From the boardroom to the boards – ex-Lehman bankers turn to the stage

Theatre company set up by victims of corporate collapse turns a profit

Arts Correspondent,Arifa Akbar
Monday 14 September 2009 00:00

When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy a year ago, Neha Jain was among the 4,500 British employees at the investment bank who found themselves with no source of income and shrinking career prospects in a recession-hit industry.

So Ms Jain, 25, who had marketed credit derivatives for the American bank, decided to, along with two other Lehman colleagues, set up a theatre group with hundreds of pounds of their own savings. It has just returned a profit less than a year after being set up. The three bankers, who had regularly worked 18-hour days for Lehman's, set up Aks Performing Arts with two others who had worked in finance. Another five came on board later, most of whom had also suffered in the financial crash, but who were willing to work for free to get their first production on to a London stage.

The troupe has just finished two sell-out shows of 30 Days in September, a play staged at Rudolf Steiner House near Baker Street, London. The play, an intense drama about abuse within a Delhi family, was written by the renowned Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani and has left the company's finances firmly in the black.

"I just realised that work was not at the centre of my life. You work so hard and then it's gone one day. I was doing theatre before but not wholeheartedly. I was too tied-up in finance. The three of us from Lehman's realised there was more to life. You need another source of satisfaction that's not just your job," said Ms Jain, who is now in full-time employment with an investment firm.

Although she had been trying to set up a theatre group, the financial collapse provided the trigger, she said. Since the first show, there have been many enquiries from other bankers. "People came to us and said they wanted to join. We will have a workshop that will bring these people together."

Nidhi Kumra, 24, a former trader at Lehman and founding member of Aks, said the bank's collapse had left her "completely shattered" yet it also led her to reassess the value of work. "There is the image of bankers being a strong bunch but when you walk in at 7am and are asked to leave, it is unimaginable. We were fairly new to the job: we hadn't even got our first bonuses.

"I was lucky enough to get a job soon after, but I was looking for something real to do. Such an event makes you realise the value of people and that there has to be something more important than just work. We are all proud that we have put this up, and have broken even," she said.

Ankur Chopra, 25, who worked in Lehman's IT department before finding employment at Nomura, said his acting career began in the hopes of keeping his "spirits up" but he now hoped it might replace his job in finance.

"Banking is something that engulfs you. I used to work, socialise and dream about work. It was what I wanted to do. But when you get such a jolt, you look to see what else there is. I also wanted to keep myself active. I'd been working about 18 hours a day so I had a lot of energy," he said.

The group all suffered a bout of unemployment, but have all since found jobs. They now want to stage a comedy and are hoping to attract funding.

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