My First Job: Shobna Gulati

Shobna Gulati. Photo: Robert Day
by -

I have been working now for 32 years. I worked as a professional dancer, educator and maker as an individual and then with the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance company, but my first London theatre job that involved words and a script (rather than a storyboard) was at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1993.

It was called Moti Roti Puttli Chunni (‘Thick bread, thin veils’). I had worked with Keith Khan and Ali Zaidi before. They were designers and makers and I began to work with them closely for more than 10 years. We were very much on the same page, working across various artistic disciplines and working from within a community to generate spectacle.

Moti Roti was developed with Theatre Royal Stratford East, another perfect match for us all.

I was nervous. It was a comedy, I wondered if the audience would ‘get’ what we were doing. I would be directly involved in it as a dancer and as an actor for the first time in various roles, such as ditsy secretary, police superintendent and original “wet sari” dancer. I danced under a shower of water every night, and in those days as a young Asian woman it caused a bit of a stir in the community.

The thing that struck me was the fact that we were all learning together along with more experienced actors, and in the safe and supportive environment of Stratford East it was easier to cope, make mistakes, learn, listen and start to understand what aspect of performance actually made me tick.

It was the most amazing experience when you feel you have the audience behind you in comedy or in any performance. I loved that feeling of knowing they were ready to laugh because they knew they could. It was complicit and together. Laughing is an involuntary reaction and if you can provoke that involuntary action as a performer, it’s an amazing feeling.

Listening carefully to the audience is just as important as listening to your fellow actor. It is a shared experience.

My First Job: Shobna Gulati

Age: 50
Training: Manchester University; Laban Centre; Darpana Academy of Performing Arts
Theatre includes: Mamma Mia! (international tour), April in Paris, (Derby Playhouse, UK tour), Hunger for Trade, Come Closer (Royal Exchange, Manchester), The Jungle Book (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Dinnerladies (UK tour)
Choreography includes: Royal Exchange; West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leicester Haymarket; Theatre Royal Stratford East; Oldham Coliseum
Agent: Curtis Brown

Shobna Gulati, starring in the UK tour of Anita and Me, was talking to John Byrne