Reimagining Leadership: Five new Unlimited artists

by Jon – founder member

Earlier this year, my co-founder Clare left the company and we began to reimagine what the artistic leadership of Unlimited could become. And I can’t lie that, given we began 23 years ago as a founder led company of six artists, this was A Big Deal – it would be the first time we’d invited anyone who wasn’t a founder to share the responsibility of creating a vision and a programme of work for the company.

To begin with, we imagined simply filling the gap that Clare had left – a new Co Artistic Director who would work part time to create and lead on new projects. And this is the role we originally advertised for with 51 people applying – meaning that my original ambition to meet with everyone who applied was simply unrealistic. So we applied some filters to help us make choices (prioritising applicants with a clearer, existing crossover with our themes and modes of work; with limited experience of working in a company environment; who we believe would experience the most significant positive impact at this stage of their career by working with us) and long listed to 24 people, all of whom I met.

Those meetings were deeply instructive and inspiring and made me think again about how we can have the greatest positive impact for the applying artists. What came through most clearly for me was the resonance I felt with artists already running their own companies, who are extremely committed to continuing to do so and how hard those artists were finding it to take their companies to the next stage of development – particularly in the current climate.

And so we’ve chosen to develop the original offer in response to these conversations. Instead of one, new Co-Artistic Director we’ve created new roles for five artists who we have invited to join the company.

Going forward we will have no Artistic Director but instead a core of six artists, including me. Each artist will lead on the development of a new project for Unlimited that, collectively, forms the company’s vision and programme going forward.

I could not be more proud and excited to welcome…

Rachael Abbey (she/her)
Rachael Abbey a red haired cis woman wearing green courduroy dungarees with knee length black jacket, hooped gold earrings and Adidas shell toe trainers
Rachael is a writer, actor and Co-Artistic Director of Hull based company The Roaring Girls. With Unlimited, Rabbey is creating a show driven by her fascination with conspiracy theories and the social divides they can provoke. Myths, hearsay and misinformation have been rife during the pandemic, as people try to make sense of a rapidly changing world. Where is the point when something goes from being weirdly coincidental to a conspiracy theory, and how can we debunk these myths whilst bringing people back together? Read Rachael’s full bio here

Jamie Fletcher (she/her)
Jamie Fletcher - a white, bobbed and blonde haired trans woman with glasses, wearing black culottes and leather jacket with limited edition “Rainbow” Nike Air Max 90 trainers
Jamie is a director and musician and Artistic Director of Jamie Fletcher & Company, specialising in multi-disciplinary performance, musical theatre and work with socio-political themes. With Unlimited, Jamie is developing an adrenaline-soaked, gender-euphoric musical about a trans wrestler, designed to be experienced in theatres, non-theatre spaces and online. The project will celebrate trans people in sport, whilst examining why being inclusive of trans athletes is still such a contentious issue. Read Jamie’s full bio here

Tyrrell Jones (he/him)
Tyrrell Jones - a white, dark haired cis man with a neat beard, wearing blue jeans, blue double breasted jacket and brown desert boots
Tyrrell is a director and writer making contemporary political theatre and work which provokes discussion and debate mostly as Artistic Director of Knaïve Theatre. With Unlimited, Tyrrell is developing The Breadmakers in collaboration with Jordanian Storyteller Sally Shalabi and Jordanian dance company Studio 8. The Breadmakers will be an intimate, multisensory theatre show that combines storytelling, dance, three dimensional sound design and bread-making to take its audience on a journey through the glutenous strands which bind us across space and time. The process and show will explore humanity’s relationship with bread, land, food production and the origins of food inequality 12,000 years ago and ask in the context of our current climate emergency “can we solve food poverty today?”. Read Tyrrell’s full bio here

Ali Pidsley (he/him)
Ali Pidsley - a tousled and blonde haired cis man with a natural beard, wearing a home knitted brown jumper with orange, blue, green and maroon patterns with blue jeans and black trainers.
Ali is a theatre-maker from Yorkshire, a co-founder and co-Company Director of Barrel Organ. With Unlimited, Ali will work alongside woodland communities to explore the relationship between collaborative theatre practice and ecological biology. In combining these practices, what can we learn about being better human beings and creating a fairer, more sustainable world? Answering this will involve working with outdoor community spaces, hosting series of knowledge and skill-sharing workshops around conservation, culminating in live performance events. Read Ali’s full bio here.

Lauren Nicole Whitter (she/her)
Lauren Nicole Whitter - a black cis woman with natural hair in an orange patterned headwrap, with hanging hooped earrings, wearing black faux leather dungarees over a black and white striped top, black faux leather knee length coat
Lauren is an actress, poet, physical theatre performer, lecturer and Artistic Director of Anansi Theatre Company. With Unlimited, Lauren will be working with women of colour – some from the Anansi Theatre Company tribe and others in the wider community – to develop new retellings of the Anansi Spider story. These plays will be informed by a dual strand of accessible, digital workshops – one focussing on physical theatre and storytelling with community organisations; the other an intensive workshop for theatre-makers, exploring mental health and wellbeing. Read Lauren’s full bio here.

Each of our new Core Artists remain fully committed to their own company that they founded. Recognising the crucial stage of development those companies are at, Unlimited’s existing staff and trustees will support the artists with dedicated, tailored training and mentoring in Leadership, “Artistic Direction,” Company Management and whatever else we (together) identify as most useful – supporting each artist’s professional development and the long term sustainability of their founder companies.

I will remain in post as Chief Executive leading the company’s strategic and business development. As  a core artist with Unlimited, I am currently leading on the development of Space To Fly – a large scale, Afrofuturist aerial spectacular – in collaboration with Dela Victoria Amedume of Upswing slated for production in summer 2023 and developing UNeditions – a digital publishing platform that allows artists to publish and sell “immersive scripts” of plays and contemporary performance work that includes sound and lighting design.

I’ve been working with Unlimited for 23 years and have loved working with everyone I’ve had the privilege to on this journey so far, but I’ve only rarely been this excited to be an artist here. I’m a huge fan of all the new people joining both as artists and as humans and I’m both proud and humbled to be part of what we’re going to create together. Everyone’s projects are brilliant and inspiring on their own merits and I sincerely can’t wait to experience them all. But together… those projects and this group of artists make for a totally unique programme and collective that is going to help change the world. We’re already enjoying working together and talking about more projects we can all work on together.

For now though, follow all of us on all the socials as we move forwards:
Rachael @RachaelCAbbey (she/her)
Jamie @jamie_fletcher (she/her)
Tyrrell @Knaive_Tyrrell (he/him)
Lauren @LNicWhitter (she/her)
Jon @snoopfish (he/they)
Ali @Ali_Pidsley (he/him)
Unlimited @untheatre

Welcome to the shows.

Photos by Lizzie Coombes