Titilola Dawudu is responsible for an important moment in British Black theatre!
A writer and producer Dawudu is currently the Learning and Participation Manager at Ovalhouse theatre. Previously working for GMTV and as an Outreach Journalist for organisation Headliners, she went on to be head of operations and development at Croydon-based youth charity Reaching Higher where she also ran also ran mentoring and arts-based events and programmes.
If that wasn’t enough, Dawudu went on to found STAGES, an all-girls theatre project. She’s an Associate Writer for Beyond Face, a theatre company based in Plymouth, writing for their youth theatre with her monologues performed at Soho Theatre, the Bush Theatre, and the Arcola.
As a mentor for young women she has been recently shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards mentoring category and now in collaboration with Tamasha theatre Ms. Titiola Dawudu has edited a collection of monologues called, Hear Me Now Audition Monologues for Actors of Colour, published by Oberon Books.
TBB Talks to this impressive woman to find out more…
Who are you?
Titilola Dawudu, Nigerian-born Londoner. Writer, producer and editor and Learning and Participation Manager at Ovalhouse theatre
What was the younger you like?
Shy and introverted and very bookish. Loved to read books. As a teenager, I became more confident but always wanted to explore my identity. I grew up in an all-white small village and when I left there and returned to London, I was called a ‘bounty‘ as I didn’t speak like my black peers and I didn’t gel my baby-hairs down. To them I was white. I grew up loving Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, Take That and East 17. It was later when I got into TLC and people like that.
Was a career in the arts always the plan?
I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller in the sense that I wrote stories and would read books and be lost in whatever world I was immersed in. I thought at one point it would be about other people’s stories and I wanted to be a documentarian. Shakespeare’s Othello inspired me when my mentor at school, Lucy Neal (co-founder of Lift Festivals) took me to see Othello at the National (my very first time watching a play and going to the theatre) and I didn’t know black people were in the theatre. I didn’t know that this is a world where we could exist. David Harewood in Othello did that for me.
The first thing you wrote was about what and if you were to re-write it today how much would you change?
Down Hair, I wrote it as a novel but was unable to get published so I turned this into a play. It’s about a young black girl, fostered by a white family and obsessed with white people’s hair because it grew ‘down’ and swished about and moved in the wind. The girl also had Barbie and Sindy dolls who became her imaginary friends. If I wrote it today, I wouldn’t change it as it explored identity and the world’s obsession with beauty and lighter black skin being more acceptable and palatable than darker skin.
You co-created and edited Hear Me Now Audition Monologues for Actors of Colour … why?
I used to write audition monologues for the young black people I was working with at the time many years ago and when I did an MA in Dramatic Writing at Central Saint Martins, I spoke to the very few black actors and there was a lot of discussion about mental health whilst at drama school and how black actors felt even at drama school that they were given lesser parts than the white actors who studied there. I thought I could change in some way the audition process and what happens in the audition room.
If actors of colour are given audition texts that are rich, complex and nuanced – might there be a possibility that these actors who more often than not are in audition rooms where the casting director, director, and producer is white – could feel a sense of empowerment by having something that represents them and speaks to them in that space, in that room. Of course, the bigger conversation is still what parts actors, especially early career actors, are being put up for. But I thought that having a great audition piece that actors of colour can get their teeth into, can feel great, assured and confident – would make a difference.
What was the process of pulling it all together?
I had this idea and at the time was working with Tamasha and presented this to Fin (Artistic Director of Tamasha) and Debo (Tamasha’s producer) they’d had a similar idea. We piloted the idea with the National Youth Theatre in 2016. We workshopped having 1 writer of colour and 2 actors of colour work together. The actors told the writer which characters they would want to play – they came up with the story and theme and then the writer went away and wrote the monologues. We presented these monologues at the end of 2016 at a scratch night at Rich Mix and the audience mainly made up of actors, producers and casting directors all fed back that there’s something to this; the actors, especially responded positively to wanting these monologues.
I submitted an ACE application (Arts Council England) and in March 2017, three weeks coming out of the hospital after having my son Josiah, we got the funding. We were able to work with 25 writers of colour who worked with actors from Company Three, Purple Moon Drama, Generation Arts, Reaching Higher and Rightful Place Theatre (formerly Mulberry Alumni Theatre). We put on another workshop and altogether we now have 34 writers, 87 new monologues and 85 actors who contributed to Hear Me Now Audition Monologues for Actors of Colour.
What were the challenges, did you have to convince the ‘establishment’ about how necessary this book is?
All the admin! Also, the book felt like it was becoming a full-time commitment and I have a full-time job alongside this. But the result and the responses have been overwhelming. It has been a labour of love with Tamasha and Oberon Books. I feel like I have made a shift in the conversations about needing the industry to change, by taking action and creating a legacy. I haven’t needed to convince anyone, as they believe that it is relevant and very much needed.
How did you decide which monologues to use?
This was a collaborative effort with Tamasha and Oberon. We wanted as much as possible to include all of the writers’ monologue. As a writer, this for me was also creating work for other writers – especially women of colour who are even more underrepresented – that would have them published, creating a legacy for them also.
Is the book on curriculums now?
Not on the curriculum, but in the libraries of schools such as The BRIT School and RADA. It will also be in Arts Education and Leyton Sixth Form. I have more meetings with schools and drama schools coming up and because the response to Hear Me Now has been so positive, I am confident that it will be in many other schools and drama schools. I’ve donated some to Open Door, The Mono Box and so far a few individuals as part of my funding from ACE was to give some books to people or organisations unable to afford to purchase the books. I do want Hear Me Now to be recommended reading for actors of colour in drama schools, youth companies, and other organisations. I want HMN to be the book or choice/the must-have book for actors.
Is there a fear that students who choose a ‘black‘ monologue will be challenged more?
I don’t believe so. I hope that actors of colour will feel confident in the audition room. Hear Me Now is a toolkit. Non-people of colour already have one – their privilege. Because of the way the industry is or has been, because of biases, because our faces aren’t always in these spaces and people aren’t always used to seeing us – I feel that having an added layer; having a bit of armour – will give that actor of colour a sense of confidence, safety and empowerment.
Will Hear Me Now be a series of books?
Yes – there will be another volume.
Most impactful monologue personal to you?
No Thigh Gaps Allowed as it was one I wrote and featured at the book launch. As a playwright, I am taking time off as I have felt disillusioned and despondent by the industry as a writer, despite me believing that I am a great writer. I am writing a novel again with the support of Hachette and just submitted my first 30,000 words and have a deadline for the rest. But seeing how people responded to No Thigh Gaps Allowed made me feel so good that even though with playwriting, we’re on a break, I know my writing evokes positive, genuine responses, so I will never stop being a writer.
What does being British and Black mean to you?
I love being black and I love being a black woman. I am still working out whether I connect with being British or is it more the fact that I connect with being a Londoner? All I know is that my complex, sensitive, funny, curious, artistic self, loves bringing her Nigerian, Yoruba, African self to wherever she is and whatever space she occupies.
Hear Me Now is published by Oberon Books. Buy your copy here.
Keep up to date with Titilola Dawudu here.