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Bridge Theatre: Talking to Nine Lives writer Zodwa Nyoni

Bridge Theatre: Talking to Nine Lives writer Zodwa Nyoni

“Representation matters to me, so seeing the multifaceted depictions of black experiences draw me as a writer and audience member”.  Zodwa Nyoni

Zodwa is a playwright and poet.  She was the 2014 Writer-in-Residence at the West Yorkshire Playhouse via the Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme.  She has previously been Apprentice Poet-in-Residence at Ilkely Literature Festival (2013), Leeds Kirkgate Market (2012) and Writer-in-Residence at I Love West Leeds Festival (2010). She was under commission as part of the Manchester Royal Exchange’s New Stages Writing Initiative.  She was also part of the 2015 Creative England iWrite Regional New Voices Initiative.

The Play: Fleeing from his home where a fresh wave of homophobia threatens his life, Ishmael has sought sanctuary in the UK. Dispersed to Leeds, Ishmael waits to hear his fate, he waits for a new life to begin amongst strangers. But not everyone is bad… can he find a place to call home again? Some of us wanted to stop being afraid. Some of us wanted to find ourselves. Some of us wanted to belong. Zodwa Nyoni threads together humour and humanity to tell the real personal story behind asylum headlines. Nine Lives runs from 22 October – 31 October 2020. Book tickets

ALT. What made you decide on a career as a writer?

The love of storytelling and seeing the effect it has on audiences on various platforms. I wanted to be a part of that creation process and emotional thrill.

ALT: Tell us a story about your childhood that shapes who you as a writer?

I remember being in Zimbabwe. I was 9 or 10 and playing over at a friend’s house with my sisters. We all decided to watch a movie, but halfway through the others got bored and left. Meanwhile I didn’t even hear them go, I was just so engrossed in the film. That sense of being memorised by story is something I still get today.

ALT: What are the main challenges to the job?

Inconsistencies and confidence.
Be it in rates of pay, commissioning and programming, marketing, funding or your own personal writing process; where there are inconsistencies there are challenges and it can affect your confidence, in turn your ability to do your job.

ALT: Why did you choose to write this story?

Having had my own immigration issues I knew what it was like to deal with the Home Office and procedures. However, not all experiences are homogeneous, and this story gave me an opportunity to learn and shed light on truths behind headlines and assumptions about refugees and asylum seekers.

ALT: How do you feel that a story that you wrote in 2014 still speaks loudly today?

It may fade from the headlines and front pages of newspapers, but immigration is an ongoing humanitarian issue. It speaks loudly today, because there are people who are in limbo for years, decades even waiting to feel safe at home. They mustn’t be ignored.

ALT: How did the death of George Floyd affect you?

It left me drained. Too often we are seeing black bodies dying on the internet. It’s not normal and yet the announcement of another death is not surprising because injustice and racism is systemic.

ALT: What do you think are the key challenges the theatre industry will face going forward due to the Pandemic?

Theatre allows us to gather and have a live shared experience. For theatres to not feel like a safe space to do this has a social, cultural, and inevitably a financial effect on the industry. Stories will go untold.
ALT: . What can we expect from social distanced experience, have there been any dramatic changes to play?

The joy of a one-man show is that the actor (Lladel Bryant) has the space on stage to play. He is not restricted by proximity to other actors and can continue to connect to audiences through his performance.

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ALT: Who is the lead actor why did you cast him and what is his character’s motivation?

Lladel is a talented Leeds-based actor. The way his body and voice morphs when becoming a different character in Nine Lives makes him an engaging performer to watch.

ALT: What stories interest you the most?

Representation matters to me, so seeing the multifaceted depictions of black experiences draw me as a writer and audience member.

ALT: For those who don’t know the story tell us what are the core themes?

Nine Lives explores Ishmael’s journey as he awaits a decision on his asylum claim while living in Leeds. He fled Zimbabwe due to the persecutions of LGBT people and is seeking a home to belong to.

ALT: Name three writers you admire and why?

I like August Wilson’s lyricism and the way he chronicled the African- American experience in the 20th century through the Pittsburgh Cycle. Chimamanda Adichie is one of the first writers I read as a teenager. In her work and talks she advocates for girls and women. Danai Gurira writes of African women and the major issues impacting their lives. Having also been born in Zimbabwe and raised in the diaspora, I understand the exploration of voices influenced by both environments.

Nine Lives runs in repertoire at the Bridge Theatre from 22 – 31 October 2020