It’s been exactly a month since I finished my degree in Theatre and Performance and stepping into the real world has been exciting and challenging. I am grateful to tiata fahodzi for offering me my first job after university. It all happened so quickly, literally within my last week of university. I remember when Director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour called me back to tell me I got the job, I was filled with so much joy. It all felt surreal, especially since the role was exactly the sort of experience I was looking for, a job that provides me with directing and producing experience.
My interests for directing and producing began from being given the opportunities to produce creative events at university, devising a theatre piece and going on a placement year at Kiln theatre; which opened my network and knowledge to the world of theatre. During this period, I was also an assistant director and I learnt that I really do enjoy being in rehearsal rooms, collaborating with other artists and making things happen.
I believe my role now with tiata fahodzi will be very beneficial for me. Not only will it provide me with the expertise and experience to be a director and producer, but the role will challenge and push me to be confident within these roles for a future career in the industry. I am grateful for this opportunity because when I was studying for my degree and getting a taste of the theatre world, I faced some of the obstacles that can prevent individuals like myself from progressing in this industry, obstacles which tried to stop me from seeing it as a place where my stories and values are important. As a black British woman from a working-class background I stepped into my degree feeling as though I did not have enough knowledge or experience compared to my peers in my class, because I was made to feel different, which led me to believe I was not capable of doing my degree. There was also a lack of Black British theatre role models and academics featured within my course. I realised how much of an impact these factors had on me and the importance of the change that needs to happen to stop these factors being barriers, that stop the progress of individuals like myself. As a result, I believe more schemes and programmes such as the one I am on with tiata fahodzi need to exist and be made more accessible for individuals who may face similar struggles to me. I have seen the importance of getting to work with a theatre company that represents you and the work you are interested in making, that is what I have found with tiata fahodzi.
typical rehearsals so far
The first part of my role involves being an assistant director to Anastasia on typical. typical is a beautiful play, written with potent words. It explores black manhood and identity in society and how institutions within society can sometimes fail the black man.
Rehearsals began at Shoreditch Town hall in their rustic underground ditch rooms. This was in preparation for the work-in progress showing for Talawa firsts. The rehearsal room is always a joyful place to be with Anastasia and Richard Blackwood who stars in TYPICAL. From playing games that allow us to get to know each other better, to conversations about race and culture sparked from the world of the play leading us to have our own debates on whether plantain is pronounced “plan-tain” or “plan-tin” (plan-tain being the correct way for all my Africans out there!). There has never been a dim session and we are always learning something new about each other and the play.
As well as having fun in rehearsals, it has also been great to observe the craft and detail that have already gone into this production. Anastasia and Richard have spent time adjusting their ears to the hull accent and exploring the character’s personality and choices. We have also had visits from other members of the creative team such as writer Ryan Calais Cameron himself, sound designer Duramaney Kamara and set & costume designer Zahra Mansouri who have all fed and contributed ideas towards the piece.
My favourite day
Filming for the trailer at Soho Theatre has been my favourite day of the process so far. I experienced the transformation of an ordinary room into a useful studio space, Richard blinding us with his newly whitened teeth and I got to be the interviewer asking Anastasia and Ryan questions for their filmed interview. It was also exciting to watch Anastasia execute her vision for the trailer, picking out key moments of the script and using one of the catchy songs that feature in the play to create something that hopefully gives a clear sense of what the play is about.
What I have learnt
My experience so far has taught me how multi-faceted the role of a director is. From observing Anastasia, I have seen that as a director she is fully aware of all that is going on, from the well-being of her cast, to the constant communication with the creative team and collaborating with the set and costume designer to merge both their visions for the play. It is a role that requires full attention, dedication and creativity to create a great piece of work.
I am looking forward to going back to rehearsals next week in preparation for Edinburgh!
jessica mensah is completing a three-month placement as part of our artistic director leadership programme, assisting trainee artistic director anastasia osei-kuffour on typical and joining the tiata fahodzi artistic team in the autumn. jessica studied theatre and performance at the University of Surrey Guildford School of Acting. she also completed a year-long placement at Kiln Theatre, took part in the Young Vic’s introduction to directing course, the young producer’s programme at Battersea Arts Centre and in 2018 she was an assistant director on Queens of Sheba in 2018, produced by Nouveau Riche Theatre Company. jessica is also a Young Ambassador for Brent, in which she also performed a spoken word piece for the borough’s winning video called This is Brent.