In our Theatre Artists Fund series, we speak to the recipients about their stories and how the pandemic has affected them. In today’s interview, we are speaking to actor, performer, and director, Femi Elufowoju Jr.
Femi has performed extensively at the National Theatre and Royal Court and is the second theatre director of African descent to establish a national touring company in the UK, Tiata Fahodzi. He artistically led the company for 13 years and in 2010, received an Olivier Awards nomination for his production of Oladipo Agboluaje’s Iya-Ile: The First Wife.
His stage work has been featured at the Royal Court Theatre, the Royal National Theatre, the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Manchester’s Royal Exchange, the Theatre Royal Stratford East, and the Soho Theatre, and he has worked under such notable theatre directors as Sir Richard Eyre, Nicholas Hytner, Yvonne Brewster, John Retallack, Annabel Arden and more.
His interpretation of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams described as a “radical new reimagining” was produced in May 2019 for Watford Palace Theatre and Arcola Theatre.
Femi won the Best Director Award at the 2019 Offies for The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives and is also a guest regular on Netflix’s Sex Education. Find out more about his story below!
How has the pandemic affected you?
Nobody can prepare for the pandemic. It’s just hit us from nowhere so it’s been a bit of a wake-up call. Professionally it’s been unbelievably challenging. Besides the critical health scare and self-quarantining, being able to function and fulfill your purpose as a creative artist has been frustrating in every conceivable way.
Why did you apply for the Theatre Artists Fund grant?
News of the grant came as a complete blessing. I’m a great fan of Sam Mendes’ work within the industry and I picked up the news on Netflix. They put together an initiative to help those of us who have slipped between the cracks. For me, the straightforward criteria for eligibility was the most attractive thing. My application to the self-employment income support scheme has been very frustrating on so many levels. We work for so little and there lies the rub. It’s a catch 22 at every attempt to survive. It felt like a battle against a double-edged sword.
What does getting this grant mean to you?
The grant itself has proved invaluable. It is an invaluable contribution to my living costs, for outstanding utility bills, family sustenance so it’s been an enormous respite despite the odds that we face daily.
What will theatres re-opening mean to you?
A sense of hope! A chance to begin, to prepare, to reengage with fellow artists. A chance to look forward to reuniting and connecting with an audience again. Five months is an extremely long time to be separated from what I would call is the very essence and zest of life; entertaining and empowering a wide range of people through the arts. It comes from both sides of the spectrum, we are the entertainers who inspire and empower but our recipients, the audience, have also been completely severed from that norm of life. So this is going to be really exciting to get back on board, getting into the industry and seeing my fellow creators.
Are there any final messages you’d like to pass on?
Yes, a crucial message. Thank you to absolutely everyone who has been completely benevolent with their pockets. Netflix, Sam Mendes, my fellow contemporaries…thank you, thank you, thank you. I would not be smiling like this without you.
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