Writer and winner of the 2019 JMK Young Director award, Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu is currently working on a new production of Arinzé Kene’s Little Baby Jesus at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. He tells Ruth Comerford about directing one of his favourite plays, and what a young director must do to emerge in the industry…
How did you get into directing?
I took part in a scheme at London’s Ovalhouse called Truth about Youth. I was about 15, and fully prepared to be an actor. The head of the course, Toby Clarke, said to me: “I have always been looking to you to assist me, and there is an opportunity for you to do that if you like, so make a choice.” I had to go home and tell my mum. I said: “I don’t know what to choose, but my heart is excited by the idea of directing.”
Tell me about Little Baby Jesus.
It’s going really well – we’re having so much fun. This is one of my favourite plays in the whole world. Little Baby Jesus is about three teenagers recounting the moment they feel they ‘grew up’. I am very specific about saying ‘grew up’ rather than adulthood because I feel like they are two different things – this is about when they chose to learn from something that happened to them. The script has so much in it – it’s poetic and lyrical and there is so much colour.
What has winning the JMK Young Director award enabled you to do?
It’s amazing to be fully funded. I don’t want to beat about the bush: I’ve got a team that can be paid, I can be paid, there’s support both financially and emotionally and that’s pretty rare. The Orange Tree and the JMK Trust have been great. They genuinely want me to do well. The JMK award is really making me think about how I work. Every play that I write or direct has a physical energy in it – it has to move in a space. Playwright Lorca spoke of ‘duende’ [inner spirit arising from emotion] – I hope that is in every bit of my work.
What advice would you give to aspiring directors?
You need to immerse yourself in every single art form. Watching plays, going to art galleries of all different types, not just the Tate Modern. Learn to be critical – not to criticise. Question things: what did this piece of art set out to do? If you’ve cooked a meal with sweet and sour sauce and it tastes like chocolate, well, there’s something wrong, isn’t there? Check in with your process; what was it supposed to do? Is it still doing that?
What would you change about the industry?
I am tired of talks on diversity. I am not diverse, I am black. You may see me as a season, but I am not a season, so stop referring to me as that. Just employ me. Employ my peers. I should not be going to theatres in this day and age and just seeing a sea of white people. If you say you’re trying to diversify but there’s no outreach, what are you actually doing? Can we have more black people doing that course at Central please? Do something tangible, measurable. Theatre is for everyone, so make it for everyone.
Training: BA in English Literature and Drama at Roehampton University (2012-15); MA in Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media at Central School of Speech and Drama (2017-18)
First professional writing credit: Skeen! commissioned by Ovalhouse in London (2012)
Little Baby Jesus is at London’s Orange Tree Theatre from October 18 to November 16