Loussin-Torah Pilikian, who performs with represent., a theatre company for actors from a lower socio-economic background.
represent. is a brand-new professional theatre company of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with a mission to open up the industry to those for whom it is currently inaccessible.
Pilikian recently starred in the world première of Isley Lynn’s Albatross, a small but sweeping story about the past refusing to stay in the past and currently starring in interruptions which shows an imaginary country preparing for an election, undergoing a military coup, and then living through the consequences.
We speak to the Loussin-Torah about being part of the company and the opportunity it provides, and her passion for strengthening communities through arts and cultural exposure…
Please introduce yourself?
My name is Loussin-Torah Pilikian. I’m an actor, spoken word and performance artist of Jamaican and Armenian heritage born and raised in North West London. I am a storyteller and a qualified Yoga teacher. In 2020 I founded SpeakEasy community, open mics, workshops and jam sessions where I combined all of my skills in holistic health and performance to help people to develop their social and emotional confidence. I facilitate safe spaces for people to share their voices and speak their truth using meditation, poetry
and acting techniques.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.
A physical, emotional and spiritual rollercoaster!
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about represent. theatre – how did you get involved with the company and what does its work mean to you?
represent. theatre is an emerging theatre company whose mission is to showcase remarkable acting talent by providing professional opportunities to people from working-class backgrounds. In January 2020, a friend WhatsApp’d me a link to represent.’s application page and I filled out the online form. I’ve recognised that the class system in this country is not simply a state of economic affairs. Growing up, the emotional feelings that one might harbour towards or about oneself of shame; fear of both failure and success, the struggle with mental health and the severe lack of accessible resources has a huge impact on self-confidence and self-worth.
Truly understanding self-care and self-love can be a privilege, especially in most recent times. “Working-class” and “money” used to be dirty words in our household. Despite fitting represent. theatre’s brief to a tee which mentioned “working class” and, “not having attended drama school” and encouragement of “BAME” applicants; without a screen acting showreel I was still thinking, “gosh, I’m competing against actual actors.”All of the self-doubt saboteurs started to creep in. Due to a mixture of expertise and the nature of represent. theatre’s mission, I’ve been absolutely in love since. I barely felt as though I was auditioning.
The expert Anabel Arden of Complicite theatre held our ensemble audition with such genuine openness and honesty. Guy Woolf and Katy were so friendly and warm towards us in the final audition that whether or not I was cast, I had fun, I learned something new and was made to feel like a part of something unique; a change occurring. I feel absolutely honoured and humbled to work with such professional and considerate individuals.
In all honesty, you hear so many horror stories about directors within the arts industry, especially post the METOO movement. Thankfully I feel very safe, heard, seen, listened to and supported as an actor, but also as a person. To come back to the stage after lockdown is truly thrilling. The scripts have been chosen very carefully and are so well written. It’s an absolute honour to finally bring these two powerful productions, Albatross and Interruptions, to the public.
Theatre is often a space that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds feel alienated from, but you’ve spoken about theatre as “medicine”; as “the space in life that keeps me going”. How did you come to see theatre this way and why is theatre so important to you?
I have described theatre as medicine because I have personally found my experiences with it deeply provocative, moving and therefore healing. As an actor, I have the opportunity to step into a brand-new world, play and process emotions that I might never have experienced in my day to day life. I leave with a new perspective that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
As an audience member, as a person, I have an opportunity to process deep-rooted emotions through witnessing other peoples’ stories. Tell someone that it is ‘morally correct’ to “always give to those who have less than you” and at best you’ll have an intense debate. Take someone to see a play such as Albatross that challenges power, privilege and the permanency of the decisions we make as humans and they might leave with a change of heart, a new perspective on social class divisions or even firmer core beliefs. Whether you cry, laugh or simply bear witness, the healing comes from feeling and experiencing and releasing these stored up emotions. Also, we’ve been socially isolated for an entire year. To have a reason to leave the house is healing in itself!
