Tuesday, 22 October 2019

After a scratch performance of Othello's Sister at Sheffield Performance Lab on 19 October 2019, Lauren Nicole Whitter was joined by Moji Elufowoju from Utopia Theatre for a Q&A with the audience.

othellos-sister-sheffield-qa-01Lauren began by introducing herself as a theatremaker, clown and lecturer. Moji introduced herself as artistic director of
Utopia Theatre, resident company at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Lauren gave a brief history of Othello's Sister so far - Othello was the only Shakespeare character she related to at school; she imagined he had a sister, wrote a short script and then years later explored further on 1623's training course with Michael Pinchbeck and Ben Spiller.

She approached 1623 to see how they could work further. They agreed to produce an R&D project. Lauren explained that the name of Othello's sister - Sherronlynetta - is made up from her Mum's name Sherron and her Nanan's name Lynette. This character is deeply personal to her.

Lauren asked the audience what kind of theatre they go to. Answers included shows with Black cast members, well-known musicals such as Joseph, classics and new plays.

Lauren asked what the barriers are to going to the theatre more. Most common answer was cost - it's too expensive. Moji explained there are initiatives run by theatres to make it more affordable. It's worth looking for them.

Another reason for not going to the theatre much is not knowing what is on, especially in the Black community where Lauren explained marketing is mainly done by word of mouth. Moji said there's a need for better ways of marketing by theatre companies.

An audience member who had travelled from London asked where the Black community hang out in Sheffield. Another audience member said the community is spread out over the city and isn't well connected.

Lauren asked Moji and the audience what Black Theatre is. If a Black cast is in a Shakespeare show, does it make it Black Theatre? Consensus was no. Answers included plays written by Black people about Black experiences.

othellos-sister-sheffield-qa-04Lauren wondered if the audience knew the work of any Black playwrights. No one answered. We recommend checking out plays by Winsome Pinnock, Roy Williams, Natasha Gordon, Carol Leeming, Malorie Blackman, Kwame Kwei-Armah and lots of others too.

Lauren said she wants theatre to bring people together, not separate Black and white people. Moji agreed and said it's not only about making Black Theatre, it's about making great theatre for diverse audiences.

An audience member asked if Lauren and Moji knew of any Black theatre promoters. They didn't. If you know of any, please let us know.

Lauren explained that she is often the only Black person in the room and feels she is there so someone can tick a diversity box. She asked Moji if she ever feels the same. Moji said if she is there to tick someone else's box, then she makes sure they work hard to tick hers.

Moji said she has run into trouble in the past where she has put Black representation before ability to do a job well. What she does now is employ the best person for the job and if that person isn't Black then make sure there's a training opportunity for a Black person to learn.

An audience member commented that they enjoyed Othello's Sister because it explores the impact of Windrush on a person left behind in Jamaica. They said most Windrush stories look at experiences of immigrants in Britain. This is different.

Question to Lauren: What's next for the show?

Lauren: I'd like to bring in more of Othello's story and Sherronlynetta's reaction to it. I've been working on the show recently with Oliver Alvin Wilson, who has played Othello, and would like to do more with him.

Question to Lauren: Have you looked into the work of Paul Robeson, the first Black actor to play Othello in Britain?

Lauren: I think I've seen him on TV? Might take a closer look.

Question: At the moment, you play two characters in two different times and places. Will there be a moment when they come together somehow?

Lauren: I've explored how Sherronlynetta might be an ancestor of Lauren. This might develop further so that Lauren discovers this.

Lauren finished by thanking Moji, the audience and Kiera the technician for their support. 1623 would like to add thanks to Arts Council England and Sheffield Hallam University, especially Dr Annaliese Connolly, for making the R&D and work-in-progress possible.


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