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.
This week we’re chatting to Olivier Award nominee Anoushka Lucas, whose acclaimed debut play Elephant is part gig, part musical love story and part journey through Empire. It’s playing at Bush Theatre’s main house from 14 October until 4 November.
Who are your inspirations?
In my career I am deeply inspired by a whole cohort of (largely female) writers and performers: Fiona Apple, Afua Hirsch, Michaela Coel, Little Simz, Audre Lorde… I could go on. I am excited by intelligent work made from a place of personal passion. I am encouraged by writers and makers who are not afraid to use their own experience as a starting point to create something socially meaningful.
How did you get into theatre?
I got into theatre because I met a playwright called Ché Walker who asked me to write a song for a show he was developing, and then he paid me to write it. Nobody had ever paid me for a song before. After that we wrote 2 shows together, and I played keys in the band of another show, and then eventually a casting director asked me if I’d ever thought about acting and I took a gamble and started doing that.
How did your family and friends support your career?
I am incredibly lucky to come from a family who have always believed that making art and telling stories is important. My parents always encouraged me to write songs and make things up, and as I’ve grown up I have realised what a huge privilege it is to come from a family that supports your artistic career. As for my friends and my sisters: they have fed me dinner, lent me money, come to my gigs and plays, listened to me, loved me and sort of collectively kept me going as a human being so that I can function enough to make music and theatre. I know some really great people.
What advice would you give to young black performers dreaming of working in the theatre industry?
It’s an endless balancing act of trying to find where you can fit in to what already exists and where you can extend the mould. Find your tribe – like-minded people you get on with, who care about the same things as you and who make you laugh. If the opportunities present themselves, go and work with (or for!) people more experienced than you and pay attention in all the rooms to how it seems to be working: who do you like, who do you admire, where do you thrive, where do you become small. Support other black artists. Be cognisant of the privileges you have over other communities that are still deeply underrepresented in theatre, and support them. Everything is connected. And finally, if you can, make your own work. So many of the stories we tell about black people or with black people are still written by white people. There are so many stories we haven’t shown yet.
How does it feel to perform on the Bush Theatre’s stage in front of audience members who resonate with your character’s upbringing and identity?
I was blown away by the response to my show. For a long time I felt ashamed of not having more access to my African and Indian heritage, and I also felt such discomfort living in the intersection of being black and being middle class: I felt like to be posh was to not be fully black, and to be black was to not be fully posh. I also felt deep fear that if I ever articulated this, people would be horrified, because I was so full of privilege I was not meant to feel any discomfort.
Instead after Elephant I had many many many people of colour come and tell me how they related to my play, and I had deep, fascinating conversations about race and class. So much of this was down to the multifaceted, varied audience that the Bush attracts. When you talk to the audience at the Bush about navigating multiple identities, they understand. It’s such a privilege and a joy to put work on there. It is a very important building in the London theatre scene.
Discover more about the theme of Black History Month, Saluting Our Sisters, on their website. You can get involved in Black History Month by supporting Black Minds Matter UK, who work to empower Black individuals and families by connecting them to free therapy by qualified and accredited Black therapists. Find out how to support and donate to the charity here.