Keisha Thompson

© Audrey Albert

There are many things that I love about being a part of the Contact family. One of them is its location. A stone’s throw from RNCM and the Whitworth, heritage centres like Manchester Museum and The Pankhurst centre; the science park and the hospitals, and I’ve not even started on all the great bars, restaurants, leisure centres… it is pretty overwhelming, to be honest.

Prior to joining Contact as an employee, I was a student at Xaverian College, then the University of Manchester then Manchester Metropolitan University then back to the University of Manchester, so it’s fair to say that Oxford Road has been a pretty big part of my life for a long time. I’ve spent a good chunk of my time dragging my friends to various venues and events along this wonderful traverse and it is exciting to see that over the years things have become more orchestrated and connected. I love that we are now calling this space – the Oxford Road Corridor

For anyone who isn’t aware of Contact’s history, it was once a part of the University of Manchester set up in 1972. (We are proudly celebrating 50 years of existence from this summer for a whole 50 weeks but I’ll speak a bit more about that later.) Today, although we operate as a more independent entity, we still have a strong relationship with both of the Manchester universities. Many students and academics come through our doors on a regular basis as audience members, participants and partners. 

Once you’re in through the door, you’ll be able to find out more about all the juicy activities we’ve got planned to celebrate 50 years of Contact. Our doors are open to all. I am all about social mixing and community cohesion.

Our recent capital project involved the creation of a new space – Space 0 – funded by the Wellcome Trust, which is allowing us to build on the years of work we have done with researchers and academics. We are super excited about the possibilities of this space and it speaks to what is happening along the corridor. There is innovation in the air. With places like the Bright Building, FutureEverything and SODA, the prospect of new cross-sector partnerships is truly palpable. In my new role as Artistic Director at Contact, one of my responsibilities is seeking out opportunities that will serve my organisation, the sector and this city. I am particularly keen to see how we can work together to support Manchester’s aspiration to become carbon-neutral by 2038. 

As a cultural centre, we are in a position to program exciting environmental works like Pigfoot – Hot in Here. A carbon-neutral dance party celebrating action for climate justice. Developed from interviews between young people in the UK and climate activists around the world, Hot in Here explores the UK’s place in the global climate crisis and shares the action young people are taking around the world to prevent it. The show is powered by the first energy-harvesting dancefloor in live theatre, converting the energy of the performers’ bodies into electricity. Made by Pigfoot, a multi-award-winning theatre company telling stories about the climate crisis, with the least carbon impact possible. 

Keisha Thompson
© Audrey Albert

Our upcoming autumn season is a huge invitation for people to come in and find something that serves them. There is something for everyone. We’ve got comedy, theatre, music, live art, exhibitions and spoken word. There’s silly stuff, political stuff, I’m-not-really-sure-what-this-is stuff. And to top it off, we have GRUB and House of Habesha running our bar and kitchen this season.

I’m proud to say that despite coming in during the summer, I’ve managed to slot myself into the program too. With not one but two projects: Halo and 14%. In collaboration with Contact Young Company and assistant director, Al Conteh, I will be devising Halo, a show inspired by the Halo Code; a campaign fighting for the protection and celebration of Black hair and hairstyles. It is going to be a raucous and musical embodiment of people’s hair journeys and experiences. The show will be presented on 24th – 26th October. 

My other project for this season is 14%: Offside. In association with the National Football Museum, I am developing a full production that will be presented next year alongside the Women’s World Cup 2023. As a part of the script development, I am hosting a series of talks with key speakers from the industry to discuss topics such as women’s football, racism in football, and LGBTQ+ representation alongside screenings of the FIFA World Cup matches in Space 1. Many people, myself included, are keen supporters of football but struggle to find spaces where we can feel comfortable watching the match. We will be showing matches throughout the day in Space 0 and Space 1 from 21st Nov – 26th November. Bring your nan, your neighbour, your niblings and your pet newt. 

Keisha Thompson
Contact Artistic Director/CEO

Pigfoot: Hot in Here
Contact | Until 3 November 2022

HOT IN HERE explores the UK’s place in the global climate crisis, and the action we can take to prevent it.

Contact Young Company: Halo
Contact | Until 26 October 2022

Contact’s new Artistic Director Keisha Thompson teams up with Contact Young Company to direct their Autumn show!

This article was originally published in the new Oxford Road Corridor zine. The autumn edition is available to pick up for free from spaces around Oxford Road. You can view it online here too.

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