Performer and director OneNess Sankara: ‘Women have not felt their stories are worth being told in public’

OneNess Sankara. Photo: Sharron Wallace OneNess Sankara. Photo: Sharron Wallace

OneNess Sankara’s first play The Immigrant is part of a season celebrating creative women at London’s Hoxton Hall. She tells Giverny Masso how the Caribbean woman space pioneer who features in the work is judged for being a ‘bad mother’ rather than a role model…

What inspired you to write  the play?

I thought it was an important story to tell. I grew up with my mother, but started to realise how many people didn’t, with their parents being in different countries or for other reasons. This looks at it more from the mother’s perspective, and considers the double standard when it comes to fathers. Dads often say they are “babysitting” when they are looking after the kid, but you can’t babysit your own child.

How have you found the process  of writing The Immigrant?

It has been interesting, because I have been going through such a major change while writing the piece. I have just become a mother, which is a wonderful experience. There are a lot of expectations. How you navigate your career? Do you have to choose between motherhood and your career? There’s been an exploration of self-identity within all of that.

Has becoming a mother affected the way you work?

It is definitely a whole different paradigm. Prior to this, when I worked on a project, everything else took second place and I’d think of nothing else, now it’s different because it’s trying to find that balance.

What is it like being part of  an all-female season?

It’s great to be involved in a season of women’s work. Female stories have historically been told by men, through a male gaze, and women have not felt their stories are worth being told in public. This is very stifling and it is not helpful in an evolving society.

How did you get into the arts?

I have always been in the arts. I started doing musical theatre at eight years old and carried on through school before doing a degree in performing arts. In the middle of that, I discovered spoken word. I’d always written, but this was more therapeutic. After becoming became involved in spoken word, I did it as a job while continuing a career in theatre. I’ve worked at the Nottingham Playhouse producing and directing, and I worked for theatre-in-education company Box Clever. This is my first solo-written straight play.

How does your experience as a performer and director feed into your playwriting?

As a writer, having been a performer and a director helps inform my practice. When I’m working on something, I can hear music. Everything colours everything else. Of the people I studied with, many of those who only did one aspect are not working. That is how I manage to solely do art, because I have had opportunities to do different things.

What advice would you give to emerging artists?

Trust yourself. Everyone has an opinion and people tell you things won’t work or you don’t fit the mould, but I would say just make sure you’re on point with whatever it is you’re doing.

The Immigrant runs at Hoxton Hall in London from March 13 to 31, as part of the Female Parts season