From 2011- 2016 Tom was the Artistic Director of POPULACE, a theatre company that aimed to instil a sense of positive political agency in audiences and provide a platform for stories that needed to be heard. POPULACE's work explored the relationship between direct action and theatre, discovering innovative ways for audiences to be agents of change. POPULACE won two IdeasTap awards and created work for Bush Theatre, Rich Mix, The Junction, Ovalhouse, Lyric Hammersmith, Hackney Empire, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, The Roundhouse and Southbank Centre. POPULACE also ran an annual event, Reclaim The Future, where artists of various disciplines were invited to rapidly respond to world events and celebrate counter-culture.
P O P U L A C E
Swan Love was a rapid-response guerrilla dance piece to bring the censorship of Homosexuality in Russia to a wider public forum. It was performed one week after the anti-gay laws were enacted and foreshadowed the arrests of Pussy Riot later that year. This protest flash-mob ballet had a cast of 12 and was presented at the first Bush Bounce, curated by Sabrina Mahfouz.
Swan Love was political, entertaining and innovative in its choreography, direction and execution. The response was incredible. This is a company that can excel in using art as a catalyst for change given the appropriate support and opportunities.” Sabrina Mahfouz
Cast: Lucy Wray, Tom Ross-Williams, Brian Martin, John Fitzpatrick, Kyle Treslove, Dani Meehan, Caitlin Thorburn, Jess Barker-Wren, Gabriella Schmidt, Chiara Wilde & Max Wilson and Lucy Phelps
As part of a scratch night Populace showcased Yesterday, a dance-theatre piece investigating the role of police brutality within the context of protest. The performance was set against a video installation referencing high profile police incidents in 2012 (including Andrew Mitchell ‘Pleb’ comment and the killings of the Manchester Met Officers). It was then further developed for a showing at Populace's Reclaim The Future event as a response to the recent protests in Turkey.
Almost Definitely invited the audience to question if theatre-going is the first step to standing up for what you believe in and how a theatrical intervention can become a clandestine protest. It was presented as part of West Yorkshire Playhouse's regular scratch night, Playground, curated by Amy Letman.
Populace devised Almost Definitely in direct response to an environmental tension which the theatre found itself in. A major piece of land in the same square as West Yorkshire Playhouse had remained undeveloped for 10 years. The site was owned by a corporation and enclosed by an imposing wall which adversely affected the surrounding community. Even theatre posters were prohibited from being put up on the wall. So as a collective we took action and the performance ended with the audience creating a guerrilla gardening protest and planting a row of 50 shrubs along the line of the wall.
SWAN LOVE - BUSH THEATRE
YESTERDAY - LYRIC HAMMERSMITH
ALMOST DEFINITELY - WEST YORKSHIRE PLAYHOUSE
PROTEST : THE MUSICAL - OVALHOUSE & RICH MIX
Developed from transcripts and recordings of interviews we conducted with protestors from Greenham Common, Occupy, anti-fracking movements, UKUncut and journalists, Protest : The Musical explored the history of female activists across generations and the tradition of protest music. After a week's R&D at the Ovalhouse we presented a work-in-progress showing at Rich Mix as part of Theatre State's residency.
FUN PALACES - HACKNEY EMPIRE & THEATRE ROYAL STRATFORD EAST
You’re given a package – there are four questions and four ballot boxes and what seems like a lot of arts and crafts. There is 25 minutes on the clock and a mission to change the world with what we have in the room. What follows is a journey of discovery to a secret location where we unearth just how easy it can be to stand up for what we really want.
Our “Change The World” interactive performances were presented at both Hackney Empire & Theatre Royal Stratford East to engage local communities in collective direct action. Part workshop & part performance, each Fun Palace led to a communal action: making a wild-flower meadow in a local estate in Hackney and going along to support the occupation of Carpenter's Estate with the Focus E15 mothers in Stratford.
FOCUS E15 - YOUNG VIC, THE ROUNDHOUSE & SOUTHBANK CENTRE
Based on verbatim testimonies from the mothers of Focus E15, Populace partnered with the artist Emer Mary Morris who had been part of the campaign since its origins. After a successful R&D at the Young Vic, we performed scratches at the Southbank Centre as part of the Changing Britain Festival. We then were invited to perform this at Deanna Rodger’s event exploring the housing crisis, HOME at The Roundhouse.
By choosing to speak through the voices of those involved these talented actors showed a different side to a story well documented by the press, an acapella singing trio using verbatim dialogue being a highlight of the piece. They revealed that behind the sensationalised news items vilifying them as ‘benefit scroungers’ were a group of women desperate to keep their homes and their families from needless uprooting.
Read the full review of HOME at The Roundhouse here
Cast: Zainab Hasan, Danielle Meehan, Lotte Rice, Jennifer Daley, Brona Titley, Deanna Rodger, Angel Asante & Grace Surrey
FOCUS E15 AT THE SOUTHBANK CENTRE 2015
F O U N D I N G O F P O P U L A C E
M I S S I O N S T A T E M E N T
Populace was founded by Jess Barker-Wren, Victoria Lupton and Tom Ross-Williams. Lucy Wray joined the company as co-director in 2013. Populace formed after a discussion with David Lan to stage a theatrical occupation of the Young Vic on the weekend of the royal wedding in reaction to the recent arrests of the Fortnum & Mason protestors. Unfortunately, the theatre made a last minute decision to close that weekend, but we didn’t stop there and Kate Madden from The Junction, Cambridge invited us to host our first R&D where we brought together core members of an ensemble, identified issues which needed a platform and explored ways of giving an audience agency.
Populace was created in response to the arrests of anti-cuts protestors in March 2011. Our aim is to re-invigorate political theatre with a sense of inclusive vibrancy, and optimism. Our practice builds on stimuli from current events and responds through devised, interactive and often movement-based theatre to energise audiences and galvanise their potential for action.
P O P U L A C E I N T H E P R E S S