Lasana Shabazz started his career in traditional acting jobs in the UK and Holland, before finding his own voice through solo performance pieces. He speaks to Georgia Snow as he returns to an ensemble piece for performance artist Scottee’s directorial debut, in a show that explores what it means to be queer and British in 2016…
What drew you to this project?
It’s lip-syncing all these ideas exploring queer identity, which I think is a really important topic to explore, especially within a mainstream context like the Roundhouse. It’s a narrative that is not always explored. I find with queer narratives, it’s explored in the mainstream when it’s entertaining, but doesn’t look past the entertainment. This also looks at the connection with politics – I think it’s very important, rather than just seeing it as a stand-alone exploration of where we’ve come from, to look at the experience you have as a queer individual.
Does the show resonate personally?
It does, and it feels quite special for me, not only because it’s exploring that element of queer identity, but because it’s special to work with Scottee and the other artists. It’s nice, especially when you’re used to making your own work, to explore these issues and come together with artists to create a piece of work. You’re exposed to the different ways that people work and it’s a nice process. It’s changing the way I work and I’m excited to see where it takes my work.
Have you always wanted to make the kind of work you do now?
After I graduated from drama school I went to Holland for a year to do a residency. It was brilliant. My problem with drama school was that I never felt stimulated, I always wanted more. I felt that I wasn’t really supported in drama school, particularly as a black actor, in terms of what resources were available to me. I find the British way of training is very based on the voice, but when I went to Holland it was more physical and more about bringing yourself as an individual artist to your work.
How have you developed your style in the UK?
I came back from Holland and I went to the typical acting jobs, which I continued for about two years, but I realised that I wanted to continue pushing myself. I started to create my own work and spoke to people who supported me in that type of work, so that’s how it really developed. I was in New York not so long ago to work and network. It was an amazing experience, but my work can be quite politically challenging at times, and I didn’t really see as much of that within a queer environment in New York as I do in London.
You also teach, how does that fit in?
My father is in the arts and so I’ve always been aware of it. He is very diverse, teaching as well as making his own creative work, so I knew that was an important skill to have. I was running workshops from the age of 18 and that’s something that I’ve developed throughout my career. It offers some really exciting experiences.
CV: Lasana Shabazz
Training: Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, 2006-09
First professional role: MC Theater, Amsterdam (2009)
Putting Words in Your Mouth runs at the Roundhouse, London , from November 22 to December 3