Theatre

Theatre Talk: Part 1: Dawn Walton Reminds us “that Black Theatre exists” as The Death of a Black Man comes to Hampstead Theatre

Dawn Walton, former Artistic Director of Eclipse Theatre Company, makes her Hampstead Theatre directorial debut with The Death of A Black Man. Her most recent productions include The Gift (Theatre Royal Stratford East), Red Dust Road (National Theatre of Scotland) and Black Men Walking (Royal Court).  She will be joined by designer Simon Kenny, lighting designer Jo Town, sound designer Richard Hammarton and composer Duramaney Kamara.  Tickets are now on sale at hampsteadtheatre.com.

ALT caught up with Dawn on zoom, like you do!! Here is the first part of the interview Part Two is in the Upcoming edition of ALT A REVIEW which will be in supermarkets across the UK. Check here for details where you can get a copy.

Firstly, a little bit about your background. So how did you find yourself as a director film/ theatre director?

DAWN

Well, it’s a bit of an unusual story really. I kind of grew up in Southeast London, actually a place I still live and I, am from working class family, the usual things you might expect. At a certain point in my life, once I got through my education, it was get a job simple as that you got to get a job. So I actually walked into the city. I got my job in the city, so I was in sales. Interestingly I did about 11, 12 years in sales. it was just that urge to make money to, you know, to move as far away, not move as far away, but to have as much as I might not have had when I was young. Not that the life was bad, but you just want those extra things. Don’t you want the luxuries.

What was your first professional job, when did you first see your work on stage?

DAWN

My first professional job was at Talawa and it was Zebra Crossing 2, they were doing a season for young directors and Greta Mendez, the amazing artist, Greta Mendez contacted me and said, we’re looking for some young Black directors to come and do this series of works. And so I was suddenly had this job directing a piece of work, which went on to the Lyric in Hammersmith, in the Studio they had this whole season that’s Talawa put together Zebra Crossing Two. And the play was called Splinters and it was written by the poet Maya Choudhary. It was a beautiful piece and it was the first time I got to direct something a one woman piece, and that’s when, various people came to see it. And that’s how, so I was offered work off the back of that, which was wonderful.

Cast

With the arts heavily impacted by the Pandemic do you think Black theatre will suffer the most? I mean, in the sense that there actually is a Black Theatre or say Black productions, what is your view on that?

DAWN

There is a Black theatre, but I would say that the black theater exists much more, in the traditional institutions than it has done before, I would say, and that’s interesting. We’ll see how long it lasts. But what I’m really encouraged by the generation, this generation that are really taking that on and really pushing that work through, but talent has always existed. You know, I’m directing a play now, or just about to start directing a play now called The Death of a Black man, which was produced in 1975, is set in #1973. This was apparently the inception of Black theatre. That’s when those plays were being produced, the talent has always been there. But that this play got produced way back then and remains prescient to this day, more so post lockdown, but I think we very much have a Black Theatre I started a company called #Eclipse in 2010, because there was no presence.

How did you get involved in The Death of a Black Man and what does it mean to you to be doing the work?

It was set in 1973 and it was written and produced in 1975. So, our guess is he wrote it in74 ,75. So how did I get involved? I was approached by Hampstead Theatre maybe 18 months ago to consider this play, Roxanna the Artistic Director rang me and said, I’ve got this play that I’m thinking of doing that I would like you to consider. Do you know it, and I did know, Lonely Cowboy, which I think was the next one that he did. And I was aware of 11 Jasmine Street, but I didn’t know this play, although I had it on my shelf. I don’t remember it intimately at the time and I re-read it and went, Whoa, this is kind of hardcore, it’s brilliant, but it’s also really uncompromising and very clever.

What do you like most about Fagon’s work?

DAWN

I think his writing is dense. It’s daring he goes there. He’s not writing sort of flowers, hearts, and flowers stuff. He’s writing really urgent work. He also has quite a tricky naughty sense of humor. So, he makes jokes about the most difficult things, which I love. And yeah it’s muscular writing uncompromising and it doesn’t pretend that the systems that we exist in don’t exist. It doesn’t pretend that capitalism doesn’t exist. It doesn’t pretend that patriarchy doesn’t exist. It puts it front and center and says, this is what we’re living with. This is how Black people live in this England, in this country, this is what it is like and he’s, he’s done all the different perspectives to allow that conversation to happen. I think that’s brilliant.

DAWN

We have a section called Creative Careers. For anyone who wants to direct plays, what would be the three most important things you think they should have?

DAWN

I think if you want to be a director, you need to have read a lot, reading, read a lot of plays. And when you read those plays, think about them, how you would stage them and then shortlist them and have a back pocket full of four or five plays you want to produce. That’s the first thing. Two, understand writers and work with some writers, some really good, even your peers, just some really good writers that you find, or people who want to write things. That was really important for me they write the plays you’re going to direct. So it’s best that you kind of can get into a writer’s head and understand what it is they’re trying to do.

The Death of a Black Man opens at The Hampstead Theatre on the 28th of May. 2021. You can book tickets here.

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