This October, Black History Month celebrates its theme Saluting Our Sisters, which pays homage to black women throughout history. We’ve reached out to Black performers and creatives in the theatre industry to share their inspirations and journeys to the stage.
To kick off, we spoke to Alexia Khadime and Lucy St. Louis, who not only star in a story about sisterhood, but are the West End’s first black Elphaba and Glinda.
Who are your inspirations?
AK: My friends and mum inspire me in both my career and daily life. It’s honestly their strength as women and who they are, what they stand for, how they navigate career and life that’s inspiring. Some of my closest friends are in the industry and are mums too – though I know not always easy, they are truly amazing. I call them superwomen.
LSL: Growing up I had many actresses/singers who inspired me professionally like Audra McDonald, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand. That list goes on and continues to grow, especially with so much talent around now. Our industry is one continuous life lesson that constantly evolves. With so many peers, fellow actors and singers and such creativity there is always so much to learn, grow and gain inspiration from. Friends and family also play huge part of inspiration throughout my life.
How did you get into theatre?
LSL: I got into theatre through watching MGM musicals with my Grandma. She would put them on for me when I was little, and we would learn all the words then sing and dance around the house acting out all the scenes. Her love for music, theatre, film, costumes and design was another big inspirational influence in my life. She helped me ultimately discover that this was the world and career path I longed to venture into.
AK: When I was younger, I attended after school drama classes once a week and the lady who ran the classes also had an agency. At that time, I used to just sing around the house and didn’t think much of it. It was just fun. Someone then said to my mum I should do singing classes and it’s there where I started to do private lessons. So, between the classes and now having an agent that’s how I got into the industry. It wasn’t something I was thinking about as a career as it truly wasn’t my reality. I’ve always felt my career chose me.
How do your family and friends support your career?
LSL: My family and friends have been so supportive throughout my career, they have been there through the highs but also through the lows. The lows are sadly inevitable especially within this very high demanding profession. Having your own inner circle and support network, even if it’s just one person, is very important. I am very grateful to have incredible supporters around me.
AK: I am blessed to have such supportive friends who are honest and supportive, they come to watch me in shows, help me with audition prep and my mum has always been there. She allowed me to be me, never forced and assisted my interests when I was younger with ballet, figure skating, drama, street dance, singing classes, and still to this day she supports me and encourages me. Dries my tears when I’m low, and like my friends who are there with the ebb and flow of what the industry brings.
What advice would you give to young black performers dreaming of working in the theatre industry?
AK: Don’t just rely on your God given talent. Sharpen your tools. What you’ve been given is the foundation of something great. Treat your talent – whatever it may be – with care, honesty, and love. Nurture it. If your talent was gone tomorrow, how would it feel? Respect it, don’t take it for granted. Remember it is a gift. There will be disappointments but as my mum would say, every disappointment is for your good – when one door closes, many more open – it will make you stronger and every low place prepares you for your high place.
Practical advice is ask questions. Research. Remember knowledge is power.
LSL: The advice I would give firstly is to be kind to yourself! Work hard and know that you are enough, worthy and valued. That not getting one job or however many No’s does not define who you are. Never give up! Draw on inspiration from your fellow performers and surroundings. Keep the stage a safe place for creation, expression and no judgment, remember there is no wrong or right just interpretation. Take risks and don’t play things safe, some of the biggest risks or challenges bring the most unexpected rewards.
Hold the door open for others, I mean this in a literal and metaphorical way, as your actions and decisions could have a rippling effect for future generations.
Allow yourself to strive and go for your dreams, there is space for all of us to achieve. Believe in yourself. You got this!
What does sisterhood mean to you as a performer?
LSL: Sisterhood in life and within the industry is a bond and trust like no other. It’s a connection bound that helps one another. It celebrates and lifts each sister up yet it also acts as pillar of strength and amour when we need comfort. It nurtures, grows, and bestows wisdom and advice through generation to generation. It’s an unspoken pact that protects, respects and champions each other through every twist and turn of life.
AK: Sisterhood is love, respect, understanding, open, non-judging, loyal, compassionate forgiving. It’s family. And when you have that trust, that bond, there’s nothing like it.
What role does sisterhood play in the story of Wicked?
AK: The sisterhood in the show challenges these women to be their better selves. It shows the bond of two women who were probably least likely to have a sisterhood. Two women who are there for each other when it really counts. Two women who though part ways, cherish a true love, respect and understanding for each other that makes them bonded for life.
LSL: Wicked is one of those very rare and special shows that has the love of friendship at its core. A bond created that at the start seemed very unlikely, but through growth, learning, understanding and compassion forges an unbreakable friendship and sisterhood.
This sisterhood is echoed on and off stage throughout all of our wonderful Glinda’s and Elphaba’s. There is such love, respect and championing shared throughout the entire theatre world which is beautiful to see especially when carrying the weight of these epic roles.
My experience is even more meaningful by the fact that I get to share this moment with my dear friend and sister for over 10 years now, Alexia Khadime. Having 10 years of friendship between us, then going on to make history together as the first two black women to play these roles opposite each other in the West End in 17 years made getting this job even more significant and special. Our sisterhood on and off stage is woven within our portrayal of Glinda and Elphaba and that for me will always make this show and these characters an unforgettable experience.
Throughout the month, across our channels we’ll be sharing organisations that you can donate to and support. You can celebrate Black History Month and Salute Our Sisters by checking out the resources on their website and use the hashtag #WEMATTER to amplify the voices of black women and share your own experience.