Finding a creative voice   8 Mar 2005

Tom Wilson talks to ERICA FOSBENDER about building the framework that supports educational development on the South Bank.

It’s a small, unassuming space in Southwark on London’s south bank and shares the area with such theatrical bastions as Shakespeare’s Globe.

The Southwark Playhouse is nestled among some of London’s most famous buildings and some of the city’s most squalid. It’s a paradox that excites educational director and founder Tom Wilson – the area is a hub of cultural activity but also of lower socio-economic living.

Wilson has spent most of his professional life as an English teacher, first in New Zealand then in London, where he arrived in 1971.

"I intended to stay only 18 months but things conspire to change your mind. I loved London from day one."

The main conspirator was meeting his wife Juliet, who is British but was educated in New Zealand and was an actress, which is what eventually lead him to his present position.

But before the Southwark Playhouse there was London.

"You can try things out coming from the outside. It was a thrill being on my own coming into a highly established, highly literate society where the verbal currency is layered and intense.

"You can make your own luck. You’re not burdened by social expectations."

Wilson continued his teaching career in London and had a brief stint in Saudi Arabia to boost his personal coffers. He worked in Brixton, another lower socio-economic area that offered huge professional opportunities. Wilson was head teacher for the school whose closure he described as a "tragedy" – when the doors closed for the last time "I was the man who threw the key in the bushes".

He then became an advisory teacher for the Lambeth area but was eventually laid off and paid a small pension, which was a "blow to the self esteem".

At 50 Wilson was at a crossroads of sorts. His wife, a West End actress, had devised a one-woman show on the music of German composer Kurt Weill but couldn’t find a theatre to put it on.

"I knew about the Southwark space and knew there was a real demand for a high-quality theatre space in south London."

So he took his redundancy and reinvested in building the theatre.

It started out with an audience capacity of 60, with no heating or ventilation and church pews for seating, but on November 26 1993, Juliet’s show had a space and Wilson’s "life took a different turn".

Since then there have been extensive refurbishments with the help of grants from the Southwark Council and Lottery Commission, which has pushed the seating capacity to 90.

"We’re running on 3.8 people [the .8 is Juliet who only works part time], we all have to do everything. It’s a huge advantage, the ownership of the space is not diluted by extra people."

Wilson’s love of teaching kicked in again and he devised educational projects to "take the theatre to the community or bring the community to the theatre".

"One reinforces the other."

He missed the annual rhythm of the schools so slotted in the new and faster rhythm of the theatre into their English curriculum. Wilson would go into the schools and work on material with the students, a recent example was their production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, where they had more day performances than night so school groups could attend.

"The theatre is creatively alive. It’s a short-term, powerful excitement with the long-term rhythms of the schools."

Tucked into the intimate space of the Playhouse, students followed the actors’ interpretation of The Tempest with a written copy of the play. About a week later the set had been dismantled and the next production taking form – part of the quick rhythm of the theatre.

Wilson is particularly excited about the theatre’s involvement in the filming of The Time Capsule (now complete) – a project that evolved out of interaction with Spa school – a school for children with disabilities, particularly autism. It was a challenge and often frustrating "but the kids just loved it", he said.

Helping to find that creative voice is what it’s all about for Wilson and the Southwark Playhouse, which will continue to fill that unique place in education and the community.

Add a comment

Bookmark and Share

News

New Zealand increases climate finance commitment to Pacific

25 Sep 2018 Environment By RT HON JACINDA ARDERN
25 SEPTEMBER 2018 New Zealand increases climate finance commitment to Pacific New Zealand will increase its global climate finance... more

New powers to combat drug smuggling at sea

26 Sep 2018 News By Hon Kris Faafoi
26 SEPTEMBER 2018 Minister of Customs Hon Kris Faafoi has welcomed the passing of the Maritime Powers Extension Bill which will help... more

Business

Multinationals to pay fair share of tax

26 Jun 2018 Business News
26 JUNE 2018 HON STUART NASH New measures to ensure multinational companies pay their fair share of tax will come into force next... more

