(Most of) our staff and board team outside The Nest in 2022

Since 1992 Talking Birds has been producing thoughtful, playful, resonant, mischievous and transformative meditations on people and place. Our work, which we call Theatre of Place, is characterised by a distinctive blend of humour, music and visual flair in venues both conventional and unconventional across the UK and internationally – from the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, to Kilkenny Livestock Mart; from a cavernous underground car park in Scarborough, to a decommissioned hospital in Coventry, to a giant aluminium whale which swallows up audiences one at a time.

We aspire to make Art for Good, which we define as work that responds to the times in which we live and which aims to provide opportunities for dialogue and fresh perspectives; helps develop and promote empathy, human connection, social and ecological responsibility, and international understanding; and nurtures, supports and helps develop the next generation of artists and theatre makers (particularly via the Nest Residencies and F13 network in Coventry).

Talking Birds’ work champions the quirky, small, overlooked or unexpected, and chooses to sit just outside the mainstream. Our projects are built on: collaboration, conversation, participation, trust, warmth, generosity and sharing – and will be: fun(ny), accessible, gently provocative, ethical, relational and thoughtful.

Our values (Kindness, Brilliance, Transformation, Curiosity, Wellbeing, Collaboration) combined with our ‘six big ideas’ (about artist process & support; access & participation; climate conscience; agency, equity & diversity; nurture & resilience) – weave through our work and guide our choices and interactions.

We put accessibility at the heart of our work and are pioneering affordable captioning/audio description with The Difference Engine. We call ourselves ‘green theatre-makers’ and strive to make responsible choices when making work, conscious of our shared responsibility to fight climate change in order to help ensure a sustainable future for our planet.

We are a signatory to the More Than A Moment pledge and, as such, wholeheartedly commit to ensuring equity, investment in, and opportunities with and for Black artists and creatives within our organisation’s culture and work, and in doing so becoming the change we all need to see. Read about our MTAM action plan and find out more about what drives us here: Our Six Big Ideas.

Our Staff Team

Janet Vaughan

Designer and Co-Artistic Director, Janet has designed site specific and touring performances for unusual spaces, devised theatre and new writing. Her freelance design career includes work with Theatre Absolute, the Belgrade Theatre, and a pop-up shop kit for the ground-breaking vInspired/Retail Trust Retail Ready People project in 2013. Janet’s designs were chosen to represent UK scenography at the Prague Quadrennial World Scenography Exhibitions in 1999 and 2015, and she is part of Julie’s Bicycle‘s first cohort of Creative Climate Leaders. She is a school governor, keen allotmenteer and a board member at Open Theatre & Ludic Rooms.

Derek Nisbet

Composer and Co-Artistic Director Derek Nisbet has written a piece for cathedral organ to accompany a tightrope walk, a score for a performance in an underground car-park and a work for a telephone answering machine. He scored Twin Song for the Volgograd Children’s Symphony Orchestra which was premiered at Coventry Cathedral with the Coventry Youth Wind Orchestra in April 2015, and given its Russian premiere in November 2015. Derek’s work with some of the leading artists and companies of the day – including Claire Cunningham (Guide Gods), Ockham’s Razor (Arc and The Mill), Untied Artists (Intimate History) and Theatre Absolute (Powder, Far From The Sea) – has been performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the Lillian Bayliss Theatre at Sadler’s Wells and at venues in Moscow, Vancouver and Sweden. His music has been heard on BBC Radio 3 (Late Junction) and BBC Radio 4 (The Balloonists, Dr Pfeffer’s Lonely Hearts Club and Messages to a Submariner).

Philippa Cross

General Manager Philippa Cross has worked in arts policy and management for over 25 years, as fundraiser, funding advisor, policy developer, programme manager, facilitator, coach and evaluator. She has worked for the Tate Gallery, West Midlands Arts, Arts Council England WM and Creative Partnerships Coventry (Cre8us) as well as with a wide range of freelance clients including local authorities, universities and arts companies. Her experience and expertise lie particularly in strategic planning, organisational development, financial and project management, evaluation and supporting reflection through keen questioning. She holds an MA in European Cultural Policy and a Diploma in Coaching from the University of Warwick. Alongside working part time as General Manager for Talking Birds, Philippa continues to support small arts companies and to coach individuals and teams on a freelance basis. 

Dom Watson

Administrator/Projects Assistant Dom has a background in Retail management in the Arts, Culture and Heritage sector. He holds an MA in Performing Arts Innovation and Enterprise from Coventry University, from somewhere in the region of 10 years ago, where he also first encountered Talking Birds and began working with them on projects. He is also an international Roller Derby player (no, seriously, it’s a thing) and enjoys the occasional professional Q.

