Fio Theatre company at the frontline, in the fight for diversity and equality in the Welsh arts industry, opened its doors to fifteen performers, playwrights and directors in February for a week of masterclasses delivered by some excellent industry professionals followed by a creation week, a Declaration to the arts in Wales.
The first workshop was led by Abdul Shayek and Shane Nickels giving us a warm welcome into the Fio family. Before this masterclass we were set tasks based on our chosen practice, we explored different text and styles. Creating conversations between the groups about what is theatre and who should it effect. The biggest question being “What is Diversity in Theatre?”
As the week progressed masterclasses were delivered by Eric Ngalle Charles, Lisa Zahra, Cathy Tyson and Ryan Romain. All these masterclasses were invaluable to me, each one gave me something that would improve my learning as a performer. For me as an actor, I personally really enjoyed Lisa’s workshop, helping me tackle Shakespeare, unlocking my emotions simply and giving me exercises to have under my belt to help me at auditions.
After this week of masterclasses it was time to get into groups and create! I was lucky enough to have a splendid group made up of, Connor Allan as our incredible writer, Othniel Smith as our Director. I was lucky enough to perform alongside Kama Roberts and Aly Cruickshank. Connor’s play was a pleasure to explore during this week, an honest and resonating piece of writing written incredibly well for the performers in the piece. Our group spent a week exploring this text to create a final piece. The extract was called ‘3 Lost Souls. ‘ The final sharing of this work was incredibly successful for our group.
The aim of Declaration was to give diverse professionals a platform to create, I cannot stress how important that is! As a working class performer just breaking into the industry projects like this are a lifesaver.
Our theatre industry in Wales is very hard to access for someone who doesn’t fit certain criteria. Actors not getting paid, writers not having a platform to share their work, and audiences being of consistently one class. I believe it is time to change so, I think that everyone should ask them self “What is Diversity in Theatre?” It needs thought!
As a Jacqueline Wilson Fan, I found the story very moving and realised. This story of a child evacuated from their home during World War Two, is one of the most moving stories I have ever read.
I felt sorry for Shirley being evacuated away to the country from her parents.For Shirley to find a best friend called Jessica but Jessica was a rich person, so she stayed with sister Josephine, but Shirley wanted to stay with Jessica wasn’t allowed too, she was put with two boys Kevin and Archie.
Archie was acting like a baby and Kevin was tall and he likes playing Cowboys games and would often ask Shirley and Archie to play with him. Kevin and Shirley sit next each other in classroom at school.
I found it really interesting how Shirley was so clever and liked reading books, likeing Ballet shoes and she was very sensible too.
As a celebration of intentional women’s day Comedy @ HOWL gave the stage to an all-female line up featuring some hilarious comics and hosted by the wonderful Lorna Prichard.
The night consisted of 5 comedians, Karen Sherrard kicked us of introducing us to Iris Evans and her village fête, the set was fun and included some really interesting audience participation that engaged the crowed instantly.
This was followed by Jessie Johnson a Transgender comic with stories of her running’s with the Russian Mafia her witty response and good use of comic timing put everyone in high sprits.
Leading into Ems Coombes a disabled comic with stories about periods and songs about social edict that inspired me to not be so self-conscious in public.
Then fourth up we had Alice Taylor Mathews who was expecting a little ray of sunshine soon! An example of how women have more to deal with than men when it comes to biology!
Then ending with the brilliant Anna Keirle who had a well-crafted set that was delivered with brilliant timing and presence. I can’t not mention the hosts Lorna Prichard’s brilliant interludes between this fab five. She set up each act in the perfect way so the audience were excited and in anticipation of what was to come.
I found the atmosphere of the night very interesting. It was a true celebration of diversity with a discussions after the show about women in comedy and women in the industry in general and some of the things women have to put up with. Listening to story`s from other women about the experiences they have had and things have been said to them gave the audience the majority of whom were women a support network, this gave the evening a “gritty feel” said Lorna Prichard.
