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Soho Theatre is a world-renowned venue which hosts live audiences of 250,000 per year and has just launched its second Amazon Prime Video series. But for their next big move, taking over the Hoe Street site which once housed the EMD/Granada cinema, Soho’s new Community Engagement Officer, Shazad Khalid, is looking local for his audiences.
I can’t even tell you how many Waltham Forest people and organisations I’ve met these past five weeks. I’m looking into local groups and communities already doing work with young people, older people, refugees, getting an idea of their resources, and where the gaps are, and looking at how Soho can create opportunities between us, and bridge some of those connections between them.
If you’re setting up base in a long-standing community, it’s going to have a very clear voice. I want to say my job is to talk to people, but really it’s to listen: to soak it all in, to observe what’s working and what’s not.
I grew up just off Lea Bridge Road, so I have a history here. I remember watching films at the EMD cinema in the early noughties, and as a freelance artist one of my last spoken word events was at Mirth, Marvel and Maud, in the same space. My grandfather used to distribute Bollywood films to the cinema that became the EMD. It means a lot for that to be part of my history. It gives me a sense of legacy, a sense that I have a stake in the space.
Now that my career trajectory has brought me back to working with the community, working with Soho and the Council, I want to make sure that the things I wanted to see as a kid growing up in this town are happening now.
In this role, I can help steer the project’s direction in a way that addresses diversity and inclusivity, and helps find opportunities for local people. Often when people think of theatre, they think ‘stage’. They don’t think about the sound design, sound engineering, light engineering, set design, writing, directing, producing, HR, accounting, marketing. There are so many different options! We need to think about this when we’re setting up workshops to engage local people.
The first community production. As I’m having conversations and sharing plans with people, they get an idea of the scale, but they can’t fully picture it. I’m just imagining working with a group of local young people, and them taking to the stage for the first time, thinking: ‘this is for us!’.
That kind of ownership, to be able to develop a project until it reaches the grand stage, the sense of belonging and the impact that has is massive. That’s the magic right there, building relationships with local communities so that they’re the ones asking: ‘what’s next?’ ‘how can we be involved?’
For more information about the transformation of the EMD/Granada into a local theatre with a national profile, please follow the link below.