Amanda Wilkin is a woman of many talents, a playwright, actress and Jazz and Blues singer-songwriter.
In a time of uncertainty in theatre and all the arts, Amanda whose theatre credits include And I Dreamt I Was Drowning and her up and coming award-winning (Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award 2020) Shedding A Skin has been able to continue to work by adapting to the changes in the industry.
Her current play Recognition for which she had originally imagined as a stage production has now been released as part of the audio series Written On The Waves brought to audiences by 45North and Ellie Keel productions. Recognition is based on the life and music of Afro-English composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
We spoke to Amanda about Recognition, the inspiration behind the audio play and how significant it is for us to know our history …
Please introduce yourself?
My name’s Amanda Wilkin, I’m Black mixed heritage, born in London.
Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now?
Self – Reflective
Recognition shares with audiences the story of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the story of Song who is a student in college over 100 years later, working on her own composition. It is a very timely piece as it deals with many of the feelings of inequality and prejudices we deal with today. What specifically made you write Samuel’s story in this way?
Anytime I start writing something, I ask myself why do I need to write this, right now? As Rachael and I researched Samuel’s life, we couldn’t help but draw comparisons in his story to how young Black British artists feel today. So it just felt necessary to examine how things are right now, as I wrote the script. It was during the Black Lives Matter protests and movement, I felt like there was a renewed sense of looking at the inequality that exists today, through the lens of history and education of our history.
When we examine the problems that exist today, it can feel like we’re the first generation to raise awareness of inequality. When actually, of course, there have been many before us going through the same things; we’re standing on the shoulders of others. The problem is that a lot of the time, we haven’t been taught the history of the ones that came before us. It felt important to me to mirror this with a student (Song) discovering Samuel Coleridge-Taylor for the first time, and what she felt when she realised she never known he’d existed.
The title Recognition for me could have a double meaning, recognising who the composer was in a time that has forgotten him and how important he was in his time, but also recognising that not much has changed for Black composers in Briton who are constantly judged and feel a level of negativity in their field. What were your thoughts behind giving the piece this title?
Rachael and I kept saying the word ‘recognition’ as we were researching Samuel’s story. It was a word that kept coming up, and it felt like the best name of this piece because of that. I think also, that there is a movement to erase our history – sometimes without realising it sure, but that hurts. It is disturbing. We need to recognise our history. Celebrate our history. Challenge those who’d paint it one colour.
You worked alongside Rachael Nanyonjo who directed the play how did she get involved?
Rachael came to me first with the idea. And I’m so glad she did. I love finding out about Black history in Britain and investigating our stories. Rachael and I met and had coffee in an actual coffee shop in 2019 and decided to get on with researching about his life, so we could make a stage production. But when the pandemic hit, we decided to focus first on making an audio play.
Did Rachael bring anything unique to the direction of the play that you didn’t initially think of?
Rachael is a wicked director and movement director. So she was looking at the play through the eyes of how we could make this show multidisciplinary, right from the start. How the music needed to be integral to this story, and how we will use actors, choreography, and live musicians for the next stage. She also brought Cassie Kinoshi on board to write an original composition, and I’m so glad Cassie was able to work with us on this. Her music is beautiful.
Due to the lockdown, there has been a rise in audio dramas Recognition being one of them was this always the medium you intended on using, and do you have any plans to transfer the production to the stage?
No, we wanted to make a stage production. But because Samuel’s world was a world of sound, it felt like a good idea to make the play this way first, especially once the pandemic hit. We were really keen to get this story out.
At a time when the theatre industry has been suffering immensely from closures due to the pandemic you have been doing quite well, in October 2020 you won the Soho Theatre Verity Bargate Award for your play Shedding A Skin. Has it been hard to consistently gain work?
It was very odd to find out I’d won the award then. During a really difficult year for everyone. I was just really happy I’d been longlisted and shortlisted with these exciting playwrights. I’ve been very lucky, and I’m looking forward to Shedding a Skin being on later this year hopefully. It’s been a mix work wise – I’ve been writing for a few years and it’s lovely to be recognised for it. But mostly, I feel lucky that I’ve allowed myself to be creative and believe that I could write. I’ve just started to get commissions fairly recently, and I’m very grateful to the individuals and companies who’ve encouraged me. It’s a kindness to empower someone to believe they can write. It’s a gift.
How have you adapted professionally to the times we are now living in?
I just need my laptop to work and room to concentrate. It’s been okay sometimes because it was quiet. But also during the pandemic, it’s been very hard to concentrate sometimes, too. I’m trying not to be hard on myself about what I’m able to achieve. And it can feel very solitary. That’s why it was amazing to work with Rachael on this audio play.
What do you hope audiences listening to Recognition take away from the play?
I hope that they can learn more about Samuel’s life and work and want to listen to his music. I hope they can question how much things have changed for Black creatives in the UK today.
What is the rest of 2021 looking like for you professionally, what have you got coming up?
My play Shedding a Skin is (fingers crossed) going ahead at the Soho Theatre later this year…
What is the first thing you want to do when lockdown ends?
Hug all my mates. Bear hugs. Big bears.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? – This Bridge Called my Back – Writings by Radical Women of Colour edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? – Nina Simone’s album To Love Somebody
- A film/TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? – Battlestar Gallactica
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? – I have a vague memory of seeing some Shakespeare and not understanding what was going on.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? – Sad – news coming out of Myanmar right now. Mad – the manufactured war on wokeness that’s rearing its ugly head. To be woke is to be awake to social justice. Yes Please. Glad – for the sunshine.
Recognition was released on 17th February and is available to stream to find out where visit forty-fivenorth
Keep up to date with Amanda on all her social media handles – Twitter