It posed the question me of “What can we do?” the treatment of women in society and the arts is said to be constantly improving, but I don’t believe it is. I only last week experienced myself an uncomfortable rehearsal room. On top of being the only female in the room, I had to put up with sexist `jokes` some mocking the brilliant ME TOO campaign that has made massive strides for women. But are the strides really making a difference if they are mocked? All I can say is the way to stop this absurdity is by having these nights of celebration and create these support networks. We have to continue these conversations so change can happen.
I would invite men, women and others who may have opposing views to join me to talk about these issues safely so we as a society can progress. The only negative comment I would make about HOWL was the under representation of BAME performers and audience members, after just finishing with FIO on their brilliant project Declaration this was something that really stood out to me. But overall the night was exciting, thought provoking and was the centre of some interesting conversations.
A production exploring the Inner self that tells us to just – Do it!
Betty Bruiser lives inside of Liz but is projected as a character completely outside the norms of Liz Clarke. Betty is a person of complete contradiction to Liz, who is an insider living in the comforts of motherhood and home. The show creates a sense of grief and the trauma that has engulfed her from the loss of her sister. Growing from this is Betty Bruiser, the electric blue superhero alter ego.
Betty is tough, Loud and electric . Betty captivated the entire audience with her incredible mix of live art, music and burlesque.
Cannonballista explores grief in a completely new light, losing someone who is close to you and the ways in which we escape from bereavement. For Liz, Betty is a powerhouse who brings Liz out of herself and into a complete sense of invincibility even in the moments that Liz wants her gone, Betty is there fighting for Liz and her need to cope. The audiences were given the opportunity to form a bond with Betty and understand Liz when we delve into the character.
It is show worth the watch if you are exploring yourself and your womanhood. You may find your own inner superhero such as Betty Bruiser. Cannonballista is an explosive performance that will stick with you in times of love and times of loss.
In 1964, There was a little girl sitting on her mother’s floor in Milwaukee watching the 36th Academy Awards. She watched as Anne Bancroft opened the envelope for Best Actor and said five historic words: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’
This little girl had never seen a black man being celebrated for his talent and to quote her “I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses”
That little girl grew up to become one of the most influential people on the planet – Oprah Winfrey.
And at that moment of celebration at the 36th Academy Awards she was truly inspired by what she saw. She watched history unfold from her cheap seat, took inspiration and the rest as they say is history.
Fast forward over 50 years and Oprah has joined Sidney Poitier in becoming a recipient of the Cecil B DeMille award and when accepting the award she recounted that memory of the cheap seats and went on to add “there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award”
At that moment and later on in her speech all over the world girls and boys and men and women were inspired and in awe. With that inspiration and determination those little girls and boys will become the next Oprah Winfrey or the next Viola Davis or indeed the next Denzel Washington.
After the #OscarsSoWhite movement two years ago The Academy has implemented drastic diverse change and many others have followed suit because after years of feeling unappreciated and uninspired and pretty much fed up, many people thought enough is enough.
If we don’t show diversity in our nominations and winners then how are the next generation meant to be inspired like Oprah was all those years ago.
By having more diverse nominations and shortlists you are giving the opportunity for the next generation to be inspired. And the key word here is opportunity.
Now more than ever we need the next generation of BAME talent to be inspired and its so great that the #OscarsSoWhite movement has taken effect and we are now finally seeing a hugely diverse and more equal nomination and shortlist spectrum. Closer to home in Wales its not the case. The Wales Theatre Awards for one have not embraced the diverse change needed to inspire the next generation of BAME talent.
Now Wales is quite small in comparison to the rest of the world but we’ve still managed to nurture brilliant talent in all fields and all I ask is that diversity is implemented like with the Oscars and many other global awards. That way the next generation of actors of colour can have a platform to look to and aspire to be on. That way we can inspire and empower the next generation of BAME talent. That way young actors like myself can look to the awards and be inspired to work harder and be in a position to celebrate their talent like Sidney Poitier was all those years ago.
We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.
But let me take you back to that word I mentioned a few lines ago.
Because when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, opportunity is a massive factor.
If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?
