Interview With Tamsin Nathan of To The T, 2020 Culture Fund Designer

12 February 2020

To The T is a design company with a social conscience, founded by Tamsin Nathan. Using a variety of creative mediums with a focus on costumes, styling and art direction To The T brings real issues to life using film theatre and photography to present the work. To the T’s latest project, a short-film called T.O.Y. (The Other Youth), is supported by the Brent 2020 Culture Fund and looks at the circumstances that turn children to violence.

Hi Tamsin, how did you end up in Brent?
I’m not from Brent! I moved to the area about five years ago - in the summer I got a studio in The Granville.

Where did the idea for T.O.Y. come from?
Three years ago I was first on the scene at an incident where a 15 year-old boy had been stabbed. He later died. T.O.Y. is one of several projects which came out of that experience. The first was Not Another Youth - a piece of hip-hop dance theatre. I can’t put into words how difficult it must have for the family, during the trial, to go over that incident every day for three and a half weeks and often in a very clinical way. I wanted to create something that would tell his story but in a more creative way and to make something that might be beautiful, from something so horrific and traumatic.

Where did you perform Not Another Youth?
We performed to his family, friends and the local community, in the theatre at his school (which has also been named after him). We also performed it at the festival which was staged in his memory. The positive response at the performances made me want to continue the work. I’ve been thinking about T.O.Y. for about a year now and Brent 2020 is the perfect opportunity to make it happen.

Tell us about T.O.Y.
It’s a short film and it will tell the story of a young boy and his journey into violent crime. I’m trying to encourage understanding of children who find themselves in these situations. In a way he’s as powerless as a child’s toy - that’s partly what T.O.Y. is referring to. I’m not saying they’re blameless, everyone has a certain amount of choice, but if a child has committed a murder or a violent act, they must have been a victim before they became the perpetrator. Not Another Youth was mainly a performance for local young people, T.O.Y. is for a more adult audience across the whole of London.

Do you want to wake them up?
Yes, lately there’s been alot of attention on knife crime and youth violence. That’s great but it desensitizes people to the reality of children killing each other on the streets. I’m a mother - I have three boys - I am massively aware. I wish I lived in a borough where it felt safer for kids to be walking around on the streets.

Your work often mixes different artforms. What will this film look and sound like?
It uses Krump dance style with costume design and styling and obviously there’s a strong musical, spoken word and photographic part of it. There are five dancers. The lead is 17 and then there are four others who play the roles of a mother, a father, a mentor, a teacher, a politician, a gang leader and a police officer.

We know that you’re an artist, not a spokesperson, but what needs to be done to stop youth violence?
There are people out there tackling youth violence and knife crime but unfortunately some of them have given up trying to get funding as it’s so hard to achieve. These groups often end up relying on volunteers which is great but not enough. Elders and grassroots charities around London are the people who need to be sought out, supported and funded. It’s really difficult for these small groups to keep going: cuts have really affected what bigger youth groups can achieve. With my piece I’m highlighting that these decisions have had a massive effect.

It feels like people are so separated within our society. Some people think, ‘oh that’s their problem, it’s not our problem’. I learnt from my experience that this is everyone’s problem. These are the most vulnerable children in our society and they feel like no one gives a shit about them.

Could dance itself have a role to play?
I’m into the idea that creativity can be really cathartic. Dance battles, especially krump, gives the same feelings (belonging, feeling, love) that a gang does. There are two teams and they fight through dance. It's a competition but it's healthy and nobody gets hurt. They’re a crew, but it’s a dance crew - getting fit and being healthy.

You know, the saddest thing for kids who get involved in gangs is that they have suffered from a lack of love.

Will people be able to see the film on a big screen?
We’ll be showing it at the Granville in June!

Keep up to date with To the T and Tamsin's project, by following her on Instagram and Facebook.