Interview: The PappyShow Artistic Director Kane Husbands

Interview: The PappyShow Artistic Director Kane Husbands

As The PappyShow celebrate their 10th Anniversary with a Birthday Pit Party spectacular at the Barbican, we caught up with Founder & Artistic Director Kane Husbands to talk about a decade of PappyShow, the value of inclusivity and identity, the state of UK theatre arts, and (of course) things to do in London…

Hi Kane, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. First, would you mind introducing yourself to our readers?

Hello! I am the Artistic Director of The PappyShow. We’re a collective, a community of people who perform and tell stories. The performers use their bodies to tell stories about who they are and what they want to say.

We use all the different mediums of what performance could be, and how it can appear, and we always reflect a community of marginalised people.

The PappyShow is 10! How has a decade gone so fast?! The birthday celebrations at the Barbican sound great – what can our readers expect in The Pit?

It is an absolute feast! We’ll be joined by pretty much everyone we’ve worked with, they really wanted to be involved so every night will feature about 30 people. People we met at the very beginning, people on our Board, audience members who are regulars, people who have performed in all our shows. I love introducing my friends so this is the best birthday gift I could share with an audience. 

We will be recapping all our favourite moments from our shows; music, dance, spoken word, rap, film, those of you who sent in testimonials – we’ll weave those in too. 

Who or what inspired you to found The PappyShow back in 2013?

I remember it so clearly, it’s a moment that’s stayed with me all these years. When I was younger I was part of the National Youth Theatre (NYT). Peter Collins, one of their Artistic Associates, prompted me. He said “Why wait? If you started something now it could really be something in 10 years.” That resonated with me. 

Around the same time I took the trip of a lifetime, for the first time I visited St Lucia to see my family. I’d heard stories of all these people, my aunts and uncles and cousins. Their generosity. It felt like I was embraced by an army of people and all their support. 

By the end of the trip, I was ready to go back to England and wanted to be in control of my life a bit more. Not rely on chance to get into opportunities and jobs. So I thought “I’ll organise it. I’ll facilitate it. We’ll see if it works.” Every Sunday, NYT gave us their space for a couple hours. I’d see my friends and we’d play, lean into joy. We’d have a great day every Sunday. And then it grew – “what did we want to say?”.

It all came from a wanting to live a happier life. We all work so hard in this industry, I often see some people at work more than my family!! So I surround myself with the people I love the most, my chosen family.  

The PappyShow puts collaboration, community and showcasing marginalised identities at the heart of its work – what are your proudest achievements in those first 10 years?

Now I look across the expanse of who The PappyShow is – it started with my friends and it’s grown so much bigger. We represent inclusivity and identity. Connect so many people who wouldn’t know each other otherwise. Almost 11 years ago, Kwami [Odoom] & Rachel-Leah [Hosker] and I worked together on the Olympics Closing Ceremony. They met there and they got married this year! Their love has lasted all this time. 

When I lost my grandad, all The PappyShow were there for me. We’ve shown up in each others’ lives in a really full way. That level of care. These have been some of my greatest achievements. 

I’ve also loved watching members of the company celebrating their own work, their dance, poetry, discovering themselves through performing. It didn’t feel like there was that space before, for work that doesn’t come from a script or follow a character.

I’ve seen my approach being trickled into spaces. The way we check in with each other, work and interact with more care. I used to see so much harm being done in work with young people, now I see best practise and leaders.

And we’ve won awards! Often our work goes unseen or is invisible, so it shows the excellence of our choices. I’m proud of everyone, where they’ve gone and what they’ve achieved.

What’s coming up next for The PappyShow – any new work on the horizon?

The last thing informs the next thing. So with Shut Up, I’m Dreaming earlier this year it was amazing, working with 15,000 young people across England. They all contributed to creating the show.

And now we’re thinking about broken communities. Where are we now. What has the pandemic left behind? We live in a time where marginalised people are pitted against each other. So we’ve been researching into healing, what is healing? How can we as artists, as storytellers, as communicators use our toolkit to see each other and connect. There’s a lot of hate in the world, we need to lean into care.

In terms of our next shows, we’re building up to a something massive. A musical from a big collective voice. In some way this will be healing for people. An event. You turn up and experience it, feel a part of it, not from a distance or sitting passively. 

And the other project close to my heart is Black Girl MagicIt’s been on pause for the last few years but we’re picking it back up. It’s an appreciation of Black women and their contribution to community. They’re right at the centre of the community and often overlooked. I’m really looking forward to bringing it together, whatever format that appears in. 

What’s your view of the current state of UK theatre arts?

Well, if we look at the challenges that we’re facing at The PappyShow – we haven’t received funding in a long time. I don’t know if it will exist in 10 years. We have been coming back to these important questions, what does the world need? What do we need? We have all these dreams but can we get there? 

We have always held space for marginalised people, but are we causing more harm? We can’t always pay people. So while there is a feeling of belonging of joy of safety, of being in this space which is transformational, with so little resource are we giving enough back? 

So we approach each new project with this mentality – if this was the last one, how brilliant could it be? 

There won’t be companies like ours if you don’t invest in us. Invest financially, but also in the work we do in schools up and down the country, and the trainings we deliver on inclusivity. So much of our work is not just about Theatre, it’s about the people. We’re investing in communities. 

We need to invest in the tools to care for the people around us more. It’s this radical form of care that we have been practicing for a decade, where we lean in and want to show up for people. When the flood happens, we all take off our shoes and wade in to care for the people around us. 

What are your favourite things to do in London?

I think there’s amazing things happening all over the country, and my favourites are where performance happens. These places exist everywhere. 

In London especially, just think about Covent Garden – there are so many spheres and spaces, in churches, in the street. Summer is a highlight for me, being outside and having these communal experiences. Keep your eyes open to performances. And look for it! The best thing you can do is ask where is it happening? How can I find it? I love community theatre, that can be the best performance around. 

Some of the spaces I love – Shoreditch Town Hall, Southbank Centre, the Barbican has so much to offer. And of course the Donmar Warehouse. I got to work on Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage, as their Movement Director. It’s a beautiful show. I kept waiting for the trauma to happen, but it never does!

The PappyShow: 10th Birthday Pit Party is at the Barbican, 1-4 November 2023.