In August this year, it was shared that you were one of the recipients of the Theatre Artists Fund. What has it been like navigating the theatre industry during the pandemic and do you think the pandemic has revealed any need for significant structural change within the theatre industry?
The pandemic certainly highlighted the great class divide in this country. For some people, the pandemic was an opportunity to start that business they’ve always wanted to start. Spend more time with the kids, if they could afford it. What a privilege. For the rest of us, the damage to mental and physical health was traumatic.
The National Theatre was able to stream 16 weeks of live theatre whereas fringe theatres such as The Bunker had to close. The NT theatre live streams were made free to the public for those 16 weeks, yet the
ticket prices of seeing theatre in person have soared over the years. The educational, social, playful and empathy building opportunity needs to be for everyone, not only the elite who can afford it. Art is healing. Art has therapeutic benefits. Actors learn to build empathy. There’s so much to address, but the structural change within the theatre industry is beginning.
I see represent. theatre as a starting point, because they are making room for the underprivileged where it literally didn’t exist before. They are not only looking for actors, but for scriptwriters, designers, and stage management from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Receiving the Theatre Artists Fund was light relief. It took some pressure off that period where I was
unemployed. represent. theatre supported us as much as they could and I’m so grateful for this. Navigating the theatre industry felt hopeless for a long time. Once the live, physical stage was gone; it felt like there wasn’t an industry anymore. The government published marketing materials encouraging creatives to retrain as computer programmers. I felt empty for a long time. NHS therapy and Twining Enterprise were key in my journey, launching SpeakEasy; an online community and membership; where I shared my craft through
online workshops, I started to develop my skills and build as an entrepreneur and facilitator as well as an artist. Artists building careers require entrepreneurial skills, confidence building, access to healthcare and money management skills.
Let’s talk about Albatross. Tell us a bit about the character you are performing.
I’m playing two characters – Warren and Sunny. Warren is a cool, free-spirited soul who loves travelling and volunteering at huge music and arts and wellness festivals. Her parents got married very
young and very quickly and went travelling around the world. As a result, Warren never really felt rooted. During her travels to Asia and South America, she’s heartbroken by the poverty-stricken communities and welcoming nature of marginalised groups and the most vulnerable. She believes strongly in second chances. She believes in change and helping people. She has rented accommodation that is personalised. She is employed.
Sunny is an absolute ball of energy! They grew up in care and were fostered and moved around a lot. They were very misunderstood at school, very bright, class clown and loved sharing what they know. Teachers weren’t a fan of the “class clown behaviour.” Around 16 they started going to church every Sunday and the tithe, offering and giving something back, resonated with them deeply. Sunny confessed something believed to be a sin and saw their only option as to run and never look back. They’ve been kindly sheltered, moved on, taken in and moved on again. They’ve been shown a lot of compassion in their life despite making mistakes. Sunny believes in giving. Sunny believes in including everyone and sharing what they have and being kind to others. They stay at a hostel on and off. They are unemployed.
What do you hope audiences take away from Albatross?
Isley’s writing is so, so generous and rich that getting into character has been a real joy! Jess Edwards, our incredible director, reminded us that the audience has not been through our entire process and experience as a cast. With this in mind; I try to leave interpretation up to the audience. My only responsibility is to gift them a slice of these characters’ lives. Maybe there is a Sunny or a Warren in the audience who will feel seen or heard. Maybe there isn’t. I hope audiences reflect on their own privileges and how we choose to show up to others in the world. Isley Lynn’s writing offers a very powerful monologue summing up a number of reasons as to why someone, anyone, might find themselves homeless or in poverty. It can literally happen to anyone at any time.
Tell us a bit about the characters you are playing in interruptions.?
I play a total of five different characters across seven scenes. In our imaginary world, based on real-life experiences of a military coup, austerity and a national crisis, I play Abel, a curious and traumatised constituent of a crumbling village who was forced to join a labour camp. You’ll see me become the Novice to the Sister at a religious sect far away in the mountains, then Cosmo, an entitled head chef in charge of a highly anticipated Presidential luncheon, June a misunderstood sex worker with the lead role in the Minister of the Interior’s sexual fantasy, and finally Virgine, an artist who would risk her life for her music… and her people.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?
