Interview with Actress and Playwright Keshia Watson
Keshia Watson is heading to Edinburgh, this summer and taking her play Pale Imitations with her. Beforehand you can catch it in London for one night only at Rosemary Branch Theatre. I wanted to know more about the person and what drives and influences a writer.
1) Tell me about Keshia, what have you done before and how long have you been writing – Keshia’s story so far?
I started writing my first play “Cabbage” in 2006 but didn’t try to do anything with it until much later on. I worked with a producer on a film who read the script and asked me to develop the play into a TV series. Then approached an organisation called INCA UK who was running a British Council funded programme that allowed me to develop the play and produce a rehearsed reading. Cabbage was a coming of age story and I felt that I had grown up since I started working on it, so I moved on to “Pale Imitations“. I started writing when I was very young and kept it secret for a long time, I would meet people a long the way that pushed me to not only develop my work, but get it out there so people could see it.
2) Where did the concept for your show come from.
So years ago, a good friend took me to the South of France. We stayed in an apartment in Nice that was above a Jazz bar and even though I can’t remember the name of the bar, the experience of hearing live music drifting up to the apartment and the ambience was something that never left me. I wanted to share that experience. In Nice, I met boys that tried to whisk me off my feet, it was very romantic. Mostly everything in the play has either happened to me or to someone I know. I wanted to apply rich life experiences to each character because even though I know that life can be tragic, there are ways to which you can live your life that is also extraordinary.
Later on down the line, I saw there were not enough representations of the type of young black people I know on stage, whose identity doesn’t revolve around race but are nevertheless proud of their heritage and culture, they are artists, romantics, successful, chic, well read and educated. So “Pale Imitations” is an attempt to re-address the balance and showcase stories that our audience could relate to.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Something that interests me most is people who live life in non-conventional ways. I am interested in Psychology and what makes people tick. Artistically I love Contemporary Modern Art, Dance, Music and culture. I recently heard Bonnie Greer speak and she explained that theatre was more than just four walls and a stage. Referencing Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance as an example of how expansive an art form it is. Fashion is a huge inspiration and influence too.
4) What’s been the timeline for the show (i.e writing, producing the journey to Edinburgh Fringe if you like?) and any plans for it to continue its journey after?
The initial concept came to me in late 2014 after visiting the Contemporary African Art exhibition at Somerset House. I wrote the first draft then contacted Talawa Theatre Company to see if I could run a workshop of the play, to see if it worked. I offered the role of Indianna to Simone McIntyre then held auditions for Ramone who is played by Jerome Wise, who I worked with on “Cabbage”. After the workshop Jerome showed the script to the Vaults Theatre, who offered us a pencil booking. I was busy working on acting projects until October when I contacted some venues in Edinburgh and booked a slot. The journey thus far has seen high points and low points. One of the highs was being awarded a Fenton Arts Trust grant to put the play on. Some of the “low points” are not as low as could be. For example, I am lucky enough to say that this project has attracted some extremely talented people who have gone on to secure work on bigger projects, but which meant I have had to re-cast, or find another director. It’s so great that our cast is now complete and our new addition, Alex Kiffin, who plays Carl is working very hard in our rehearsals, led by our director Olurunfemi Fagunwa and Assistant AD, Jack Silver.
Three fun and random questions?
If you could be a super hero who would you be and why?
Black Widow. She’s a badass with an interesting back story.
Who do you think is the most powerful/influential person in the world today and why?
Ava Duvernay the director and film maker, she is really kicking down doors and putting under represented stories and actors on the map.
If you could go back to a different time in history wat era would you return to and why?
1920’s Harlem Renaissance to witness the artistic movement emerge and get a sense of what it was like to be alive during that exciting time.
Now you have read the writers journey why not catch it at the London performanc or if you are lucky enough to be going at the Edinburgh Fringe in August details are on the poster.