When Theatre Transforms Spaces

Studying how the city of London, England and theatre interact by examining research papers, novels, essays, and first-hand accounts from those who have visited before is nothing to one’s own experience of the city. When I arrived in London, England at Gatwick Airport, in order to get to my destination, Queen Mary, I had to take a train and it was the view from the train that struck me first. As the train slowly pushed through the countryside, small communities lingered in my sight line. Graffiti, crumbling infrastructure, and overgrown plant life filled my view until I entered the city at Victoria Union Station. These communities did not receive the benefit of the tourism that has transformed the London city centre. As the train trekked deeper into the heart of London, lots of scaffolding entombed buildings and cranes littered the skyline. From this image I learned that the city is always changing, building on the ground and legacy that came before. London, England is a hub for monumental historic and theatrical spaces.

While travelling in the underground subway stations, I was astonished by the abundance of advertisements promoting shows. This abundance is lacking in London, Ontario. In London, England there are theatres considered to be West End, some outside of West End, and another dozen belonging to the off West End category. Each day and night there is a large quantity of shows to be seen. There is such an abundance that there are small shops/kiosks selling tickets at a discount the day of the performance to fill the thousands of seats belonging to the many theatres in London. As the class explored the city, Professor Kidnie explained to me that theatre was playing a significant part in urban regeneration. The relationship between the city and theatre is what interested me most. London and its theatre culture were deeply intertwined and woven in such a way that it is inescapable like the oxygen we breathe.

The area which I would like to closely examine is the environment and location around the National Theatre, and the re-constructed Globe Theatre that has drawn millions of viewers and Shakespeare enthusiasts from across the globe. As I walked along the Southbank of London, England I saw food trucks, lounge chairs, coffee shops, monuments, benches, restaurants, and play spaces for young children such as an elongated sandbox. Children can climb up a bright orange sculpture that can also be used as a slide. A colourful carousel dominated a small portion of the Southbank, and not far from that there was a skatepark covered in layers of graffiti. Professor Kidnie explained that twenty years before, the now thriving skatepark that allows individuals to explore their own creativity with graffiti and push their skateboarding skills further, was home to countless homeless people underneath the overpass. Row after row of individuals living in poorly constructed outdoor places of residence. However, as theatre and the arts continued to grow on the Southbank, there became no place for these individuals who had no home in this area. Those who had called the area home for an extended period of time were pushed out by commercial spaces taking advantage of the theatre goers nearby. When theatre transforms spaces, in some circumstances it does not benefit the local communities and the individuals that live within it. The area becomes condensed with tourists and commercial shops are pursued instead of pushing for more affordable housing and/or resources for those who are disadvantaged. Theatre’s transformative nature can be beneficial if they communicate with the community and focus on goals for educational opportunities, inclusivity, and support for those who need it most.

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