To me, interruptions. is a stylised drama. It is quick, punchy and absurd, almost abstract, yet very, very raw and real. There may be elements that audiences recognise as inspired by Complicite and moments that will seem totally unique and sensitive.
Based on the military coup and overthrow of a left-wing government, I feel as though the events that follow are universal to many countries and many states with oppressive regimes. At a time of civil wars, genocide and matters of party-politics, interruptions. lends a voice to labourers, artists and professionals whose everyday lives are drastically interrupted and interfered with by an external threat. It speaks to our own sense of faith. Faith in government, faith in the economy, faith in God or a higher power, faith in your colleagues, friends and family.
Enforced labour, redeployment of labour to remote areas, food shortages, military dictatorship and violence, migration and asylum-seeking force each character in the story to confront their own mortality. Each scene touches on our raw humanity through heated disagreements that challenge an individual’s entire belief system, humourous exchanges between friends, fear and acceptance. The audience will interpret whatever resonates in their hearts.
After a year of isolation, I hope the audience feels safe to have left the house, to laugh loudly, to cry and to think critically about the challenges that our own society faces. The pandemic has made us all keenly aware of our own mortality and social media has taken over as a huge outlet for the sharing of information. I truly hope that any working-class creatives are deeply inspired to continue manifesting their dreams! I hope that everyone considers the sheer bravery it takes to make a decision when your entire belief system could be turned upside down at any moment.
Have you got any other projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
I will need a well-deserved break post-rep theatre, that’s for sure! SpeakEasy will however be making a comeback! I’ve received a number of emails and messages, so stay tuned. I cofounded Wombxnity in 2019 with my amazing fellow artist Holly Roxanne out of a need to see more women and femme bodied people take the stage. We created a jam night for poetry music, singing, improv, dance, movement, a celebration, a safe space for the feminine expression. All genders are welcome, but it was a safe space for fem and non-
binary people to share our art. We’re in discussion. Stay tuned!
GETTING TO KNOW YOU…
A book you have to have in your collection? The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
A song / album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Why Don’t You – by Cleo Sol
A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Avatar, The Last Airbender. Insecure, by Issa Rae.
The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? I saw Swan Lake at the age of 3. My Armenian Dad wanted us to be cultured and to feel like aristocrats. He loved Tchaikovsky. We sat in a box for the first time. I wore my fanciest dress. I enjoyed running up and down the corridor with my brother and sister and throwing our Hotwheels toy cars down flights of stairs. After being told to sit still and be quiet, I remember peering over the balcony and seeing the ballet dancers, the beautiful dresses, how strong their bodies were, how delicately the women moved across the stage and the music. It felt magical. The magic has stayed with me.
What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? Sad – I’ve been on my period. As a female actor, AFAB, an actor with a womb cycle doing rep theatre is intense and women’s health within this industry must be spoken about more openly. My character journeys and the intensity of the rehearsal process; the love I have for my fellow cast and crew has had me weeping uncontrollably. Mad – As a cast, we got really excited to have lunch at IMM Thai Cafe across the road from The Playground Theatre, on Latimer Road. Beautiful, authentic, Thai food! Stomachs empty and ready to receive a delicious hot meal. Gassed. We got there and it was closed. My body was prepared for this moment. I think they’re closed on a Saturday but call to check. We made it in the end. AMAZING! Glad – My friend has fibromyalgia. She couldn’t leave the house even though Latimer Road, where the Playground Theatre is, is quite close by. She was able to watch the Live Stream of albatross last week online! She laughed and cried and said it was amazing, she was able to “watch like a film (sort of)”. This warmed my heart.
Albatross ran at The Playground Theatre 20 October – 6 November.
interruptions. runs 17 November – 4 November at Jacksons Lane Theatre. Link here.