Crowd as theatre makers.
You’ve joined the team during the Covid-19 pandemic and whilst we’re in a National Lockdown, how has that affected you starting your new role?
I’ve joined Play to the Crowd at a time when the cultural sector and our country as a whole continue to face a particularly tough time. Cultural organisations across the country, including Play to the Crowd, have had to work really hard to raise funds and needed to make tough decisions to keep operating.
Before starting work at Play to the Crowd, I temporarily returned to teaching in schools; an experience that proved to be very different to the last time I had worked full-time in education in 2018. I saw first hand the new challenges, experiences and pressures the school staff, pupils and their families were having to deal with, and I have nothing but admiration for them.
With all of that in mind, I feel extremely lucky to have been given this opportunity to join a brilliant organisation who are allowing me to find my feet in a safe and supported way. I can't wait to be able to meet the whole Play to the Crowd community - hopefully at this year's Hat Fair festival if not before.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before joining Play to the Crowd?
As I mentioned earlier, I am passionate about working with people on new theatre projects for traditional and non-traditional performance spaces, and I have been fortunate enough to do this for a number of years in different guises. Most recently, I was Youth Theatre Director for Nuffield Southampton Theatres from 2018 until its closure, responsible for the programme of work for 5 to 25-year-olds both in-house and in the community. After its sad closure in the first lockdown, I kept busy on a number of projects, including working with Mayflower Theatre to establish and lead their new youth theatre offer.
Before working in the cultural sector I was a teacher of KS3-5 Drama for 6 years, having achieved my PGCE qualified teacher status in Drama at Aberystwyth University.
Away from my work as a teacher and director, I have been fortunate enough to gain much experience as a theatre-maker since my initial training at Dartington College of Arts. I have created work which has seen me perform at festivals and venues across the UK as well as being invited to perform at the inaugural Neu/Now festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. I have also been the founding member of three theatre companies in the South West, creating work in response to key social issues and performing new writing by new playwrights.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about in your role as Young People’s Producer?
I am really excited to continue the brilliant work Chanele and the team have been doing with all the young people who engage with Play to the Crowd. Over my first few weeks, I am looking forward to talking with Chanele, the Play to the Crowd community and fellow organisations to build an understanding as to where our work can go next, while also sharing with them my own ideas. There are lots of projects I have worked on and established in my previous roles which I would like to explore here in Winchester while trying out some new ideas as well.
It is a really exciting time to join the Play to the Crowd community as we continue to develop our Playmakers offer to encourage the whole community to explore their creative sides. I hope that I can bring many exciting, engaging and accessible ways for the young people of our community to connect with and participate in our work.
How important do you think theatre and arts is for young people today?
What I love about theatre, arts and creative activities is that everybody can be creative.
No matter their circumstances – personal, socio-economic or geographic – everybody can create in any medium, at any time and with any effort they choose. Taking part in creative activities has been shown to make us happy, make us feel less lonely and make us feel more confident. It gives us the chance to escape.
What we have collectively been through this past year has shown us that we should embrace those moments of escapism.
As Young People's Producer, I look forward to providing opportunities to unite and excite the young people of Play to the Crowd, and help them to escape with us.