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Open Lab

Theatre and Dance

Louise Varjack, KISS KISS CRY KILL

Barbican Theatre Open Lab

The Barbican Theatre Open Lab programme gives artists the opportunity to develop a new project, idea or performance as well as taking part in a year-long programme of support.  

The programme has supported over 24 artists for over 4 years with practices ranging from dance, theatre, visual arts and circus. We’re dedicated to continually improving and developing the programme to support the artists that need the space and opportunity. Open Lab will be paused for the next year while we explore additional ways of supporting this important artist development programme.  

Please keep an eye on our website for updates about Open Lab in 2024/2025.

Any queries or questions can be sent to [email protected]

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Current cohort

Find out more about the six incredible artists and companies taking part in the programme this year. 

BULLYACHE is a collaboration between friends and artists Tylor Deyn and Jacob Samuel. A dance company and music duo that explores our working class and queer identity in relation to pop culture. We both choreograph, direct, score and conceptualise our work.

BULLYACHE is the title and character through which we experiment. It’s music, it’s dance, it’s performance. BULLYACHE is in their parents' makeup, flashing between acoustic balladry and rave somnambulism while feeling comfortable in neither, a hyper regurgitation of capital expectations.

Our collaboration started at the end of the Pandemic and so far has been supported by Arts Council England, PRS, Raze Collective, The Place, Britten Pears, Palm Heights Cayman Islands, Bijloke LOD Muziektheater, Artsadmin, Genesis Foundation, Fabric, Sound and Music + Hackney Showroom.


Elisabeth Gunawan is a Chinese-Indonesian theatremaker and actor. She leads the migrant-led artistic collective Saksi Bisou (‘silent witness’ in Bahasa Indonesia); their body of work explores how historically marginalised people can struggle for their dignity and existence by creating their own myths, thus denying the existing sacred and hegemonic fixed point. With Created a Monster, she wrote and performed Unforgettable Girl, which won the OFFFest award at VOILA! Festival. For her performance, she also won Best Performer in a Play in The Stage Debut Awards 2022. Trained at RADA’s M.A. Theatre Lab, she has worked as an actor, performer and deviser with Ad Infinitum, Flabbergast Theatre, and the David Glass Ensemble.


Madeline Shann is a multi-disciplinary artist and activist. Her various disciplines include theatre-making, performance, dance and choreography, writing, music, and film-making.

Her own work explores and deconstructs mass media and pop culture messaging, and uses imagination and connection as an emancipatory tool to combat oppression, with a current focus on the environment, justice, feminism, race, joy, post-capitalist futures and the human experience of facing the age of collapse.


Quiplash is a queer, disability led consulting and performance project headed by actual queer crip married couple Al and Amelia Lander-Cavallo. Quiplash has two strands. We have a creative performance and art branch, making accessible performances that platform queer disabled creatives. We also consult and train other industry professionals on accessibility, disability awareness and disability justice. In both strands, we work from an access first perspective meaning that accessibility is our highest priority and is at the forefront of how we work. This perspective informs our creative practice and overall principles. Operating at the intersections of queerness and disability, we ultimately believe that making truly accessible work is a radical and creative act that can enrich artistic work and create equity and inclusion for d/Deaf disabled and neurodivergent individuals across the LGBTQQIA+ spectrum. 


Jennifer Jackson is a Midlands born Anglo-Bolivian theatre-maker, movement director/ choreographer and performer. Her work interrogates the ways that women and girls use their bodies, her relationship with the UK, and the complexity of living between cultures and races. Her practice is interdisciplinary, intersectional, and inclusive, encompassing theatre-making, live art, contemporary dance, folk dance, martial arts, co-creation and the excitement of a sports spectacle. Awards include: Jerwood Live Work Award (2021), for TAKE SPACE, a body of work which includes the show ENDURANCE (HOME Manchester); Leverhulme Scholarship (2019), for THANK HEAVEN FOR LITTLE GRRRLS, a performance for a cast of 10 year old girls; and most recently, an MGCFutures Award. ENDURANCE was shortlisted for the prestigious Stückemarkt (Theatertreffen 2022), one of 22 artworks shortlisted from 347 global entries. As a collaborator, her recent choreographic work includes the acclaimed I, JOAN (Shakespeare’s Globe).

Libby Liburd is an actor, writer, producer and facilitator with in excess of two decades worth of experience in the industry across a range of different roles.

Libby is best known for her acclaimed solo show MUVVAHOOD, addressing the stigma surrounding single motherhood and her play FIGHTER, based on her personal experience as a boxer and the struggles that female boxers face in a male dominated sport.

In 2021 she starred as dodgy Erica in EASTENDERS. Additional acting credits include: TORCHWOOD (BBC), KINGS (Smoke and Oakum at NDT), BYSTANDERS (Cardboard Citizens).

