Having previously appeared on stage in plays such as The Brother Size, Oxford Street and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone he has now created his own play entitled Blackta – a satirical debut which explores the trials and tribulations of black actors trying to make it in the industry. He recently met up with Flavour’s Karla Williams to tell her a little more about it.
What is Blackta?
It’s a metaphorical story so it doesn’t deal with the acting profession literally and I did that deliberately because I think it’s about more than just black actors; I want it to be more of a universal story than that. But it is definitely about a black struggle in 21st Century West.
How long had you been wanting to write this play?
I think it kinda happened by accident because I used to write a lot of films and all of my ideas have been very abstract….One day I was sitting in a cafe with a group of black actors who were doing well but were having one of those down periods and somebody joked that it was almost like a black Whithnail and I and I’d been thinking about a play about black actors, a sort of dark comedy. We joked about it but I thought it was a really good idea because what we’re going through is quite unique and I thought it would be good material so I went home that day and wrote like a 15 page scene based upon me and a friend.
Is there a character based on you in the play?
They are based on aspects of a lot of people so it’s not as localised as it’s me and four other people. It’s more like I’ve taken aspects of other people’s personalities that I know and made them extreme.
So are they any specific actors who have inspired the characters?
Yeah, but I’m not going to tell you! (Laughs)
And do you prefer acting or writing?
I enjoy both in different ways; writing is more rewarding. Because the problem with acting is you don’t always get to be in pieces that politically or spiritually or on a human level you believe in so you have to use your imagination and your acting to make yourself empathise and that’s great and exciting but when you write something – it’s part of you.
How is the rehearsal room as a writer rather than an actor?
Brilliant; really exciting and rewarding. The funny thing is it swings all the time up and down; so you’ll have a really good couple of days and then you come in the next day and you hit a wall but the difference is it’s your play, so it’s the fear factor times twenty!…It’s been really amazing watching actors connect to the material and what I’m really excited about is it’s a play about something which is happening now so my actors are actually going through kind of what the characters are going through in the play; so it’s a nice parallel.
What is Blackta saying about Black Actors?
I think Blackta is looking at the collective frustration. But rather than sit in coffee shops and vent frustratedly about the issue and the glass ceiling and what not, in a day and age when everybody’s got a camera on their iPhone and when you can post a YouTube series and write your own plays, I think its promoting write your own thing and create your own thing and do it your way…It’s looking at the struggle but its more about self ability.
Do you feel the industry needs to change?
I think the industry could try harder. Part of the problem is we are in a recession, when I left Drama School about 6 years ago the climate felt different and it felt like things were moving forward. The recession is making the industry revert back to things they know can make money, so like more period dramas are being made and a lot more casting Names on projects rather than giving unknowns an opportunity. I think the problem with black actors and the industry is there are more and more of us now and many very talented and gifted black actors in this country and they feel they want to be able to have the same kind of momentum as some of the white counterparts – that’s the real frustration.
So what advice would you give to black actors coming into the industry?
Be adaptable. Go to Drama School, get your training and get the experience of that it’s like to train as an actor for 3 years; to do Chekov, to do Ibsen to do Shakespeare and all these amazing playwrights, to learn about your craft and to grow as an actor. But then don’t forget that thing that you have which is unique to you; your fire, your spark and your identity. But work endlessly hard and be adaptable.
Blackta opens at the Young Vic on the 26th October and plays until the 17th November. To book tickets please visit http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/blackta