Sheffield-based African theatre company Utopia Theatre has hired two new team members to engage and inspire the next generation of creatives as the organisation expands its work and reach.

Ethel Maqeda has been hired as youth participation coordinator and executive assistant, while Julius Obende joins as associate artist. Utopia Theatre was named as a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) by Arts Council England earlier this year and has since launched its own Youth Academy for 9-19 year-olds. The academy is the first of its kind in Sheffield and is running classes and workshops alongside a programme of mentoring and training. So far, more than 60 young people have accessed the academy, which has recently relocated to a new Utopia Theatre Creative Hub on Rockingham Gate in Sheffield.

Maqeda has been working with Utopia Theatre in a freelance role since August 2022, putting in place a youth participation strategy to understand what activities communities and families want, where and when. As part of this work, she facilitated taster sessions for the Youth Academy, organising sessions including acting masterclasses and movement workshops. Maqeda brings vast experience from previous theatre and educational roles and is passionate about engaging different communities to raise aspirations through collaboration and creative skills.

Obende is a Nigerian dancer, actor and musician who came to Sheffield earlier this year and starred in the recent Anna Hibiscus’ Song production. As Associate Artist, he will be running participatory workshops for the Youth Academy and community groups, working with schools and colleges and teaching traditional African dance and music. Obende will also be involved in a variety of creative performances, workshops and events on behalf of Utopia Theatre.

Talking about her new role, Ethel Maqeda said: “I’m very passionate about helping young people of African and Caribbean heritage to have equal access to the arts; whether that’s behind the scenes or on stage. We want them to feel empowered and thrive as creators. The next generation should be part of the fabric of the creative sector and be properly represented, which can only happen by giving them opportunities to learn and develop. I’m so excited to be joining the Utopia Theatre team in this role and helping to make a difference. It’s incredible to see the confidence and friendships which are already being nurtured via our Youth Academy.”

Julius Obende added: “I’ve always loved theatre, dance and music, and had always dreamed of migrating to the UK and I’m so happy to be working with Utopia Theatre. It’s an inspiring, supportive organisation which really is helping people of African and Caribbean heritage to boost knowledge and skills which will help generations to come access the arts. To be a small part of that process is an honour and I can’t wait to be involved with a range of exciting projects.”

Utopia Theatre was founded by CEO and artistic director Mojisola Kareem-Elufowoju with a vision to empower and engage African communities, support emerging artists and inspire the next generation. Kareem-Elufowoju said: “I’m pleased to welcome Julius and Ethel to the team, giving us increased capacity to reach more people and host more activities for communities. It’s an exciting time for Utopia Theatre, as we have our own premises for the first time and are really starting to shift perceptions and engage new audiences and participants.”

Utopia Theatre will host an official opening of its new Creative Hub on Thursday 21 September, 4pm-8pm, when there will be a series of performances and inspiring talks.