Black people don’t DO theatre!

When I first started Toto Tales I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that I was in fact a genuine bona fide ‘ethnic’. But yup! That is just what I am and will be positioned for quite some time too I imagine. There are not many ‘ethnics’ working in the arts in Scotland for a number of reasons but those that do, are utterly passionate about it and sacrifice earning a reasonable wage, potential peace of mind and a real job in the pursuit of creating something incredible.

This afternoon, there was a meeting at Creative Scotland with some of the companies in Scotland that work with minority groups. Some of us were ‘ethnic companies’ and others worked with disabled people. Nevertheless we were all there to share our experiences.

Christine Hamilton (no…another one) was leading the discussion and was genuinely charming and interested. There was plenty of discussion around the issues faced by us companies in our endeavours – funding, touring, audiences, expectations, etc – and hope that in future, Creative Scotland will further support a hugely valuable part of Scottish culture.

Those represented were Wave Theatre, Solar BearAnkur ProductionsLung HaBirds of Paradise and of course us Toto Tales.

Plenty of questions raised – One of these was audiences and actually our audience is mainstream. Infact, it’s great when there is someone of African descent in the audience. Something we discussed that I felt was important is the issue of Role Models: There are too few positive role models of African heritage working in the Scottish art scene today. So what do we do? Bring them up from down South? Develop them up here? If we do train then what jobs are available? Hmmmm! None! So actually, it is difficult to see how this can be resolved before we’re all deid and it’s our children’s turn.

Still on role models…while I acknowledge the wonderful work that Ankur do, it is a shame that the first leading role for an African woman, created in Scotland in absolutely ages, is one where she is brutalised both physically and sexually. I honestly feel we need to provide better, stronger role models for our young people. Not just people of African heritage but for everyone else too. I want my daughter to know her worth, to know there are things worth fighting for. I want her to hear stories of Tyi Wara, Queen Nzinga, Julius Nyerere, Prof Wangari Maathai and she will, whether she wants to or not.

Storytelling and theatre are such powerful ways of absorbing information, challenging your own perception, generating discussion, meeting ridiculously interesting people, etc, that for me, it is a real shame that there are so few black faces both in the audience and on the stage. Of course its not just black people who don’t do theatre and of course there are many reasons why people don’t/can’t go but it would be great for us to begin to ask those questions and then DO something to change this, because there are lots of amazing things happening and there are lots of people who are missing out.

In the meantime Toto Tales will continue to do what we do, which  is to find and create these wonderful stories then explore ways of sharing them. My hope is that people from every sphere will see them, take something from them, enjoy them, start talking about them and be inspired by them.

I have been to schools around Scotland where not one kid can tell me the name of a great, inspiring, powerful individual from Africa. Not 1!!! That’s a real tragedy.

That’s your challenge too. How many names can we come up with right here and now?

Toto love x


About TotoTales

Toto Tales brings African stories to life through the arts. We find and create incredible, inspiring, heart warming, tragic, humorous stories from across Africa, and share them with a variety of audiences across the world. We collaborate with various artists and strive to produce high quality works that while simple are far from being simplistic.
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