“People’s dreams can come true.” – Meet Tarik Elmoutawakil, Creative Director & Community Organiser #ICMyPlace
Tarik Elmoutawakil fell in love with Brighton when he first came here to study in 2001. Twenty years after graduating, he now works as the Creative Director of Marlborough Productions, a leading UK producer of queer-led, intersectional performance, parties and ‘radical community gatherings’.
A true creative, Tarik has several strings to his bow. He’s an artist, community organiser, and psychology graduate. It was our absolute pleasure to speak with Tarik about how he found his place in Brighton’s diverse theatre and performance scene, how the city’s creative community has evolved, and the advice he’d give to artists starting their careers here.
How has Brighton’s performing arts scene evolved since you’ve been here?
I’d say that in the last ten years, there’s been much more understanding of how important it is to centre the narratives of marginalised people – and that the arts aren’t just for straight, white, middle-class people. Now, you’re more likely to find marginalised artists down here making a career, which wasn’t the case ten or fifteen years ago.
What’s the best thing about working in the arts in Brighton?
I love that Brighton is relatively small, so it’s easy to bump into people, particularly in the summer months. People are milling about and there’s a beautiful spontaneity that happens in the city. You end up meeting people that you wouldn’t normally expect to meet.
“There’s a beautiful spontaneity that happens in the city.”
There are so many creatives in the city, it’s not hard to have a community of friends made up exclusively of artists. I think that’s the best way for artists to develop and grow their practice – knowing and being friends with lots of other artists.
What opportunities have you found in Brighton that you think you might not have found elsewhere?
Brighton is the kind of place where people will let you have a dream. In other cities I’ve lived in, you might dream about doing something, but then struggle to find places to do it, or there’s a ridiculous amount of competition. In Brighton, opportunities seem more accessible.
The mentality of people here is different as well. In Brighton, people will believe in your dreams, or at least not quash them, so you can have a beautiful vision. Then because no one’s telling you it’s not possible, you find ways to make it happen. It’s an optimistic city.
“Brighton is the kind of place where people will let you have a dream.”
Brighton is also a place people come to for pleasure and joy. That’s a great thing to have when you’re an artist, as things can get tricky and difficult sometimes. Having somewhere where that’s a really beautiful place to be, a place that feels healing and joyful, is a really good foundation for being a creative person.
You have such a unique identity, how has Brighton helped you find that?
What’s great about Brighton is that people don’t really care what you wear. You can be wearing the most outrageous, ridiculous costume on the high street and most people won’t blink twice. It gives you the opportunity to experiment and play, to really feel into what you want to be, how you want to present yourself, and how you want to be in the world.
“Brighton is a city that understands individuals and celebrates them.”
I feel like Brighton is a city that understands individuals and celebrates them. It’s not a place where people are expected to conform.
What’s your favourite venue in Brighton?
I really enjoyed The Marlborough. I was there for 20 years, and we did amazing things during that time. I also have a big passion for putting performances and creativity out onto the streets. Public art makes it possible for someone to just wander by and engage with something weird and unusual when they’re not expecting to. They can have their day transformed by an encounter that they hadn’t even bought a ticket for.
“The streets of Brighton are my favourite venue… people can have their day transformed by an encounter that they hadn’t even bought a ticket for.”
We can get really interesting reactions from people in the street as well. I think people feel they have more ownership of themselves on the streets. They feel able to respond more authentically to what they’re seeing, whereas when you go into a theatre, you’re kind of trained to behave and respond in a certain way.
When you’re in the street, you can whoop, cheer, or boo if you want to. You also get a much more diverse mix of people seeing and engaging with your work. So, I’d say the streets of Brighton are my favourite venue.
What advice would you give to young performers or creatives coming to Brighton to study or start their careers?
Believe in yourself. Don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. Get to know what other performers are doing, but don’t compare yourself to them and don’t let it stop you.
Get involved in the creative communities here. Get to know people who work in venues, use their spaces. Reach out to people, including artists in the city that you admire, and say hi. They might be too busy to say hi back, but they might not be.
“Treating people as friends you haven’t yet met is a great way to build a community.”
Generally, Brighton is a friendly place. It’s the kind of place where treating people as friends you haven’t yet met is a great way to build a community. If it doesn’t exist already, build the community that you want to exist in. Others similar to you will probably want it too.
What’s the best project you’ve worked on in Brighton?
A few years ago, I started work on a project called Brownton Abbey which is still alive and well today. Brownton Abbey came from the realisation that although I was having a wonderful time in Brighton and it’s very welcoming to unusual and interesting people like me, I struggled to meet people who shared the marginalised identities that I have.
I wasn’t in regular contact with other disabled, queer people of colour, and being marginalised in those three different ways has a particular effect on an individual. I felt like I was misunderstood. For example, something would happen to me that felt like a racist experience, and generally, people wouldn’t believe that would happen in the wonderful city of Brighton.
It was helpful for me to find other people who’d had similar experiences. Creating a project that addressed those issues allowed me to build a community that has been really empowering, both for myself and others.
Brownton Abbey is a futuristic space church themed performance party that centres, celebrates and elevates disabled and queer people of colour. It’s a big party with a political agenda. Though we don’t talk politics at events, they’re experiential and focused on making performance art accessible to people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre.
“I want people to feel that they can be noisy or quiet, or respond to the performance in an embodied way, where they don’t feel like they have to follow any rules.”
We like to break the rules of the theatre. I want people to feel that they can be noisy or quiet, or respond to the performance in an embodied way, where they don’t feel like they have to follow any rules. The first time we did Brownton Abbey, as part of the Brighton Festival, it was quite remarkable.
There’s a misunderstood idea that you can only be empowered if you’re part of the majority. I’m interested in exploring ways in which minorities can be empowered, in feeling that you can be in your queer body, feel sexually empowered. That might be about being able to dance in a museum, or to dress how you like at the theatre.
It’s also about being able to respond to work as your queer self. I’ve been in places where I’ve held back my reaction in case it offends somebody who’s not used to being offended.
We need to make performance spaces accessible to different marginalised audiences. That means putting some of the power and control into the hands of the people organising these events, and being part of the community seeking to make performance accessible.
Follow Brownton Abbey on Instagram: @brownton.abbey
Find out more about Brownton Abbey: https://brownton-abbey.com/