NZ Government launches Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures

22 Aug 2018 Business News By Hon Damien O'Connor
21 AUGUST 2018 Growing New Zealand's food and fibre sectors sustainably and supporting a thriving economy are the hallmarks of a new... more

Living

REVIEW: Modern Maori Quartet's "Two Worlds" at Edinburgh Festival

20 Aug 2018 Arts By Justine Redfearn
The Modern Maori Quartet are back at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with their new show “Two Worlds” - harmonising... more

INTERVIEW: NZ's Delaney Davidson back in London

20 Aug 2018 Entertainment By Charlotte Everett
Following his sold out show in May at London's Servant Jazz Quarters, Delaney Davidson will be back next month -... more

Property

More certainty in construction sector smooths boom and bust cycle

22 Aug 2018 Property
30 JULY 2018More certainty in construction sector smooths boom and bust cycle HON JENNY SALESA The 2018 National Construction Pipeline... more

NZ Property: Foreign buyers ban passes third reading

15 Aug 2018 Property
15 AUGUST 2018 HON DAVID PARKER The Bill to put in place the Government's policy of banning overseas buyers of existing homes has... more

Migration

Christchurch reinstated as refugee settlement location

18 Aug 2018 Migration
18 AUGUST 2018 HON IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY The announcement that Christchurch can once again be a settlement location for refugees... more

Post-study work rights emphasise skills NZ needs

8 Aug 2018 Migration
8 AUGUST 2018 HON IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY Changes to post-study work rights will help ensure international students coming to New Zealand... more

Travel

Arrival card change to smooth border process for international travellers to NZ

26 Sep 2018 Travel & Tourism By Hon Kris Faafoi
25 SEPTEMBER 2018 International travellers arriving into New Zealand should have a simpler, faster entry as a result of changes to... more

NZ Government to fully fund Auckand's SkyPath as part of $390m investment in walking and cycling

25 Aug 2018 Travel & Tourism
23 AUGUST 2018 HON PHIL TWYFORD HON JAMES SHAW Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw have... more

Sport

America’s Cup court ruling vindicates process

26 Sep 2018 Sailing By Hon David Parker
25 SEPTEMBER 2018 The Environment Court has today granted the resource consent for the 36th America's Cup bases in Auckland and the... more

Humble Stephen Kearney praises Warriors staff ahead of finals appearance: 'It's not down to one person'

3 Sep 2018 Rugby League
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney paid tribute to the club's unsung heroes ahead of their first taste of NRL finals football since... more

Columns

Gordon Campbell on the Gareth Morgan crusade

11 Nov 2016 Opinion
Gordon Campbell on the Gareth Morgan crusade First published on Werewolf The ghastly likes of Marine Le Pen in France and Geert ... more

Gordon Campbell on the US election outcome

10 Nov 2016 Opinion
Column - Gordon Campbell   Gordon Campbell on the US election outcome Well um.. on the bright side, there (probably)... more

Kiwi Success

Congratulations to Loder Cup winner

26 Sep 2018 People By Hon Eugenie Sage
25 SEPTEMBER 2018 The Loder Cup, one of New Zealand’s oldest conservation awards, has been awarded to Robert McGowan for 2018... more

Appointments to New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO

16 Aug 2018 Appointments
16 AUGUST 2018Appointments to New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO HON JENNY SALESA Associate Education Minister Jenny Salesa is... more

Recruitment

Historic pay equity settlement for education support workers

14 Aug 2018 Recruitment By RT HON JACINDA ARDERN
14 AUGUST 2018Historic pay equity settlement for education support workers RT HON JACINDA ARDERN HON CHRIS HIPKINS Prime Minister The... more

Historic pay equity settlement for education support workers

22 Aug 2018 Recruitment By RT HON JACINDA ARDERN
14 AUGUST 2018Historic pay equity settlement for education support workers RT HON JACINDA ARDERN HON CHRIS HIPKINS Prime Minister The... more