My first job was forming the Acts drama group in 1984 with my sisters and a close friend. Growing up in a Jamaican, working-class family in 1980s Northampton, any kind of theatre job wasn’t considered an option. As far as society was concerned, my ‘real job’ was the factory where I was paid a pittance to pack toothpaste. When we started the Acts, nobody knew or cared who these four little black girls were.
We wrote material with strong messages but that also made people laugh. We knew engaging their emotions would ultimately open them up to our message. We knocked on every door and spoke to everyone who answered. The first year, we worked mostly for nothing, but by the second, people were calling us and we were getting paid. From taking our plays into schools, performing in prisons, visiting hospitals and elderly care homes, we got to the point where we were headlining conferences, festivals and youth events across the country as well as travelling to California and Jamaica.
Despite our success, I found I wasn’t acting because I needed to be on stage – my biggest note was always: “Jacquie, please can we have less of Jacquie?” – I was acting because I love to write, but could never understand why some plays worked and others didn’t. I decided to train as an actor to understand what actors look for in a script. Now as a playwright and director, I spend the whole first day with the script, poring over the storyline, the implications and the intentions – making sure the actor is connected with the character so the words and dialogue become their own.
Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that my first theatrical work was self-created. Being naturally entrepreneurial, waiting for someone to employ me wasn’t an option. I look for an opportunity, but if one doesn’t exist I’ll create it. The creative industries can pull you in different directions, so find out early in your career what you really love. What makes you happiest and gives you a sense of purpose? Stick with that as much as possible – become an expert at it.
Training: American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York; London Centre for Theatre Studies; University of East London
Theatre includes: Twisted Magnolias, Cornflakes, iDOLLatry, The Red Dress
Other credits: Presenter/producer (Colourful Radio); founder of Creative Platform Academy