Libby has featured as a guest panellist on BBC Radio London, Radio 4 with Rev Richard Coles and Radio 5. She’s written for BBC Radio, The Stage, the Evening Standard, Standard Issue and The Guardian.

As a producer, she joined HighRise Entertainment as a core team member in 2019, setting up and managing the young associate company, and progressing to Executive Producer.

She’s also a self taught top nail tech.



We've worked with an exciting host of artists and collectives over the past few years. Find out more about them below.

Claire Gaydon is a theatre-maker and performer creating work in the East Midlands and London. Described as ‘a talent to keep an eye on’ (Gareth Vile, LIST), she specialises in creating research-driven, multi-disciplinary theatre blending social experiment, live performance and multimedia. Recurring themes underlying her work are new technologies, social media and sex. Claire is one of Camden People's Theatre's 2019 Starting Blocks Artists, where she began development on her new show Piece of Me. Her current show See-Through ('Ingenious and thought-provoking' - Lyn Gardner) is touring UK theatres Autumn 2019 & Spring 2020. 

Clumsy Bodies is the collaborative identity of Jess Rahman-González and Oli Isaac.  They are two trans and disabled artists and they are in LOVE. Clumsy Bodies make work about trans narratives through the lens of their romantic relationship.  Their work - across poetry, live art and filmmaking - is playful and unconventional, and strongly rooted in multimedia.  They believe there is a demand for amusing, absurd experiences for trans audiences. In their current practice, Clumsy Bodies are big fans of horror tropes and not so much fans of the fourth wall. 

emma + pj is the collaboration between American theatre-maker Emma Clark and British maker PJ Stanley. We create experiences that blur the lines between theatre, installation, and live art. It’s the liveness that interests us - the weird stuff that happens when you put strangers in a room together, the infinite possibilities of the present moment. We create playful environments that invite us to reimagine how we relate to each other & the wider world. We've presented recent work at New Diorama Theatre, VAULT Festival, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Yard Theatre, BAC, Camden People's Theatre and digitally with Andy's Summer Playhouse.

HiddenViewz are a collective of young creatives from the global majority with a burning passion for social change. They aim to bring a different perspective to the arts and provide a platform for those who are often overlooked in society; these stories are introduced through theatre, film, music and photography. The collective mostly specialise in political, immersive performances – “they like to make the audience uncomfortable, like they can’t eat dinner after.” With previous shows titled Black Love Matters and Under the Mental Health Act, this team are not afraid to break boundaries and debunk social stereotypes.

Julene Robinson is multiple award nominated & winning theatre maker, multidisciplinary performance artist and scientist based in the UK. Robinson completed an undergraduate degree in Pure and Environmental Chemistry at the University of the West Indies. During Robinson’s academic career she was able to harness the transformative power of art and bear reverence to the responsibility that comes with practicing it. She then completed a MA in Theatre at Rose Bruford College. Her work focuses on identity, gender, heritage, science and mythmaking. She interrogates through research and filters these digestions through the body in the medium of theatre and live arts.

Krishna Istha is a writer, comedian and live artist making socially conscious form-pushing work that speaks to taboo or underrepresented experiences of gender, race and sexual politics.

Since 2013, Krishna has performed, devised and collaborated with artists and theatre companies on works that span across theatre, opera, comedy and performance art. Select performance credits include: Wild Bore (2017, Malthouse Theatre Melbourne, Sydney Festival, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Soho Theatre, Skirball Centre New York, Sophiensaele Berlin); Sex Worker’s Opera (2015, Pleasance Theatre, Campagnie Theatre Amsterdam); and Beast (2019, Arts House Melbourne, Welsh Millenium Centre Cardiff and Blueroom Perth). 

Currently, they are writing on Sex Education (Netflix), and is an Arts Admin Bursary Artist

Louise Orwin is an award-winning writer and performance maker. She makes research-driven theatre projects about subjects that are close to home, hard to get your head around, and need to be spoken about. Often this means making work about what it means to identify as female today, in a fast-moving, media-saturated world that prizes patriarchal, heteronormative narratives. Louise likes to make work that is provocative and brash, intimate, awkward at times, and generally filled with a heady dose of pop culture. Her work has toured all over the UK and internationally, receiving global critical acclaim. Past work includes: viral docu-theatre Pretty Ugly, which was featured national and international press all over the world: and award-winning A Girl and A Gun (Vice, Guardian, BBC). Louise received the Flying Solo Award in 2015, was a finalist for the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust in 2018, and was part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase in 2019.

Malik Nashad Sharpe (b. 1992, New York) is a choreographer, dancer, and movement director whose work looks at the production of ontology, affect, and subjectivity from the perspective of marginalisation. Often working with the undercurrent, underneath, subversive, and ulterior aspects of what it means to be both a human, and dehumanised, their work has often topically explored themes around sexual assault, melancholia and melancholic subjectivity, nationalism, authoritarianism, the spectacle around Black death, figuring solidarity across borders and identity markers, the protestation latent in joyousness, Tupac’s depression, amongst many other topics. Creating under their prolific alias marikiscrycrycry, their performance practice has a cult following in London’s underground performance scene.

