I grew up in a village in Sussex with my mum and my brother. I didn’t do A Levels or go to university, instead I joined a YTS scheme as a secretarial apprentice and because they saw I was into the arts, got placed at this arts organisation. They had a venue under the Brighton seafront arches called the Zac Club where there were a lot of alternative comedians and performance art. That was my first experience of theatre as I never really went to the traditional theatres like the Theatre Royal or anything. So for me theatre was performance art at the Zac Club. I thought, “Oh these are my sort of people” as they were all nice and lovely and new age hippies. I worked there for a number of years and then I went onto the Gardner Arts Centre in Brighton which was on the University of Sussex’s campus. I had no qualifications, but they could see something in me and decided to put me to do an accountancy qualification and then I became their finance manager. At the time I was studying and working with two young children and once they were older I got the job at the Almeida Theatre as Head of Finance. That was in 2010. But I am not a traditional theatre person. When I started at the Almeida I didn’t really know the plays by Shakespeare. I never studied them.
What I really enjoy about the theatre the most is that although I do the finance I feel like I enable the rest of the organisation to do what they do. We are very much a support team and take care of the finances to make sure the company can keep running and they don’t have to worry about that stuff. But I also really enjoy the common goal of making a piece of theatre that everyone is working towards. I once worked for a charity before I came to London. I hated it because the people who worked there were just going to work for the money. I was disconnected from the end result, whereas in theatre I’m supporting and enabling it and checking they are not getting out of hand with the money.
Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) is for human rights and that aligns with my belief that people should be able to be who they want to be. Throughout my whole working life that is the sort of people I have worked with. I first met Natalia and Nicolai at a festival we were running at the Almeida – BFT’s performances were quite different to anything else we put on. And when Natalia and Nicolai moved here I went on marches with them and walked to the Houses of Parliament. I remember I sat in one of the big chambers with Jude Law and Kolya doing Generation Jeans literally a metre away from me – and I thought, “This is great”. It was a really powerful piece.
When I started at BFT there were no systems, no reporting and no accounts on the UK side because Natalia and Kolya were newly-arrived to the country as political refugees. They didn’t even have a bank account, so we had to open one for them via the Almeida. So I worked with them to do simple spreadsheets to track money and then we got an accountant a few years later when we needed to. Since then though it has been a governance role because as a qualified accountant I am the one on the board who has to point out to the other board members what the financial situation is and how we have to help the company to see their way through it. BFT has an important message to take to people, but it is just about finding that audience and finding someone to take the risks around the country.
Tania Clark is Head of Finance at Almeida Theatre