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Kwame: Mastering the Arts

Kwame: Mastering the Arts

Kwame is a man of many titles and achievements, he is flourishing in all dimensions of creativity and he deserves to be served his flowers on a platter of diamonds. Kwame is a theatre and film director, actor, playwright, singer-songwriter and video editor and I can say he has mastered every role. He has graduated from the University of Manchester with a First Class in English and Drama and has since gone on to study for an MFA in Theatre Directing at Birkbeck, University of London. These achievements were not without recognition; This year he won Best Supporting Actor at the Manchester In-Fringe Theatre Awards. It is safe to say that Kwame is on the right path to the big stage.  

You’re a man of many titles; just let us know what you have done and your achievements? 

I’ve recently been selected to write a new play for the Bush Theatre and join their Emerging Writers Group. I’m a Young Associate at the Gate Theatre where I collaborate on new projects with the senior artistic team and my fellow Young Associates, I’m an actor at the National Youth Theatre, and am also working as a Creative Consultant for Black in Fashion on an exciting new project. 

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far, having directed or devised eight productions in the last three years, alongside performing in nine other stage productions, a range of choral performances, been Head of Drama and Entertainment for my university’s television station, worked on projects at Manchester International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and directed a range of work for radio and screen as well – including a fashion styling challenge that we created at a major Manchester art gallery. 
 

Kwame has left university with a first-class degree, but as a black student in a predominantly white institution, and degree major, it’s not always easy. Being the only black student can often bring a feeling of otherness, which is a common occurrence in the workplace where, too often, we may be the only person black person present. As a drama and English student some may argue that representation is all the more important especially when it comes to casting and creating stories that can resonate with other black students. It’s important because it occurs every time, we turn on the TV, open a book or watch a movie and don’t see anyone who looks like us doing anything besides being the help, the agony aunt or the sidekick. Whilst at university black students may deal heavily with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome isn’t just an imaginary voice in our heads, but it’s the internalization of daily subliminal messages from society telling us we don’t belong or we aren’t good enough. “imposter syndrome” was coined Suzanne A. lmes (1978) and Pauline R. Clane which describes “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” Black people, are particularly vulnerable to this debilitating sensation with the ‘we must work twice as hard’ rhetoric being taught throughout the community from young. 

Let’s touch on the joy and trauma of black creativity in white spaces.  In what ways did it hinder or help you? 

Both the Drama department and English department at the University of Manchester are very white – from the demographics of the students, to the teaching staff, to the content of the curriculum. It’s clear to me that that’s evidence of structurally racist systems and practices which are clearly preventing young Black people from entering higher education institutions in large numbers. There are many ways we can begin to dismantle that that – such as decolonizing our education system, introducing quotas, expanding targeted outreach and engagement for Black schoolchildren and college students, unconscious bias training for interviewers and lecturers, the list goes on… 

I think that it definitely makes you aware of your difference, particularly when confronting the numerous biases or ignorance of the white individuals around you. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given, and would give to other emerging Black creatives, is that when working in ultra-white, racially homogenous environments – don’t apologies for your brilliance. When you’re in creative or institutional spaces, the best way to survive and indeed, to thrive, is to be totally, unapologetically proud of who you are, where you’re going, and what you’re capable of. 

How can other black students in a similar position like yourself overcome this? 

When you’re a minority in these spaces, people will try and box you in, assume you you must be this, or you’re probably that, but in my experience, the most radical, self-empowering thing is to reject that entirely. Embrace your multiplicity, your talent, your vision and your intelligence. So that’s what I tried to do over the course of my degree, regardless of anything else. 

The theatre industry was thriving prior to Covid and will continue to thrive post-Covid, both artistically and commercially. But cuts to the arts and the ban on mass gatherings have taken their toll on the industry, however interest is still high, with many itching to get back into those theatre seats. The creative output of the industry is impressive and an exciting industry to be a part of. Kwame’s plays represent the societal experiences of everyday people and amalgamate the discourse occurring for whatever era his plays are set in; Kwame manages to breathe life into his scripts when he takes on roles both off and on the stage. His productions are raw, witty and often hilarious whilst being able to interrogate serious topics. I discovered an appetite for the arts after watching a number of Kwame’s plays, they reveal anguish, euphoria and everything else in between. As an actor, play-wright and director, Kwame has a holistic experience of the arts that will only carry him to new strengths. Kwame has challenged himself to constantly bring in and respond to other black creatives in the industry who want to get into theatre, his actions are a commitment to achieving intersectionality and inclusion within the arts.  

What gives you the confidence to go out there and play different characters and to create work? 

Ha-ha, I guess that kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier. It’s about telling yourself that you have a right to be here and do the work. When it’s something you really love, and know you should be doing for the rest of your life, then that’s all there is to it. That feeling of being proud of who you are and what you’re capable of is all you need really, and no one can take that away from you. 

Directors are integral to the success of theatre and film projects. They contribute to all the creative elements of the production and are responsible for shaping it into a cohesive story. Kwame has a strong creative vision and the ability to communicate his stories and ideas to a variety of people throughout the production process.  However, despite some successes, there is still a lack of people of colour directing feature films, this problem isn’t just limited to Hollywood but even micro-budget projects, which tend to feature a majority of white male directors.  At just 22 Kwame has already directed and performed in plays by Alistair McDowall, Debbie Tucker Green, Rory Mullarkey, and a range of student writers which explore the themes of identity and survival, political radicalism and radicalism and revolution, the worlds of fantasy and horror, the future and fractured relationships. He also directing a range of film and radio projects that vividly explore our world today. 

What advice would you give to people that want to get into directing? 

My first bit of advice would be, ask yourself what sort of stories you want to tell? Who do you want to affect? What do you want your work to say? Do you want to comment on society, or make amazing entertainment, or showcase your people and your culture that doesn’t get represented enough, or none of that and something else altogether?! There isn’t a wrong answer, but once you know that answer, then figuring out what direction to head in should come naturally. 

My second bit of advice would be, consume as much culture as possible. Watch films, plays, fashion shows, reality TV, read magazine and books, listen to music, do it all! The more you explore, the more you’ll be inspired. And the more you’re inspired, the better your work will be. 

My final bit of advice is more practical. If you really want to get into directing, then it’s all about putting yourself out there and meeting people. Someone once told me, it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you! So, if there’s someone who’s making sick films or plays or anything, then message them on Instagram, DM them on twitter. Find those like-minded people and just make work. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission, just make what you want to make on your phone or on the street, put it out there, and your career will grow and grow. 

What gives you the confidence to go out there and play different characters and to create work? 

Ha-ha, I guess that kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier. It’s about telling yourself that you have a right to be here and do the work. When it’s something you really love, and know you should be doing for the rest of your life, then that’s all there is to it. That feeling of being proud of who you are and what you’re capable of is all you need really, and no one can take that away from you. 

 What are your plans for the future? 

My plans for the future are… get this Master’s degree and just carry on meeting new people , that love to create, and keep making amazing art with them that we’re proud of. 

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