Meet Keisha Thompson – youngest CEO and artistic director in Contact Theatre’s 50-year-history

Keisha Thompson is the youngest person ever to take on the role of artistic director at Contact Theatre
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Keisha Thompson is the new Artistic Director and CEO of Contact in Manchester.

She is the first Black woman, first Mancunian to run this exciting theatre and performance space.

At 32, she is the youngest woman to ever take on the role.

Keisha calls this unique building the ‘Castle of Curiosity.’

I attended a production recently and this title suits it perfectly, it is welcoming and you want to come back for more and investigate what’s on offer.

We caught up with Keisha to find out about the Contact Young Company production Halo which runs from 24 – 26 October, what’s in store for 2023 and so much more.

Keisha and the Contact crew

Can you tell us a bit about the Young Company production you have coming up later this month?
It is inspired by the Halo Code which is a campaign set up by five teenage girls in London who wanted to challenge hair discrimination for people with afro textured hair in schools and workplaces.

We have created a fun and energetic piece of work that is celebrating their youthful voices and black hair.

Where do you find the young talent?
All over! They come to us which is great but we also do a lot of outreach to make sure we engaging with a range of young people across the city.

Some of them know that they want to perform and have experience.

Others are completely new to it. We always want to cater to broad spectrum of experiences and interests in the company.

What was your first experience of theatre that had an impact on you and why?
It was probably a piece of ballet.

I used to do it at school.

I remember being taken to somewhere that was probably the Palace Theatre or the Opera house.

I was blown away by the spectacle of it and could feel the appetite of wanting to be on stage.

I was drawn to the idea that you could create things in real life that came from your imagination.

This was probably the first time I realised you call tell a story purely through movement.

What do you love about Manchester?
Very tricky question – there’s so much.

So maybe that’s the answer.

It is home to so many different types of people and cultures.

It has a brilliant political history.

We are lucky to have so many brilliant people and stories attached to our history.

I’m super proud to be a Mancunian.

What would you change about the city and why?
More green spaces – always. More connection between various parts, particularly North and South.

More opportunity for independent entrepreneurship and more social housing.

How does your Christmas production offer an alternative to the traditional Pantomime?
It’s an 80s-themed Robin Hood and it has cross-generational appeal.

You have had quite a few productions staged without the need for seats. How do these promenade style productions engage audiences who may not feel theatre has not been for them in the past?
Our focus is on experiences and providing people an opportunity to engage with topics in an unusual way.

We do not necessarily go out of our way to make or support promenade work but we do support work that is experimental or non-traditional.

Does being young or the fact that people mention it offer an added pressure or does it make you more determined or driven?
I am galvanised.

Hosting this space and having my lived experience is a USP if you will.

I do not feel that I have anything to prove.

I am aware that I may not have the same amount of experience as other people in my role but I’m excited by the idea of how much I will learn.

What was the last piece of theatre away from Contact that blew you away and why?
I saw The Wonderful World of Dissocia at The Theatre Royal, Stratford East a few weeks ago. I adored it. Particularly the first half.

I thought the team and the writing was brilliant.

The second half created the divide which I also enjoyed.

I ended up having conversations with strangers on the tube and in a restaurant on the following day, so that was great.

Any piece that gets people talking is doing a good thing.

It allowed us to reflect on the use of humour and surrealism to make comment on mental health and considered how nuanced are reflections are on that theme compared to the time when the piece was written.

 Can you give us any details about what lies in store for Contact audiences in 2023?
We’ve got a brilliant line-up for Queer Contact including some wonderful events with associated artists such as Fisayo Akinade.

We’ll be concluding our 50 Weeks of Anniversary fun with a Big Banquet in association with Sophie Willan.

We’ll be announcing more details for the spring season in November so make sure you get signed up to newsletter.

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