Features Guest Column Published 5 June 2013

Redundant Signs

The latest update from the artistic director of Camden People's Theatre.
Brian Logan

“Martial arts? Is this the place for martial arts?”
“Er… well…”
“How much do the martial arts classes cost?”
“Well… Okay… We’ll do you a class for £100.”

I’d be surprised if Nicholas Hytner regularly caters to punters mooching in off the street asking for martial arts lessons. We do. Chinese medicine is another one. It sometimes feels as though more people are coming to CPT for ginseng and flying squirrel faeces than for theatre. Why? Because on the side of our building, in stonking great gold-embossed lettering, it says: CHINESE MEDICINE. MARTIAL ARTS. And, for that matter, LANGUAGE COLLEGE.

The upper floors of our building were occupied – for about five minutes, half a decade ago – by a business selling just those services. It wasn’t successful; the proprietors did a bunk, and the premises have been vacant (or, as they are currently, managed by a property guardian) ever since. But the accursed signage remains; we can’t get it down. We did a big refurb of the outside of our theatre last year, making it actually resemble a working and welcoming arts space. With confident signage and window displays that promote and compliment our work. It’s made a huge difference to our profile. But still, the most eye-catching features of the exterior of 58-60 Hampstead Road are those redundant signs – next to which the HOLLYWOOD sign looks demure by comparison – saying: CHINESE MEDICINE, MARTIAL ARTS and LANGUAGE freakin’ COLLEGE.

We tried to hire a cherry-picker last year. I had visions of myself soaring above Drummond Street, hard-hat on head, screwdriver in hand, gold-embossed demons to slay.  But there are by-laws, apparently; even had we been able to afford the costs, you can’t just plonk a cherry-picker on a public thoroughfare and propel yourself skyward.

This summer, we’re undertaking a feasibility study relating to our tenancy of 58-60 Hampstead Road, and one of the options under (hypothetical) consideration is that CPT might take over the vacant upper floors. There are plenty of reasons why it won’t happen. But if it did, we’d have more rehearsal space to give to emerging artists, more office space, room to grow and manoeuvre, and the opportunity to create a five-storey arts centre where our poky but loveable wee theatre now stands.

In the meantime – pending you contacting us (puh-lease!) with your signage-removal strategies – we’re saddled with someone else’s obtrusive advertising. And, being in no position to spurn a commercial opportunity, why shouldn’t we answer in the affirmative when aspiring black-belts appear at our door, requesting tuition? I reckon my colleague Freya would be a dab hand at taekwondo. And as for Chinese Medicine – well, I can slice a deer penis with the best of them.

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Brian Logan is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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