From Robert Lepage to Captain Kirk, Turtle Key Arts’ Alison King names those who guide and inspire her.
I left Mountview Theatre School in 1992, clutching my Diploma in Stage Management, Technical Theatre and Design. I have been working in theatre ever since and there have been so many people that have inspired me, it is hard to pick just a few, but here goes.
I guess I would have to start with my A level Theatre Studies tutor, Arthur Harwood. He encouraged me so much to pursue a career in theatre and ignored my student teenage rebelliousness, while gripping us with his endless enthusiasm and passion for theatre. I actually got to help him out on a show a few years later and it was so touching to see how pleased he was that I had started work as a stage manager.
Keeping on the theme of college lecturers, Andrew Killian was head of my course at Mountview. He demanded a lot from his students, but he was fair minded and encouraged hard work and best practice. I had several run-ins with him and he despaired over the kind of stage manager I would be, but he also realised and nurtured my independent streak and my slightly maverick ways of working. He allowed us to ‘bend the rules’ to get the show on, which is something I continue to do to this day.
Charlotte Cunningham and Magdalen Wolloshin
When I left college, I realised that all I wanted to do was to run my own theatre company one day and to do work that made a difference. I didn’t want to work on ‘No.1’ tours or work in the West End. I wanted to work in theatre that pushed boundaries, where you had a creative input and could make a difference to communities through that work.
In 1994 I found myself at Turtle Key Arts as a stage manager and I met two wonderful, like-minded people who were doing just that: the founders of the company Maggie and Charlotte. I was hooked and from that point on I didn’t really look back.
Turtle Key Arts was a fully accessible arts space, open to everyone, which programmed ground breaking and original work as well as providing access to the arts. It was a unique hub and a platform for so many of today’s leading artists and companies, all getting their first break at our special space. Maggie and Charlotte were so bold and it was an honour to join their team, I owe them both so much. I do the job I do today because of their belief and trust in me.
I first met Wolfgang in 2001, when Turtle Key Arts started working with Amici Dance Theatre Company, which he founded in 1980. It was the first integrated – disabled and non-disabled – dance theatre company in the UK and they have been at the forefront of challenging people's perceptions of disability for over three decades.
I have had the privilege to witness, first-hand, the work of Wolfgang and Amici in the UK, America, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Germany and Japan. We have done shows together with over 70 people on stage, from all religions, cultures and disabilities.
I have seen how Wolfgang can change lives, unlock people's creativity and provide a safe and accessible space for anyone to engage and connect with the performing arts. To him, everyone can dance and he sees no barriers. The work is humbling, powerful and thought provoking – it is so inspiring to witness and to be a part of. Being involved with Wolfgang and Amici, you see the best of humanity.
It is hard to pick just one artist, director, writer, show or actor that has inspired me. I am fortunate to work with so many talented people and have watched so many great works on stage. I have also been part of so many productions and projects that have inspired and moved me, and changed me for ever.
One artist who does stand out for me, though, is Robert Lepage. His technical excellence on stage, his sets, lighting and costume changes have often left me breathless and in awe of how exactly it was all achieved.
I also know that he has a very strong team around him and works very collaboratively – values that are very important to us at Turtle Key Arts.
James T. Kirk
Lastly, and I know this might surprise some, it would have to be James T. Kirk (Captain of the USS Enterprise).
As a young girl, he enthralled and inspired me. Witnessing the adventures that he and his team had and the challenges they faced, I wanted to join him. Whilst my friends had crushes on pop and film stars, I admired and respected him. I especially admired the fact that, as their leader, he always believed that he was responsible for the actions of his crew – that the buck stopped with him. He always put himself in the line of danger, broke the rules and faced, head on, the moral dilemmas presented to him; always trying to do the right thing.
This resonated strongly with me. It was a narrative that shaped my own leadership skills and showed me the importance of imagination. Today I am part of a team, but I know full well that the responsibility ultimately lies with me and I care deeply for the people I work with, especially at Turtle Key Arts. I would never expect someone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.
Alison King is Chief Executive of Turtle Key Arts.