Actor Lejaun Sheppard Talks … Once On This Island

Please introduce yourself … 

I’m Lejaun Sheppard, a Trinidadian-born actor and writer, currently living in London.

Why Once On This Island?

Truth be told, I didn’t know much about the piece before this project came about, but when the audition came through my partner said I had to do it. She told me what a beautiful show it is, and once I listened to the soundtrack, I was sold. I have also always wanted to work at Regents Park Open Air Theatre and “test my mettle” out in the elements, so this opportunity felt way too good to miss. 

Tell us about your character and what their goal is in Once On This Island

I play ‘Papa Ge‘ who is the God of Death. In our show, Papa Ge is an amalgamation of the whole Gede family
from the Vodou religion. Without giving away any major spoilers, his goal is to prove his inevitability and remind everyone else that death is really just a natural part of life. 

Tell us about working with your fellow cast …

Our cast is amazing. Throughout the rehearsal period, we all leaned on each other, but the two people that stand out for me are Hanna Dimtsu and Gabby Brooks. Hanna because she is our dance captain (and sometimes I have two left feet), but she has endless patience and makes me look sick. Gabby is the heart of our production – she sets the energy in the room and once she starts performing, you can’t help but to try and match her.

What does the story of Once On This Island mean to you personally?

To me, our show is about family and forgiveness. Love is powerful, raw emotion that allows people to push far
beyond their assumed limits. Our show covers the after-effects of colonialism and therefore colourism, and yet family and love still prevail. 

Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through it.

The biggest challenge has been the UK weather. Trying to rehearse a show in an outside space has been incredibly challenging – you’d be mid-scene at the apex of a pivotal moment, and the heavens open up forcing you to stop for however long. Then you go back to the scene and you somehow have to try and reach that place again. It has been incredibly tough but the creative team and everyone at Regents Park have been amazing.

Tell us a moment when it all clicked and made sense …

We did an exercise with Annamette Verspeak, our voice coach, on inhabiting characters. We had to connect with one another in character and respond in any way that felt honest and natural. Most people were afraid, submissive or antagonistic towards Papa Ge, so I reflected that energy back to them. One person greeted me with a smile and a laugh and I again reflected that back. It made me realise that Papa Ge is not a villain and if you come to him willingly with a smile and open arms, he will make your passing easy and pleasant. This one exercise really unlocked another layer of my character.

Lejaun Sheppard as Papa Ge – Image Credit: Marc Brenner

What defines what you love about this project …

Waiting for Life. Ti Moune is an incredibly driven character and she doesn’t let societal norms, family or even the gods hold her back. We could all learn from being a little more like Ti Moune.

What’s it like working on the infamous Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre?

It’s wicked. The team at RPOAT have gone above and beyond to welcome us, make us feel at home, and to ensure we have a plethora of resources to draw upon in times of need. This show is perfect for a venue like Regents Park – it is set in the Caribbean, Ti Moune is a character that is at one with nature and the fact we perform outside just fits perfectly. 

What’s next?

I’m currently auditioning for some exciting new projects that are coming up, but in the meantime, I am writing my first play with the Talawa Introductory Writers Course. We plan to showcase our work in mid-July so there is a lot going on to keep me busy.

How do we keep up to date with you and your work?

You can follow me at @thatguylej on Instagram and @Lej_She on Twitter (but my Twitter is mainly for memes).

Once On This Island runs until 10th June @ Regent’s Open Air Theatre


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