Ahead of her seminar at London's Surviving Actors conference, we revisit Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway's introduction to Audition Speeches for Black, South Asian and Middle Eastern Actors which published in June 2016.
We owe it to ourselves to never stop learning about the wealth of talent which exists in our neighbourhoods, in our cities and around the world – so that we can understand ourselves, our ancestry and our community to empower, grow, celebrate and cultivate new ideas. This was my self-written mantra which became the springboard to create this anthology of monologues for Black, South Asian and Middle Eastern actors.
After troubleshooting and managing the Black Play Archive at the National Theatre – a digital resource initiated by Kwame Kwei-Armah, which consisted of professionally produced plays written by black British playwrights over the last seventy years – in addition to writing the first monologue anthology for black actors from black British plays, I had a strong desire to continue expanding my knowledge of plays for culturally diverse actors from British and international contemporary writers.
With support from Arts Council England, I travelled to the USA and London to carry out research in order to gather the material for this anthology. At every stop-off point, there was an immediate yet effortless ripple effect of communication, as the word about the forthcoming publication spread across the artistic communities internationally in person and over the internet, which enabled me to connect with practitioners, literary managers and producers based throughout London, Canada, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Australia and Africa. I spent several months perusing personal and professional libraries, receiving recommendations from Kwame Kwei-Armah, Catherine Rodriguez, Gavin Witt, Betty Shamieh, Naomi Wallace, Ismail Khalidi, John Jack Patterson, Dalbir Singh and Raphael Martin, to name but a few. From practitioners, sales assistants at bookshops to audiences, everyone had a list of new, exciting and powerful contemporary plays which they urged me to read and select for this publication. Many are featured in this anthology, and the ones that never made the final draft have formed a place in my ever-growing play library, regularly feeding into the multiple programming conversations with directors and other theatre professionals.
Ironically, as I carried out the research for this collection from a place of celebration and love for my community, the same community was in uprising over the numerous accounts of the loss of innocent lives. This anthology was created against the backdrop of protests for social justice for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, the scarcely reported missing schoolgirls in Nigeria, the Charleston church shooting and the many innocent adults and children killed during the Israel–Gaza conflict – possibly the most painful time I have ever experienced in my entire life.
But as I read the works written by the ground-breaking contemporary writers featured in this anthology, it made sense of the chaos around me. Suddenly these local and worldly events were more real and personal. The people who were reported in the media were three-dimensional with feelings, backstories and families. The world that they lived in was depicted through our five senses and imagination, instantly transporting us to somewhere tangible and coherent. There is something quite special about exploring the world through the voices of contemporary writers who have the power to portray the world as they see it, and thus influence, educate, challenge, changing the hearts and minds of their audience, bringing healing and comfort to the community.
Banksy says ‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’, and through writing this anthology bursting with the work of contemporary writers who speak boldly and unapologetically about the world around them, it became clear to me the power, significance and reason for us to discover and champion those who tackle a diversity of themes, experiences and complex issues.
This anthology is a celebration of a diverse range of captivating and truly memorable leading male characters that represent the complexities of youth, masculinity, sexuality and race. The plays draw on our culturally rich theatrical tradition of storytelling, magical surrealism and spirituality, bringing both contemporary and historical stories to the foreground. These stories represent what it means to be a twenty-first-century man of colour, in business, at war and in life. With monologues from Roy Williams, Omar El-Khairy, Reginald Edmund, Jordan Tanahill, Kristoffer Diaz, Jonas Hassen Khemiri, DC Moore, Amir Nizar Zuabi and Marcus Youssef, the characters and themes are wide-ranging, with character journeys that cross cultural, political and historical boundaries.
The material has been arranged into age-specific groups: teens, twenties, thirties and forties-plus. Admittedly the playing age for some of the pieces was not specified by the author of the play. Therefore, I would strongly encourage you to break convention and take a playful approach by reading monologues outside of your age category; you never know what you may discover.
For the purpose of this book, I have included plays which have been published to encourage readers to invest in the full-length version of the plays. I hope these monologues will inspire you to read further and discover more about the playwrights and plays they come from.
Discovering the plays featured in this anthology has been a wonderful learning experience for me; I hope actors from all over the world will embrace and enjoy this exploration of voices, experiences and themes.