Speak Easy: The Collaboration With Nottingham Playhouse Providing Young People With Creative Spaces

Words: Lottie Murray
Photos: Nathan Langman
Friday 28 April 2023
reading time: min, words

Members of the UNESCO City of Literature Youth Board, Connor Brown and Abi Hutchison, have created an event called Speak Easy in collaboration with Nottingham Playhouse. We chat to the duo about breaking into the creative industry as a young person and what the event means to them…


Moving into the creative industry isn’t always encouraged. There’s a lot of negative language used when discussing a career in the arts. Which is why one of the main aims of the UNESCO City of Literature is to push young people to connect with their creativity. And, likewise, this is why Connor Brown and Abi Hutchison decided to set up Speak Easy. Inspired by lockdown, which “gave the time and freedom for so many people to turn to an artistic outlet”, the pair quickly realised that there was real desire for creative spaces. 

Hence, Abi and Connor co-led and curated Speak Easy, the spoken word collective which is a testament to the incredible work they’re doing to encourage young people to showcase their own poetry. Held at one of the most established creative venues in the city, Nottingham Playhouse, it’s an accessible and inclusive space to hold open mic evenings and welcome “the best young poets Nottingham has to offer” to perform across various dates during the year. 

But how did it all begin? Abi outlines that she is “lucky in the respect that I’ve been connected to the Playhouse since I was sixteen. I was part of the homegrown performers programme, which is about developing as a creative in the theatre scene, so I did a lot of writing and directing, and then I became part of the UNESCO Youth Board too.” 

From the very get-go, the Head of Participation at the Playhouse, Martin Berry, was very keen to provide the space for the open mics to go ahead, even though the event is free. Therefore, following the go-ahead from Martin, Connor and Abi held their first meeting on 30 December 2021, where they welcomed a “much bigger turn-out than was expected”. 

The spoken word, which the Speak Easy event centres around, comes in many different forms. From poetry and music to stand-up comedy, there is a distinct connection between them all, and they all influence each other in various ways. Many incredibly influential musicians regularly speak about how their love for literature has contributed to the success of their careers, and how their literary skills help them to create their lyrics. And, as Abbie points out, there’s an exceptionally strong relationship between the forms of poetry and rap music, illustrating that creative forms are all on a spectrum with each other. 

Held at one of the most established creative venues in the city, Nottingham Playhouse, it’s an accessible and inclusive space to hold open mic evenings

Described by Connor as “one of his go-to genres to listen to”, the connection between rap and poetry is especially prevalent in Connor’s life because he draws a lot of his inspiration from musicians. “When we have meetings, Abi mentions a lot about different writers that have inspired her, and I feel like a fraud sometimes because I don’t know half of the names mentioned as a lot of my inspiration comes from the rap scene, and specifically a lot of American artists such as Witt Lowry.” As Connor notes, it shows that “even though we operate in different art forms, they are so closely connected”. 

Equality, diversity, and inclusion are also huge issues in the creative industry, and one of the main aims of an organisation such as UNESCO is to break down these barriers. Abi outlines that a fundamental issue of the creative scene is that institutions such as schools tend to just sit back and primarily allow only one voice to be heard: “It [the GCSE syllabus] gives people this preconceived idea of what success is and what you need to look like to be successful.” 

Accordingly, one of Abi’s big achievements so far on the Youth Board is being responsible for writing the foreword for the Youth Manifesto for UNESCO City of Literature, which she says is a “promise to change for generations to come”. Finally, Abi rightfully recognises that while the creative scene showcases an “expansive array of voices”, and aims to tackle a tokenistic mindset, this is an issue in any industry and certainly does not exclude creative spaces. “There is a huge challenge of people seeking to look like they're being equal, rather than actually improving inclusivity,” she asserts. 

Finishing up our interview, Connor says, “It’s just such a special place, and a place where everyone can belong,” speaking  incredibly highly of the creative scene and how much it provides a sense of belonging and inclusion. He outlines that to “fit in the creative scene, the only requirements are, ‘Are you, you?’” With this in mind, he has such gratitude for the connections he has made; connections that “I never would have imagined that I would have made”. 

Speak Easy’s next event will take place on Friday 19 May



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