London born Kwame Augustine is an actor and writer who has appeared in campaigns for MTV, Phillips, Channel 4 and Bet-way. The issues of diversity within T.V, Film and Theatre recently have been rife and the effervescent Augustine has taken his future into his own hands. By writing, acting and producing an intriguing play based on his screenplay, ‘Johnny.’ This exciting new project is currently in development and has gathered great interest from many of the UK’s biggest production companies and TV networks.
Created by Augustine and developed through the guidance of Theatre Royal Stratford East’s new writer’s program. Johnny showed at the Bridewell Theatre for three nights from the 7th-9th of August 2016. The play featured the debut directorial skills of Darren Oderinde in addition to showcasing performances from Ava grace, Martin Rossen, Lewis Griffin, Gemma Carter, Gabrielle Pearson.
Gearing up for a performance of Johnny at the upcoming Thamesmead Arts Festival, we caught up with Kwame to talk about his work…
Hello Kwame! Thanks for speaking with us could you give us some more info on Johnny…
Johnny is a dark comedy set in 21st century London, a take on modern day society, a changing society. It focuses on a black British cockney who’s very charismatic but he has a short fuse, he goes from 0 -100 in an instant. He is an extremely complex and volatile character who uses his larger than life persona to battle the demons of his past. I think the play will challenge individuals’ preconceived ideas on mental health, race, gender, class and sexuality.
Could you give us a snippet of your acting journey so far?
I started off making my own short films and monologues, I didn’t go to drama school, I wasn’t classically trained so no RADA or anything like that. I’ve always felt that the barrier of entry to the acting world was difficult; there were a lot of doors shut in my face and like most frustrated actors or people trying to get into the industry, you have to create your own opportunities. Because of that, I started to write as a means to make my own work and as time pressed on, my skills improved vastly. Fortunately, people took note. One of my most pivotal moments was the character Johnny created from a monologue I wrote which I turned into a theatrical production. It completely sold out the Bridewell Theatre and now I’m making a television series about it. As I’ve kept creating, more opportunities have arisen and I’m happy because I’m creating my own work and enhancing my talent.
Are you more than just an actor, filmmaker, director and scriptwriter – would you say you are a business man in the arts?
Yes, you can show, you can create, but there has to be a business side to it all. My whole thing is how can I create this business aspect and make sure that everyone takes notice. For example, the first theatre production I produced was by myself so you need to take into consideration budgeting, the cast, and marketing etc. It’s not just writing a script and putting it out to the masses; you have to find a strategy in order to make sure that you target the right people. Be able to understand the business side of show business and work just as hard putting work out there.
What exciting upcoming projects do you have for the rest of 2016 and into 2017?
Developing Johnny into a TV series. I’ve been having meetings with some of the biggest productions companies in the UK. I’ve also filmed a TV series called Goodfellas which should be out in March. I’m in the process of writing two new scripts one more political called, A Peak in the Dunya which should hopefully be out next year around February or March. I’m performing Johnny again at the Thamesmead arts festival on September 16th and 17th. I’m doing a workshop called No More Drama for the youth and anyone else in the community to talk about the issues raised in the production. I’ll be working alongside Boadi Therapy Services and we’ll talk about how we can incorporate therapy and art as means to help people overcome issues such as – depression, anger and feelings of anxiety. Working alongside the themes I’ve written in the Johnny script with a therapist, we’re going to work out techniques in an artistic way to help the community overcome what they may not be willing to share with someone, so using art as a therapy.
What would be your dream role or big break?
My dream scenario is to be world renowned for my art and creativity. I’d love to be on the same level as Tom Cruise or Tyler Perry whereby I’m producing my own movies, writing them and people are respecting me for my craft. Also my main goal is to have my own theatre and produce plays from my demographic and TV shows that represent my world and the world that I live in. As a black, British individual I still feel we are not represented in the right way and I want to create a range of different platforms, whether that is theatre, stage schools, script writing, animation… Create art that’s reflective of the society that we truly live in.
As you mentioned before about dealing with barriers what have you faced and broken in the industry so far?
I go back to when I first wrote Johnny. With plays, you can devise or use improvisation, rehearsed readings or a scratch night. It happened at one of the scratch nights where one of the interviewers asked, “Kwame, what do you see happening with this play?” I replied that I wanted to develop it and take it to another theatre then sell out venues of a 300-500 capacity. There was a woman in the audience who sniggered and said, “he’s confident”, but it wasn’t said in an uplifting way, it was quite, I wouldn’t say derogatory but in that tone.
That was an observation of how the industry sees me – a young black guy who’s not classically trained. “What does he know, what can he do?” But I use this as motivation to work and create harder. Low and behold I went to the Bridewell theatre and I sold out just like I said I would. It’s just consistently breaking down these barriers and showing them that we are different and just because we’re not trained the way they want, doesn’t mean anything it’s about your talent. I could read as many Stanislavski books or Meissner or Bertolt Brecht, but life is the biggest teacher. Using life skills that’s what art is created for, and that’s what I use as my biggest tool in order to break down barriers.
Look out for Kwame in the upcoming series of Good Fellas (2017) and Johnny (TV Series) – In development expected 2018!
Listen Here to Kwame as a guest on the Dotun Adebayo Show on BBC London radio 94.9fm
To see Kwame perform his monologue ‘Johnny’ on September 16th go to the Thamesmead Arts Festival website.