Some time ago, I made a call out for POC to write a blog post about their experiences of theatre. I had some amazing responses, and choosing which person to publish was incredibly hard. Thank you to all those who applied.
Today I’m delighted to introduce Sola Adegbite, and her piece,
The Love Story Between Theatre And I
Truthfully when I talk about the theatre, I talk about it through the eyes of a Black working-class woman, the reason why I stress those factors is because my journey with the theatre can only be shared from that perspective, so this is my truth and my experience:
I fell in love with theatre when I was 15 years old, I was in secondary school studying GCSE drama and I found a place that I felt I belonged. I discovered a talent that came so naturally to me, and a whole new world opened up. Theatre was a place to explore and create, to delve into an imaginary world and get lost. I was just a child, and loved to act and the theatre seemed to welcome me. But the more I got to know and study the theatre, the more I began to feel disconnected. That first love I had of excitement and passion began to fizzle out, and I began to wonder what I saw in theatre in the first place.
I stopped loving the theatre because I never felt like it loved me back, I never felt like it cared about me or what I had to say. It seemed to me that the theatre rarely allowed people of my colour in, it seemed to me that it rejected anything that was non-white. Thinking back over the history of theatre, it had always been sold to me as white culture, a great phenomenon that anyone non-white had, had no contribution in. It was as if I wasn’t welcome within that space being myself. I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t if I wanted to belong in that world. I was taught everything that had made theatre what it was today, and in all that history I was never taught that black people had any help in shaping theatre. From secondary to university I chose to ignore the fact that over and over again we didn’t study any black playwrights in the education system. I ignored the fact that when I went to see a play in central London, there were rarely casts of people that looked like me. I tried to ignore, but deep in my subconscious mind I couldn’t ignore it, I couldn’t run from the very evident fact that I felt unwelcome, not wanted. It was for middle class white people, and I was neither white or middle class. I would take trips on the underground and see posters of current shows in west end, and I would ask myself where are the shows with black people?
I used to think that I had the problem, I always felt inferior. I felt like I wasn’t worthy to be an actor because I didn’t understand the theatre, but it was never my fault, it wasn’t that I didn’t understand theatre it was that theatre didn’t understand me. I felt that it isolated me, told me I wasn’t welcome. It was as if it wanted to keep me far away, didn’t want the stories of black people in the mainstream theatre. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that I don’t see people that look like me on the stage, but it’s too far and too few. There just isn’t enough and I’m tired of it. There isn’t enough diversity when it comes to telling stories from black people. So I’m talking to you straight now theatre, and I know it may surprise you but Black people have many different stories to tell, but instead you seem to want to keep us locked into the single story, the story that fits your view of us. You rarely give us the chance to break out or expand, you don’t give us the chance to show the diversity of our cultures and backgrounds. Instead you shut us out telling us things like we just weren’t cultural enough, but I think maybe you just aren’t cultural enough to see that within our communities are thousands of untold stories. I heard it said that black people don’t go to the theatre, well maybe that’s because you’re not telling stories that black people can relate to. Ever thought of that?
It’s time to change!
Maybe I got this wrong, and there’s been a miscommunication between the theatre and me. I’m thinking that maybe it’s the gatekeepers; the producers, and the directors, because I know there are plenty of talented black playwrights. So, I’m talking to you now gatekeepers, you see to change we need more black writers, we need more black directors and producers, because it seems to me that white people just are not writing parts for people that don’t look like them. Black writers need to tell their stories, we need to broaden the scope of the stories that we tell, and allow the diversity of these different stories to open our hearts and minds. Let’s use theatre to reach out to the masses, to the people that feel that they don’t fit in, that they have no place. I’ve realised that I’ve been hating you theatre all these years, but I got it wrong. It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t reject me, it was the gatekeepers that kept me out, the gatekeepers that kept us apart, and didn’t allow me to the see who you truly were. The producers, directors and writers that never thought that we should be together. It was never the theatre, the theatre always loved me back, I just didn’t see it.
But now I’m starting to see theatre as something new, started reviewing theatre with fresh eyes, instead of through the eyes of rejection and hurt. I see the power of theatre, the beauty of theatre. I realise now, that theatre was never rejecting me, it was the people that controlled the theatre that had tried to keep us separate. Years of making sure I never got to know the theatre right, years of lying to me telling me that black people didn’t belong unless I adapted to what the gatekeepers wanted me to be. Years of parts that I couldn’t play because of the colour of my skin. The directors thinking the only parts I could play were of the maid, the slave or the single mother, as if that’s all I was deemed fit to play. It’s time to start levelling the playing field. You see my white counterparts get to play a varied number of roles, and we all know that the more variety you play, the more you learn. How can I develop myself further if I always get the same roles? The roles reflect the limited capacity to see what people of colour can do. Are people’s minds that narrow that they believe we don’t have other stories to tell? Are people’s minds so closed that they are not interested in finding out more about people of other races? I refuse to believe or accept this anymore, I take the theatre as my own now, I will tell the stories I want to tell because I’m so tired of scrolling through castings and rarely seeing a role that I can apply for. I will create my own opportunities, I will be a part of the change and take ownership. Theatre is there to educate, entertain, inform, and promote social change, its transcends race. I embrace it with open arms, and in turn theatre embraces me back, telling me that I am welcome, and my stories are valid. So, I no longer hate you theatre, instead I have found love for you again, I think we just never got the chance to get to know each other right, but now I want to know you and I want you to know me. I feel like I’m 15 years old again, and in love with theatre like for the very first time.
Let’s start this journey together, let’s be brave.
Written By Sola Adegbite
Actor and Writer
Author of the new and upcoming blog FindingHer.co.uk