Can you tell me a bit about your journey to this point in your career, and why you wanted to branch out beyond performing?
When I started out studying music at the University of York, I thought I wanted to be a choral or opera singer. I got involved with a lot of student theatre societies while I was there and realised I was also really interested in producing and creative leadership.
When I applied to the Royal Academy of Music, I knew I wanted to perform but I also saw training as an actor as part of a longer journey. I couldn’t work out how to get access to spaces as an emerging writer or director, whereas as an actor you get access to bigger rooms earlier on. I’ve performed in West End productions such as Caroline, or Change, and The Phantom of the Opera. I don’t think I would have had access to those rooms so early in my career if I had started out as a member of the creative team. You can learn so much just by being in the room and watching, and my work as a performer has influenced my practice as a theatre-maker. Ultimately, I would like to be an Artistic Director, and I think having experience in different sides of the industry helps to put you in a better position to be able to do that.
Now, I’d describe myself as a multi-disciplinary creative: I am a dramaturg, performer, writer, director and workshop facilitator. The thread that ties them all together is the idea of collaboration and theatre-making. In any given year, I would ideally like a performing job, a directing job and then something else in yet another creative discipline. They require such different skills and have varying demands on you as a person. Dramaturgy is about holding space for other creatives to realise their vision; directing is facilitating a process which brings people together to realise your own creative vision and performing is often about empowering yourself to take creative risks in service of someone else’s story or ideas.
When you are creating new work, what do you look for in a story?
I ask myself the question, ‘why now?’
If I don’t have something to say about a topic, then I leave space for other people to make something that feels necessary to them, rather than just creating work for the sake of it.
I wrote a play called Shuck ‘n’ Jive about structural racism in the UK’s performing arts scene, which came out of personal necessity to tell a story about my own experiences. It was written before the resurfacing of the Black Lives Matter movement during the pandemic, so in a way it felt like it was a bit before its time. A year later, the industry realised how relevant and true our play was. That play is probably one of the things I am most proud of as a writer. It ended up getting published and filmed for Soho Theatre’s On Demand service, which means there is scope for it to be realised in different ways and have a future life.
Do you have any practical advice for anyone looking to create their own work?
There are various funding routes available for emerging artists, such as the Arts Council or foundations. Make sure you are specific about what you want your project to achieve and how it will be beneficial to the wider community. Funders are normally more interested in the impact that a project will have rather than the work itself, so ask yourself why your work is valuable to other people and worth investing in. With Arts Council funding applications it’s helpful to have a partner organisation involved so try to find a reputable organisation that is invested in your project. Even if it is support in kind, such as using their studio for a rehearsal, that gives more credibility to your applications.
If you’re inspired by someone’s work, then reach out to them. There is a brilliant culture within the industry of wanting to pass knowledge down and help others up. It’s very rare that anyone will say no!
Finally, don’t be afraid to take the first step because normally getting started is the hardest part. Once you’ve done that everything else will start to fall into place.
What are your current projects?
I’m working with the Almeida Theatre on their Young Creatives programme. We have 12 young people from different artistic disciplines who are writing four new ten-minute musicals.
I love working with young people because they are always ready to try new things which I find incredibly inspiring. They are a good reminder to keep taking risks and be vulnerable. It’s also important in terms of the ecology of the industry. Going into schools to deliver workshops gives young people a direct link to the industry and fresh perspective they may not otherwise get.
How did your training help with your career?
Studying at the Academy was an entirely transformative experience.
One of my favourite experiences of performing in a production was Caroline, or Change in the West End. It was a dream role for me. I was covering a lot of different vocal styles – classical, Motown, gospel. When I started at the Academy, I was primarily a classical singer, so it is testament to the training I received that I was able to take on that challenging part.
As well as the technicalities of performing, I learnt so much about myself as a person and how to navigate the world. I came into my training as a massive perfectionist, and one of the biggest things I learnt is there is no right or wrong, only true or false. You’re not aspiring to be perfect – you’re aspiring to create a feeling that is real.
Photo by Dujonna Gift