Tara Tijani Talks … School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls play

Written by the award-winning writer/performer Joycelyn Bioh …

School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play, set in 1986 at Ghana’s prestigious Aburi Girls boarding school follows Queen Bee Paulina and her crew excitedly awaiting the arrival of a Miss Ghana pageant recruiter. With Paulina obviously set to the title things are thrown into disarray when her place is threatened by Ericka – a beautiful and talented new transfer student.

We spoke to one of the cast Tara Tijani about her role in the play …

Please Introduce Yourself …

My name is Tara Tijani, I’m an actor from east London/Essex and I am playing ‘Paulina‘ in School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play.

Why School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play?

My journey with School Girls has been a long one. I was involved in the R&D for it in March 2022, and back then, except for Bola Akeju, it was a completely different team involved. I remember hearing the play out loud for the first time, and the pure joy and excitement that I felt, and seeing the beautiful melanated faces in the room saying them – I knew I had to be in this play. But as it always goes, I didn’t hear anything about School Girls … until January 2023 when I get an email saying it was now going to be at the Lyric. I worked my butt off for the audition, I had my first round in January, my second round in March – almost cancelled a holiday cause I couldn’t make the original date but Monique [the director] and Julia [casting director] kindly reorganised, and then found out I got the job the day after my recall.

Tell us about your character and what their goal is in the play …

Paulina is the Queen Bee of the school. She is ambitious, sharp and unapologetically takes up space – which is such a joy to play. Her goal is to win the Miss Ghana pageant so she can compete in the Miss Global Universe pageant, and she’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that.

Tell us about working with your fellow cast …

This cast has been amazing. We’re in our third week of rehearsals but if you walk into our room you would think we’ve known each other for years. Already we have built a true sense of ensemble, and I know I can really rely and trust on these women.

What does the story of School Girls; or, The African Mean Girls Play mean to you personally?

This play is personal to me because I can totally relate to the feeling of wanting better for yourself and having a big goal; In my case, it was being an Actor. I remember being 15 and wanting it so bad but having teachers tell me to “choose something realistic”. (I left that school and went to the BRIT School). I also understand what it feels like to wish the colour of your skin was lighter. Colourism is a sad truth that most black women have experienced, and is something that at a young age I had to fight to get past and actively choose to love the skin I was born in. Now I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Tara Tijani and company -School Girls Or The African Mean Girls Play-Image Credit: Manuel Harlan

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

A challenging moment I experienced in this play was to keep Paulina’s traumas and insecurities far away from my own and to not allow Paulina’s self-critic to become my own – as there are similarities that my own self-critic has once said to myself. But luckily we have an amazing team and a wonderful Drama Therapist who has advised us how to build a character’s world so well so that it doesn’t seep into your own.

Tell us a memorable moment working on this.

That’s so hard picking only one memorable moment. It would have to be some of the conversations we were having in our first week as we were doing table work. Of course, I can’t share exact details, but we were talking about our own stories of love, family, friendship, and school; and there was so much vulnerability and yet strength and love and the room – it was truly beautiful. 

Which scene/character best defines what you love about this project?

Okay, now this is a hard question. Every scene is amazing. You’ll go from belly laughing to having your mouth hanging open in shock because someone said something savage, and the speed at which that happens is what makes the play so thrilling. If I had to only pick one scene, the pageant scene is genius.

Were you a mean girl or a good girl in school?

I was a good girl. Well, I was a good girl who often got in trouble cause I was a chatterbox, but the teachers could never get too mad because I would try to banter with them to get out of trouble, plus I would have usually finished the work assigned for that lesson so what else was I supposed to do?!

Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?

This project sits high on my checklist. I have been really fortunate that since graduating drama school in 2021, I have been able to work on some amazing productions, but this by far has people the most excited to see. I mean it’s been very weird but amazing seeing posters of myself in tube stations around London. Plus this is my London debut, so am so excited for all of my friends and family to be able to see it.

What’s next?

This play has been such an amazing opportunity, and I’m excited to show it to the world. So who knows what life has in store for me next? 

Where can we find you?

You can follow me on Instagram – @taratijani

School Girls; Or The African Mean Girls Play runs Thursday 08 June – Saturday 15 July 2023 @ Lyric Hammersmith


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