Interview: Joe Sellman-Leava

Worklight Theatre’s award-winning show draws on writer and performer Joe Sellman-Leava’s experiences of being mixed heritage to explore broader issues of racism, immigration and displacement. Labels examines how we use words, the line between curiosity and fear, and the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric.  This week LGBTQ Arts’ Amie Taylor catches up with Joe to find out more about the show.

AT: Thanks for speaking with us today Joe. First of all, could you tell us briefly a little about you, your training and your work…

JSL: Thanks for having me! Certainly: I studied drama at Exeter University, and got to do loads of different things from intensive actor training to devising with multimedia and creating performance using autobiography and memory as tools. These practices and the people I met have been the pathway to the work I’m doing now – I met Michael Woodman, with whom I founded and continue to run Worklight Theatre. We created and toured two other full length shows prior to Labels, and have maintained an interest in combining storytelling and theatrical tools with intensive research and social science. Whilst studying and then working in Exeter, I was involved in several projects with director Jessica Beck who, last year, introduced me to Katharina Reinthaller, who came on board as director and dramaturg for Labels and will be directing Worklight’s next show.

AT: What was the impetus for you to write your solo show?

JSL: Initially it was from a performance workshop at university in 2009, examining racism, which Emma Thompson led after her son Tindy had experienced racial abuse studying at Exeter. As part of this, I wrote a short script for what eventually became Labels – reworking it sporadically over several years. In early 2015, I heard one too many soundbites from Nigel Farage and decided to finish the work as I’d always wanted to, so that it could debut in Edinburgh, not long after the general election.

AT: What’s it about?

JSL: It’s about prejudice, multiculturalism and displacement. And it’s centred around the true story of my Dad’s Indian heritage, my own mixed heritage, and the labels we use for ourselves and each other.

AT: Who is it for?

JSL: Anyone interested in politics. Anyone who’s experienced prejudice in their own lives. Anyone with an opinion on the European Union and refugee crisis. Anyone who likes impressions and anyone who likes to laugh, cry and learn when they see shows.

AT: How useful do you think labels are?

JSL: Language is a vital and powerful tool. It would be misleading to say labels are bad, since they can be very useful – we use linguistic shortcuts every day. The aim of this show however, is to draw attention to the impact certain labels can have on people: that if we describe human beings using certain words or numbers, it becomes easier to think of people as less than human, and therefore to treat them as such.

AT: Do you think there may be a time when they become redundant?

JSL: I don’t think so – I imagine they will continue to change as they have done for generations.

AT: If we come to watch, what kind of evening can we expect to have?

JSL: You can expect to laugh and be drawn into a true story. Expect to be labelled, literally. To make paper planes. To witness or even participate in reliving a racist romantic misadventure.

AT: Where can we find out more about you and your work?

JSL: Our website, Twitter and Facebook pages all have details on Labels as well as past and future projects:

http://www.worklighttheatre.co.uk

@worklight_uk facebook.com/WorklightTheatre

@joesellmanleava

AT: Where can we book tickets?

JSL: Either give the lovely Stratford East box office a call on 020 8534 0310 or visit their website: http://www.stratfordeast.com

Labels runs from Tuesday 5th – Saturday 30th April

Interview © Amie Taylor (@AmieAmieTay) 2016

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