Poetry, curiosity and a love for telling stories are my sole credentials when it comes to theatre. I remember hearing about Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Home Theatre UK in 2015. It hosted 30 bespoke performances in 30 different homes on the same night. A friend had done the first season in 2013 and it looked fun so I applied. Not being a trained actor, I was scared when they called me for audition. Although I was nervous, whatever I did must have been good because I got a call back.
On the first day I soon realised all but two of the participants were trained and established actors. My nerves started kicking me. Working with directors from Brazil, South Africa and the UK, I had a week to meet my host, write a bespoke script, devise it, learn it and perform to an audience of 30. It was one of the most daunting, intense and rewarding weeks of my life. I got through it by surrendering to the process, being committed to quality and sending my imposter syndrome on a short vacation. Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Making it through intact, and being affirmed by theatre professionals, made me think maybe this wasn’t a fluke.
In 2016 I wrote Ile La Wa (Yoruba for ‘We are home’). It was my first multi-handed play exploring what it means to always be ‘the other’ in the place you call home. That initial experience of writing and devising gave me a starting point for writing, acting in, and producing the play. The process, from conception to production and touring, has been difficult, joyful and a learning experience. The path isn’t something I could have predicted.
As a lawyer who fell into theatre, my advice to blossoming theatremakers is to feel the fear and do it anyway, especially for those who aren’t from conventional theatre backgrounds. Immerse yourself in what it is you want to do, speak to people and do short courses if going to drama school is not on the cards. The imposter syndrome doesn’t go away, but if you stay prepared, consistent and work, your track record will speak for itself.
Theatre credits include: Cherry Tree House for Theatre Royal Stratford East; Ile La Wa (Rich Mix, Stratford Circus and 2019 tour); Live poetry performances at South Bank WOW Festival, BBC Slam, Southwark Cathedral and many other venues around the country
Other credits include: Founder of Home Sessions, a development programme and community for black poets
Tolu Agbelusi was talking to John Byrne. Ile La Wa is on tour April 10-June 20. For details and venues visit toluagbelusi.com