Nouveau Riché is a multi-award-winning arts production company and an ever-expanding creative movement. Discovering, nurturing and producing unique stories from all walks of life. Nouveau Riché make culturally inclusive work that is educational and entertaining, across all art forms.

Nicole places investigation at the centre point of practice; within which are diverse, interdisciplinary processes that have motivated a vibrant repertoire of engagements. In 2019 Nicole was selected by the British Council to attend the UK in Japan programme of arts and cultural activities. Nicole’s artistic preoccupations parallel her work in D/deaf advocacy, in 2015 the Royal Ballet awarded Nicole a benevolent bursary to begin five-years of British Sign Language (BSL) education, that will culminate in 2021 with an interpreter qualification. Nicole also holds a specialist interest in East Asian Buddhist thought and this Summer, completed an MA in Japanese Studies, from the School of African and Asian Studies, (SOAS) University of London.

Peyvand is an interdisciplinary Performer & Performance maker. She makes unpredictable, punchy theatre that seeks to activate an audience, prompting them to consider the world around them and their place within it.

Recent credits include: Hachette x Tamasha writers 2020, artsdepot Artists residency 2020, DUAL دوگانه - Vault Festival 2020 (Show of the week award), Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran (Fringe First award 2019), Pirates (Reggie Yates/ Hillbilly Films currently in post-production), Starting Blocks residency Camden People’s Theatre 2019, Soho Writers Lab 2019

We are pink suits, a Queer Feminist Punk Rock & Rage duo based in Margate, UK. Formed in 2017, pink suits make loud aggressive political punk music as well as dance, physical theatre, film and art. Our work is an exploration of sexuality, fantasy, mental health, politics, activism and is a resistance of binary gender expectations, questioning how voices and bodies can be used as a form of protest.

Rachel Mars is a multi-award-winning performance maker with a background in theatre, live art and comedy. Mars’ Our Carnal Hearts won A Total Theatre Award at the British Council Showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe.  With nat tarrab as mars.tarrab she was winner of the 2017 Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award and presented ROLLER in the Pit Theatre. Recent commissions have included Leeds Playhouse, The Junction, Cambridge; Royal Court Tottenham; Fuel Theatre and Ovalhouse. She is a fellow at the Birkbeck Centre of Contemporary Theatre and a regular contributor to 'Pause for Thought' on BBC Radio 2.

Seemia Theatre are an award-winning international ensemble of 6 members from Iran, Argentina and the UK, led by Iranian Director Sara Amini. We believe in theatre as a tool to open doors and break barriers, and through socially-engaged devised performances we endeavour to bring communities together.

Seemia’s devised performances fuse European physical theatre & musicality, British script-writing and Persian storytelling in order to make a vibrant mural of stories to connect audiences with current social and political issues. From Persian, Seemia translates as ‘Casting a spell with words;’ as an ensemble we aim to create work that is truly spell-binding.

Stephen Bailey is a neurodivergent/disabled theatre maker who explores reclaiming classic texts and representations of disability through a political disabled lens. They were recently commissioned to make a learning-disabled centred adaptation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's Life is a Dream for the London Liberty Festival and are also developing a digital show exploring experiences of psychosis. They were resident assistant director at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2020, are currently a staff director at the National Theatre and previously worked with Graeae, Hampstead Theatre and the European Theatre Convention. They are artistic director of ASYLUM Arts, a cic focused on better representation and engagement with neurodivergent artists in the wider theatre community.

The PappyShow are a playful physical and visual ensemble theatre company. Formed in January 2013 by Kane Husbands in order to provide a space for actors and non-actors to train in physical theatre, they use exercise and training to devise and create work.  Community cohesion and working together is key to the company’s ensemble ethos.  With their performing company, they are currently touring three pieces; 'BOYS', 'GIRLS' and 'CARE'. 

Paula Varjack and Chuck Blue Lowry met working on an intergenerational women’ s project for Magic Me. They discovered their practices were inverses of each other; Chuck training in performance and then film, Paula training in film and then moving into performance. Working together again on a women’s participation project for Cardboard Citizens and Clean Break, they became keen to bring together their video and performance experience with their work in participation. They have both spent the same amount of their lives in London and lived in different parts of Europe. They both have British fathers and foreign mothers but identify with both cultures. This sparked an ongoing conversation between them about their relationship to being “foreign"?

London based Writer and Actor Yolanda Mercy's first play was On the Edge of Me presented at Soho Theatre where she is currently on attachment (as a Soho Six). Yolanda is a published author with Oberon Books for Quarter Life Crisis. Quarter Life Crisis won the Underbelly Untapped award, toured to venues such as Underbelly and soho Theatre and was revived this year at The Bridge Theatre.

Supported by

Supported using public funding by Arts Council England