My Favourite Places: Balisha Karra, 2021 co-artistic director, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Thinking about her favourite places made Balisha feel quite nostalgic. Here's the local hangouts she's missed most and is looking forward to revisiting in 2021.
Balisha Karra is one of the Belgrade Theatre’s three Co-Artistic Directors for 2021. Together with Corey Campbell and Justine Themen, she will be responsible for planning a diverse and exciting programme of shows and events for Coventry’s forthcoming year as UK City of Culture.
Before joining the Belgrade, she was Director in Residence at the Old Vic Theatre in London where she assisted Emma Rice on her critically-acclaimed production Wise Children. Other notable credits include 17 for Wild Card Productions at the Vaults in London, and Present Laughter for Chichester Festival Theatre.
Her first City of Culture project in 2021 will be a partnership with Paines Plough, when their pop-up theatre Roundabout visits local communities in Coventry.
A native West Midlander, she grew up in Hockley and Handsworth, and studied drama and theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. As well as collaborating with Corey Campbell as Assistant Director on Strictly Arts Theatre Company’s award-winning show Freeman, she has also developed an understanding of the Midlands’ diverse communities through her directing and producing work with Birmingham Repertory Theatre and BE Festival.
Across her career, she has developed a strong network of creatives of South Asian heritage, working towards a more open and inclusive theatre culture. This is something she’s building on in her current role, in collaboration with South Asian women as well as a range of other communities which are currently underrepresented in UK theatre. Over to you, Balisha.
Honestly, to be writing a piece on my favourite places at a time where I haven’t visited most of them in nearly a year brought up a lot of unexpected emotions. My favourite places after much thought became a mixture of spaces I miss deeply and those I look forward to welcoming into my new routines and rituals as we emerge from this extraordinary year.
Coventry’s Charterhouse is a grade I listed 14th Century Carthusian Monastery. This historic site is deeply valued by its local community: once at risk of being sold off commercially, it was saved by residents living in the area who wanted to protect it for generations to come.
Not only is it an important piece of Coventry’s heritage, it’s also surrounded by beautiful green spaces, offering a haven of peace and tranquillity that seems unlikely so close to the city centre. The Charterhouse Priory is also currently being restored by the newly formed Historic Coventry Trust, and will soon be equipped with new, interactive ways for the communities to engage with its history.
Fantasy and Reality, Coventry city centre
This is a place I have often turned to in times of need. It is opposite the West Orchards shopping centre at the heart of Coventry’s city centre, just around the corner from the Belgrade Theatre. The shop front window is occupied by an assortment of gothic figurines and intriguing statues. Inside you will find a range of crystals which I have regularly found myself holding and incense sticks, which I have consistently lit this past year. In amongst their essential oils and candles, I found a sense of peace.
Foleshill Road, Coventry
With everything from community spaces to authentic food, Coventry’s Foleshill Road has always offered me a range of spaces that excite my palate. I’m drawn to the uniqueness of its diverse range of communities and their ability to foster a sense of togetherness, all supporting their local businesses and each other.
Belgrade Theatre – B2, Coventry
A place I’ve missed profoundly this year has to be Belgrade Theatre’s B2 auditorium. For me, this studio theatre space is truly one of marvel and wonder, where exciting new plays, community events and bold, experimental work are often staged. I’ve witnessed it host everything from a huge tree centre stage to profound panel discussions that have welcomed and celebrated differences in one glorious space. It’s somewhere that always feels like home to me, connecting me to stories that are often misheard and misrepresented elsewhere.
It was only through pure serendipity that I found this place many years ago. The reservoir is a small piece of joy dedicated to the locals of Birmingham. It is a place where you will find people from all walks of life enjoying being outside. Its body of water feels like a sort of surrender to nature in a city that is full of concrete.
Milan Sweet Centre, Birmingham and across the West Midlands
It felt odd making a list of my favourite places without pointing you in the direction of my local samosa shop. A chain of South Asian sweet centres situated in different parts of the West Midlands, it’s at the heart of good food. For me, the shop’s familiar scent will always be associated with my favourite time of year – Diwali.
My local corner shop
Now hear me out, I know it is slightly weird to big up your local bossman. However, during my time in lockdown, my local corner shop became hugely important to me – it felt like one reliable constant in a year full of tumultuous change. Not only has it been vital for stocking up on essentials, snacks and drinks, but the great customer service make it a friendly place I enjoy
If you would like to experience authentic chai, this is the place to go! It offers great alternative to your usual coffee shop and is beginning to become a recognisable chain in the Midlands. The drinks from Chaiiwalla are comfortingly familiar, the taste reminding me of drinking chai at a train station in India. So ditch your chai latte and give Chaiiwalla a try!
Handsworth Library, Birmingham
This is a place I’d love to revisit. Growing up, my local library became a sort of refuge for me, where I’d spend hours and hours pretending to be Matilda. And as somewhere I could rely on to be open during days away from school, it holds a special place in my heart, reminding me how vital community spaces like this are in nurturing local residents.
Isherwood & Co Neighbourhood Florist & plant shop, Stirchley High Street, Birmingham and online
Being inside constantly this year has given me a much greater appreciation of plants. I wouldn’t describe myself as green-fingered expert yet, but this place offers a kind of cool vibe that helps me feel at ease when indulging in my new horticultural hobby. As well as an extensive range of live plants and staff who are always ready to share their knowledge, Isherwood also has a
floristry where I’ve bought lots of colourful flowers to brighten up my home this year.