Abdul Shayek announced as new Artistic Director of Tara Theatre

3 August 2020

Tara Arts’ Board of Trustees today announce the appointment of Abdul Shayek as the new Artistic Director & Joint CEO.

Under Shayek’s artistic leadership Tara Arts will be a world class creative voice for the largest minority group in the UK. Platforming a blend of new and old voices, supporting emerging and established artists. Presenting traditional and innovative new forms of performance which will be accessible to all.

Shayek’s focus in the coming weeks will be meeting our local Wandsworth community, listening to the needs of artists and establishing a space for debate and action to address the burning issues of our day.

Shayek’s first piece of work, Final Farewell, will explore how the people of Wandsworth say a proper goodbye to loved ones lost during COVID 19. Audiences will hear the stories of members of our communities, whilst tracing their steps on journeys across the borough. The event will culminate in a celebratory finale at Tara each night.

During Autumn 2020 Abdul is inviting residents to come and join him on walks across Wandsworth to share stories and places of interest. He is inviting artists to join the company’s online forum Tea with Tara as a space to listen to their needs post pandemic, with a particular focus on supporting South Asian artists.  

He is inviting leading thinkers, artists and community leaders to explore urgent global questions around race, climate emergency and class in a series of curated panel discussions. The first of these will be a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

We look forward to announcing further details of Abdul’s forthcoming artistic programme in due course.

“Tara Theatre was born in response to the racist murder of a young man. Over 40 years later, in response to yet another murder, we find ourselves asking the same questions about our society, both here in the UK and across the world.”

Abdul Shayek, Artistic Director, Tara Theatre

Tara Theatre: Founded in 1977, Tara Arts and its award-winning theatre in Wandsworth, was the first Asian, Black and ethnically diverse led theatre company in the UK. To this day it is the only such company which has its own building. Tara Arts has delivered numerous world class productions, worked with a range of partners, from the grassroots to cultural powerhouses.  In its work it has endeavoured to challenge the status quo, support and develop artists with a particular focus on those of South Asian heritage.

Abdul Shayek, said: “Tara Arts was born in response to the racist murder of a young man. Over 40 years later, in response to yet another murder, we find ourselves asking the same questions about our society, both here in the UK and across the world.  Historic injustices and the distorting of narratives have led us to a point of unequivocal consensus on the need for change. As we move into this next chapter, Tara Arts will honour what came before, whilst throwing ourselves into the future and opening our doors wide. We will listen to those who have been affected most by this current crisis to tell us how best we can serve them.  We understand our sector and society is in the midst of challenging times. We will rise to this challenge. We will seize this moment of opportunity to listen to the needs of our sector, our community, our audiences, our artists and we will support and nourish them. We will serve our local, national and global communities, develop new audiences through the work we make, challenge what theatre can be, who is making it and most importantly who has access to it.  Now is the time for change.”

Sunita Pandya, Chair of Tara Theatre Board, said: “After a rigorous appointment process, I am thrilled that Abdul will be joining us as Artistic Director. Abdul brings great programming and curatorial experience, and a genuinely refreshing approach to connecting to local communities. As we look forward to the next chapter of Tara’s history, I’m excited that Abdul will be at the creative helm, driving the impact, agency and change we all know Tara can, and will, achieve.”   

Helen Jeffreys, Executive Director and Joint CEO said: “On behalf of the entire Tara Arts team, I am delighted to welcome Abdul Shayek as our new Artistic Director and Joint CEO. I am hugely excited to begin working with him. With Abdul’s exceptional vision, experience, artistic talent and energy we will bring about change, serve our artists, audiences and communities and build a bright future for Tara Arts.”

Justine Simons OBE Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, said: “Tara Arts has led the way championing diversity in the performing arts, and Abdul’s experience working with young people and the community at Fio and at National Theatre Wales, alongside his passion and knowledge will be a huge asset for an exciting new chapter at Tara Arts”.

Joyce Wilson, Area Director, London, Arts Council England, said: “This is a really important step in a new era for Tara Arts. Abdul brings a wealth of experience to the role, as well as some exciting and ambitious ideas on how the organisation can make a difference, not just in showcasing great work and supporting artists, but also in its local community.”

Wandsworth Council’s cabinet member for community services Cllr Steffi Sutters said:  “Wandsworth is proud to be the home of Tara Arts, one of our leading cultural organisations. While 2020 has thrown up many challenges for our communities, we look forward to continuing to work closely with Tara Arts on how we best serve our residents and ensure that our cultural offer reflects the diverse myriad of voices found within the borough.”

Alison Woods, Chair of Fio Board, said: “After his many successful years in Wales, Fio is enormously proud that our founder and Artistic Director is moving on to lead such a prestigious company. Abdul has been an inspirational figure in Cardiff and we know how much he will bring to the role of Artistic Director and Joint CEO at Tara Arts. We wish him every success as he continues his journey.”

Abdul Shayek is the founding Artistic Director & CEO of Fio. Fio is an international theatre company based in Cardiff and is the only Asian, Black and ethnically diverse led theatre company in Wales.  Abdul has directed the following Fio touring productions ‘Swarm’, a site-specific show about migration, Katori Hall’s ‘The Mountaintop’, ‘Death and the Maiden’ by Ariel Dorfman, and Athol Fugard’s ‘The Island’ which toured across the UK. He is currently working as director and dramaturg in Fio’s stage adaptation of ‘The Orchard of Lost Souls’ a novel about women and the Somali civil war, which will tour across Wales.  He is also developing a Virtual Reality project with Bangladeshi women, as well as working on transferring a musical celebrating the life of Marcus Garvey from Jamaica to the UK.

Over the summer of 2019, Abdul worked on ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ at English National Opera with Emma Rice.  He will be working with Welsh National Opera on a new project in response to COVID 19 and will also be Associate Director on their new opera ‘Migrations’ directed by David Pountney and composed by Will Todd.

He was associate director to John McGrath on Lemn Sissay’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Superkids- Breaking Away From Care’.  He is a former Creative Associate of National Theatre Wales where he oversaw the companies research and development strand and delivered the ‘Assembly’ programme (a series of performance debate events) across Wales and beyond, with the final event taking place at the New National Theatre Tokyo in Japan.

Abdul is a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow (2013-14) during which he spent time at Film4 and M&C Saatchi.  He is a member of the British Council’s Arts and Creative Economy Advisory Group, vice chair of the National Alliance for Arts in the Criminal Justice System, as well as being a trustee of mid-wales dance company Impelo and No Fit State Circus.  He has also worked as a business consultant for a range of companies including Young Identity, a new theatre design school and various others. 

He has worked with a range of other organisations including Contact Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, RSC, the National and the Almeida.  Internationally he has worked across Europe, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea and Australia.  He is a visiting lecturer at the University of East London and has guest lectured at a host of other institutions.  

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