Going Places: Kully Thiarai

After three years in charge of Doncaster’s brand new £22m arts venue Cast, Kully Thiarai heads to National Theatre Wales...

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 Interview with Kully Thiarai, National Theatre Wales

Date Published: 18 November 2016

“The more surprising and generous the offer, the more joyous and inspiring the encounter and the outcome.”

You made Cast ‘a cultural living room for the town’. What will you particularly take with you from your work with the communities of Doncaster for your work in the Welsh communities at NTW?

There were plenty who questioned the wisdom of spending such huge amounts on a cultural project in Doncaster, a town listed as 7th from the bottom in arts engagement across the country. Who would come? Would it survive?

I have always believed that by being artistically ambitious and bold, making an offer in a generous and honest way, creating the right kind of welcome and space, people can and do engage with the arts. Doncaster’s communities didn’t lack interest, ambition or creativity, there just had been little or no opportunity for them to meaningfully engage with the arts. Our aspiration was to create a welcoming place for performance, participation and provocation; a place for artists and audiences alike. One has to just create the space for that to be possible. The more surprising and generous the offer, the more joyous and inspiring the encounter and the outcome.

NTW is renowned for staging productions all over Wales. What exciting locations are you planning to work in?

The focus for our work is people and place and there are so many wonderful places to discover that I’m sure I’m going to be spoilt for choice. You’ll have to wait and see!

How have you used learnings from the Clore Leadership Programme in your career to date?

The programme is a wonderfully, transformative opportunity. It offered me a rare chance to properly reflect on my personal values and approaches, appreciate and challenge my working methodology. I was able to interrogate and question traditional models and explore different approaches, consider new ideas and learn from other inspiring leaders. I continue to try and address the most urgent questions that we should be asking through our work in order to shape a better future for everyone.

The recent theatre repertoire report found that Wales appears to be in a golden age of theatregoing, taking 72.3% of its potential box office and filling 73.2% of its seats, the highest proportion of any UK region. What do you put that down to?

That’s perhaps happened in the same way that the spirit of the Welsh football team has inspired the nation and brought everyone together to celebrate and dream of the impossible. Since its inception in 2010, NTW has created the space for people to come together and collectively share the power of the arts; to give a voice to a nation and its people. Perhaps by enabling artists to be bolder and braver, NTW has played its part in helping to shape this current golden age.

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