As the city emerges from lockdown, the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had, particularly on the arts and cultural sector is undeniable. But Nikolai Foster, Artistic Director of Curve theatre, feels we all have a role to play in reviving the diverse, cultural undercurrent of Leicester.
“There genuinely were points over the last 18 months where we weren’t sure if at the end of this, there would be a theatre standing on Rutland Street and you know, if Curve would survive,” he explains. “Our hope is that audiences will come back. You know, because that habit of going to your local theatre is now broken… and people are used to watching TV or staying at home and I think it’s so important that we’re coming back into our city.”
It’s apparent from chatting with Nikolai — who was born in Copenhagen and raised in Yorkshire — that he loves living in Leicester. He moved here seven years ago to begin his role at Curve and feels the city gave him a warm welcome. “It’s such a welcoming, kind, open-hearted city and now I sort of feel like I belong in Leicester,” he says, adding: “The thing that first struck me about Leicester… It has the ambition and it has the scale of a city but we can walk across it in 15 minutes.”
He also says he loves the intimacy of living within a tight-knit community: “People know each other, people care about each other and we care about our industries and our businesses and our communities and we care what happens to each other and we know about what’s happening within our friendship groups or community groups. That’s a beautiful thing”.
Coming from humble beginnings, Nikolai says that theatre and the arts wasn’t something that regularly featured in his upbringing. Once he had developed a passion for theatre, he initially directed it towards the most visible element of what he had come to love: acting. “I never really imagined there were directors and lighting directors and stage managers – and so I assumed that I wanted to be an actor.”
Following what he thought was his lifetime passion, he enrolled in a drama school but some time into his training, it became apparent to him and those around him that he had begun branching into a different direction. “I was sort of writing mini sketches for my mates and my drama colleagues and I was bringing projects together and I was interested in the lighting.”
After this revelation, Nikolai continued his education in acting however, in his third year as a student he specialised in directing and began to work closely with people who already had experience working in the role. It’s likely that this education helped propel him to the helm of one of the UK’s leading theatres so it seems natural now, that he uses his platform to fight against the erosion of the arts in British schools. “I worry today that arts education and arts funding is an ever diminishing thing… Obviously it’s something we fight for at Curve and will continue to advocate for,” he maintains.
However, although the Artistic Director keenly expresses his love for his busy career at the theatre, after lockdown brought productions to a grinding halt, he was forced to be introspective about his work-life balance: “I realised quite early on that I am defined by my work and [Curve] is my life… So suddenly for that to stop, there was a bit of an identity crisis because you suddenly realise that actually, ‘I probably need to get a bit of a life outside of work!’”
Following ‘freedom day’ and after the Curve team have worked hard to ensure the theatre environment is as safe as possible, the sense of urgency to usher visitors back in is palpable: “20% of our funding comes from the Arts Council and Leicester City Council – 80% of the funding comes from ticket sales so when that stops, you can imagine the devastating impact,” he explains.
To encourage visitors back to the Cultural Quarter, Curve are collaborating with Leicester City Council and The Business Improvement District (BID) on an initiative that will see the theatre host a month of diverse, vibrant productions and activities on their newly-built, outdoor stage. Available with the free entertainment will be outdoor seating, bar-service and an open cafe.
Productions begin 6 August 2021 and will be hosted on Fridays and Saturdays of the month. From family activities to evening entertainment, there is a host of activities for all. To find out more, please visit: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/curve-on-the-square/
By Gita Sarasia