Lou Lomas

Lou has been working as a Freelance Producer and Project Manager for the past 9 years working regionally and nationally with Talking Birds Theatre Company, Appetite Stoke (The Kitchen Programme), Making More Outdoor Arts Council research, Imagineer Productions, Pif-Paf, The Bone Ensemble, Everybody Dance, Theatre Absolute , The Fabularium,  Black Country Touring, Frolicked and many more. 

She is the Associate programmer for the Festival of Imagineers, and former Senior Producer (Advanced programme) for Coventry City of Culture Trust 2021, Producer for Shop Front Festival and is currently the Associate Producer for Bridge (Ambition for Excellence) with Imagineer.

She is passionate about the development of Outdoor work in the region and supporting companies working in Street Arts and Outdoor Sector and is currently a board Member for Outdoor Arts UK.

Our Board Team

Val Birchall is an experienced arts and cultural sector leader who has previously held cultural leadership roles at Coventry City Council (where she was Head of Sport, Culture and Destination Services); Brighton & Hove City Council; and Birmingham City Council. She was Director of Sound Futures music action zone in north Birmingham, and Music Officer at West Midlands Arts – prior to which she held a range of roles across sales, education and marketing and general management in smaller arts organisations. A long time friend of Talking Birds, she is a fellow of the RSA and Chair of Chief leisure & Cultural Officers Association (cCLOA)

Sujana Crawford is a poet, researcher and theatre-maker from Nepal, currently based in Warwickshire. She is interested in people, places and folklore.

John Gore is a film programmer, exhibitor and animateur who spent a lifetime developing independent cinema in the West Midlands, mostly through Warwick Arts Centre. He enjoys bringing people and ideas together, the more disparate the better. He lives in Coventry out of choice and strives to bring opportunity and inspiration to friends and neighbours. John recently founded StokeScreen Film Club and is currently negotiating other clubs to offer Coventry a more varied choice of film on the big screen.

Andrea Mbarushimana is a writer, artist and community worker based in Coventry. Her collection, ‘The Africa in My House’ is available from Silhouette press. Andrea has been published in various lit mags and in the Diversifly anthology by Fairacre Press and has headlined in Coventry, London, Derby and Cork. Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries and on various brick walls. Andrea’s been described as ‘a real searcher’ which feels about right.

Laura Nyahuye is a Zimbabwean born artist whose work challenges perceptions and addresses issues to do with women and migrant communities, tokenism, marginalisation, discrimination – which are real-life issues, affecting migrant communities. These topics are woven into Laura’s poetic writing and handmade body adornments. She is also Artistic Director of Maokwo, a Coventry based social enterprise that works with artists and communities on the margins, seeking to tackle social issues using art as a vehicle. Laura is driven by the desire to see a better tomorrow for the next generation, to see a flicker of hope in the eyes of a fellow woman and for communities to connect, despite race, language and religion.

Mahendra Patel [Chair] is a Willenhall based drummer/percussionist and singer with a wealth of experience in leading community music workshops.

Jess Pinson works for Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire – an organisation which helps all kinds of people experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage. Previously she worked at Culture Coventry Trust programming creative events across their sites, predominantly at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum. She is also a producer working on the Bridge project with Imagineer Productions. She sits on the steering group for Hillz FM, and volunteers with the Media Mania youth music organisation.  Her background is in community, participatory and outdoor arts.

Jack Shuttleworth has been involved in Theatre in Education and community arts since 1985. His special interest has been the developing use of new technologies in performance and their impact on the interaction between audience and performers. Between 1996 and 2001 he was Company Development Manager for C&T, developing models of funding from unconventional sources. He has since worked as a Chiropractor and Health Promotion Specialist, and as part of the Social Inclusion and Diversity team at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry. He then worked with Bilston Craft Gallery as CraftPlay Coordinator before moving to work at FabLab in Coventry – a community space offering access to state-of-the-art computer-controlled tools like 3D printers and laser cutters as well as more traditional metal and wood working tools. Jack is also a pretty nifty folk musician.

Dr. Sylvia Theuri is an artist, educator and researcher. Sylvia holds a PhD from the University of Salford, which focused on Black African students’ experiences of higher education art and design. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion issues in the arts; Race, Identity and the African diaspora. Her art practice utilises digital media. Themes around space, place, movement and how they interact with race, gender and identity politics are central to her work. Most recently she has been Curator in Residence at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

Dan Thompson is an award-winning social artist, writer, and speaker living in Margate. His work is about people and places, and the stories that connect them.

Dan is also interested in the creation of social capital, in activating abandoned or underused spaces, and in DIY approaches to art, culture and social action. He produced Coventry City Council’s Void Space Strategy in 2009.

Dan has written a number of books on the activation of empty shops, including Pop Up Business For Dummies. He has also written for the Guardian and the Independent.

Dan is an experienced board member, having served with a-n for five years, representing 24,000 member artists.


Could this be you?

If you would be interested in joining our Board, or hearing about opportunities to volunteer with Talking Birds, we’d love to hear from you.