The National Youth Theatre, the UK’s leading youth arts organisation recently held auditions across the country this spring.
The NYT is the UK’s leading youth arts organisation which aims to provide accessible training and opportunities to develop talented young people as opposed to expensive drama schools, for example, and is proving to be a champion of the next generation of talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Craig, Zawe Ashton, Matt Smith and Helen Mirren are just a few names from their famous alumni.
We caught up with NYT graduate Sope Dirisu, who you’ll recognise from TV shows Humans (Channel 4, series 1), Undercover (BBC) and recently on stage in the title role of Coriolanus (RSC) and his Young Vic debut in the Brothers Size in March.
1# Hey Sope, finally getting the chance to catch up with you. It’s been a while. You’re busy… tell us all the productions you’ve been involved with recently?
It has been a while, hasn’t it! I think the last time we bumped into each other was at the Screen Nation awards last year? I’ve had a blessed year since then. I shot Next of Kin for ITV and then straight after that, went off to Stratford Upon Avon to play Coriolanus in the RSC’s production of Coriolanus. Now I’ve recently finished playing Ogun in The Brothers Size at the Young Vic.
2# You’ve been back to back in stage productions, is that strategic or are you just following opportunities as they come?
I like to mix up the mediums as much as I can so I don’t think it’s strategic as such but I had two wonderful stage opportunities in a row and it was definitely the right thing to do.
3#The Brothers Size at the Young Vic was so well received. Tell us a bit about your character and how you found/connected to his personality and ‘isms’?
So I played Ogun. All of the characters in the play are connected to and in some ways based on a Yoruba orisha of the same name. Ogun in the Yoruba pantheon is the god of iron and craftsmen. Ogun in the play is a car mechanic. He is a rooted man who can often appear inflexible and he carries a lot of weight with him. The weight of the past, the weight of expectation and the weight of his responsibility. Being an older brother myself, there were a lot of aspects of his character that were given to me for free, so for that, I have to thank my little sister, Ola, but I also have to thank Bijan [Bijan Sheibani – director] for a lot of the work we did in rehearsals.
4# What was it about the play, or character that made you say yes?
The play was first on at the Young Vic eleven years ago and then again 10 years ago, and I didn’t manage to see either of those productions. This production was the perfect combination of lots of great things: a great theatre, a great director, a great playwright, a great play, a great part and great timing, working over the Christmas period and into the new year. I also felt the play had a lot to say to today and in terms of diversity and the visibility of black stories at this level of theatre, I wanted to be a part of telling our stories.
5# You’re an alumnus of the National Youth Theatre which regularly holds auditions, tell us how influential your time with the NYT has been on your career?
It’s really simple, I wouldn’t be an actor today if it wasn’t for the National Youth Theatre. You don’t have to want to be an actor to be a member of the NYT either, but if you did, it’s a great step in the right direction. I didn’t go to drama school or anything like that, so it was exclusively the NYT that gave me the opportunities and basis of my understanding of stagecraft. It’s where I gained the confidence to grab the opportunities in front of me. Also, the friends I’ve made there have shaped my person.
6# How did you find out about NYT and do you remember your audition, were you confident, did you expect to get in, what did you have to do?
I found out about the NYT because I’d performed Macbeth with my school as part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, which at the time was co-produced with the NYT. There was an advert for NYT at the back of the programme, which my mum was obviously insistent of having, and my teachers at school encouraged me to audition. I auditioned on Valentine’s Day and got my acceptance letter on my mum’s birthday, so that was a really great spring for me. I don’t remember feeling particularly confident going into the audition, I always leave line learning for monologues far too late, but the atmosphere of the audition day really relaxed me and allowed me to have fun and enjoy the day as a whole.
The day was split into two, as it still is today, I believe. The first part of the day is full of games and workshops and group devising exercises and the second part of the day, everybody performs the monologues they prepared.
I performed the ’Tis the cause’ speech from Othello. To be honest, I really wonder if I knew what he was saying in that speech or if I could truly understand the emotion that he was feeling in that moment. I just picked the speech because I thought all black actors should do Othello. A sentiment I’m actively battling against today.
7# What’s your best advice for people auditioning for NYT?
My advice would be to find a piece that you can really connect with and have fun on the day. You might not get in that year, but the most important thing is that you enjoy yourself on the day. Take deep breaths and relax. Everybody in that room wants you to be the best version of yourself. Nobody wants you to fail or feel like you have.
8# Do you have a favourite memory of your time at NYT, also were you there with any other British Black talent we know today?
Some of my best friends are British Black talent from or who I met through the NYT! Ken Nwosu, Ekow Quartey, Gbolohan Obisesan, Jessye Romeo, Shalisha James-Davis, Jamael Westman, Kwami Odoom and Fehinti Balogun to name a few…
9# So what’s next for you?
Well, The Brothers Size finished in February, and then we’ll see. Part of the struggle of life of a freelance creative is that you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. That said, there are lots of stories of my own I want to invest some time in, so maybe I’ll keep myself busy until someone wants to work with me!
10# Finally, thoughts on Black Panther?
There is a large movement of BAME artists who hired out a screen and watched it together. Before it was released it was the highlight of the year. This film has had such a profound and cataclysmic effect on society, I’m glad I experienced the full effect of its black excellence.
The National Youth Theatre holds regular auditions for young people, aged 14-25 across the country. To find out more visit www.nyt.org.uk