Diversity has become this big hot topic over the last couple of years and its just about equality. Being treated the same regardless of your skin colour, disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation and many other labels that are handed out in our day and age. We are all equal. We are all human.
Finally in our society we have seen a positive shift in diverse action and we cant afford to get left behind whilst others continue to implement that change. We have to embrace it.
Without embracing it we risk loosing much talent to other locations. A prime example of this is the current crop of actors going overseas in search of better opportunities. Idris Elba highlighted it during his recent speech to Parliament.
John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, David Oyelowo, Naomie Harris and Lenora Crichlow are just a few other names who have also ventured along with Mr Elba over to the States in search of better opportunities.
A statistic recently showed that according to government data from 2013, there was a 500% increase in one year in approved visa petitions for UK actors and directors seeking to work in the US.
That number is staggering but only goes to show that this issue surrounding opportunity and representation is real.
We live in a multi-cultural world and this isn’t being represented on stage or screen. If we don’t see ourselves or our culture on stage (and screen for that matter) how are we meant to be engaged? If young people don’t see themselves represented on stage they won’t go to the theatre, if they don’t see themselves represented on TV they’ll turn the TV off. We have to show all walks of life to engage all people. Period.
That same situation is at risk of running its course here in Wales. If we don’t champion opportunity and give representation the platform others have then we run the same risk of loosing home grown talent to the likes of other more diverse locations like London, Bristol or Manchester for example. For many new and upcoming actors/performers America simply isn’t attainable yet but the likes of closer inclusive locations are very much a reality. For minority actors to be considered for awards they have to be cast in productions. To be cast in productions they have to have the opportunity to be seen for the roles.
Once again I echo the key word in all of this … Opportunity.
Seeing that I’ve mentioned him already I will bring up the case for Daniel Kaluuya. Daniel Kaluuya has got huge attention lately as he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film Get Out. With this nomination, Daniel becomes the first black actor under 30 to garner a nomination. Only one word can be used to describe that achievement and that is phenomenal.
But many people think that this success just happened off the back of one movie. They don’t realise that Daniel put in years of hard work from his time at the Royal Court in Sucker Punch.
to Blue Orange at The Young Vic
to his time on Black Mirror to name just a few. But without opportunity would he have got to this stage in his career where he is now the first black under 30’s actor to be nominated for an academy award? Who knows?
And then we have the global box office hit that is Black Panther and the success that has followed this movie.
As I write this article the global box office of the movie stands at $704 million and its broken into the top 20 for highest grossing movies of all time. There are even rumours of it becoming the highest grossing Marvel movie so far. Not bad for a movie with a predominantly black cast featuring a black superhero in the title role.
But why is this movie such a milestone many people will ask. Well simply put 1) Its massive progress in a positive direction and 2) Its shown that you CAN invest in diverse talent and it CAN be successful.
All they needed was the opportunity.
I guess what I am trying to say and I will echo Viola Davis here when I say that “All that separates actors of colour from anyone else is opportunity”
Talent is everywhere in all shapes and sizes. So we have to make an effort to go and seek this talent out. Look for it. Everywhere.
So with all this being said I’m going to challenge every person who holds a degree of power to embrace the positive shift that has begun and implement change so that we don’t get left behind. Don’t hide away because if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.
This goes for everyone in all industries, not just people in the creative arts. Embrace and Implement. Those two factors will allow diversity and talent to flourish magnificently. The world is now beginning to show us that our possibilities are boundless. And we have to keep on striving to achieve every possibility. Striving to achieve every dream.
I had never imagined that I would have enjoyed reading something with so much imagination as this book! I thought that it did not want to put it down because I enjoyed it so much, it really fired up my imagination to see if Nansi finds her mother and they save themselves!
As a new reader I think the author has really fired up everyones imagination especially mine and I would recommend Gaslight to anyone as a great book for everyone to read.
I hope the author, Eloise Williams puts out other book soon so I can enjoy her work again.
Creating opportunities for a diverse range of people to experience and respond to sport, arts, culture and live events.