Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s theatre credits include The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars (Theatre Royal Stratford East); An unfinished man (The Yard Theatre). Film includes: The Last Days (BBC/BFI Network/Tannahill Productions); The Madness (The Mono Box). Dipo has been shortlisted for the George Devine Award, Alfred Fagon Award, and as a poet has been published in The Good Journal, Ink Sweat & Tears, Amaryllis, and had his work showcased nationwide as part of End Hunger UK’s touring exhibition on food insecurity. ALT caught up with Dipo to chat!!!
Tell us about the title, what does it mean?
The title comes from the phrase ‘is the glass half empty or half full?’ In the play, there’s an exploration of perception and how you view certain situations, in this case the development of race and inclusivity within secondary schools. Toye sees the glass as half empty, while one of his best friends (Remi) sees it as half full, and this is a big part of the central conflict. The play questions if how they see this ‘glass’ changes their approach to life and impacts their happiness, while also exploring what it means to fill a glass that might be half empty.
How do you feel about the production coming to Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
It’s exciting. I’ve never been to the festival but have heard great things about its chaotic and charming nature from friends over the years. Paines Plough’s history with the festival adds to this, as it means they have a loyal audience as well as people intrigued by the work they do, so hopefully a wide range of people get to see Half-Empty Glasses. It’ll also be my first production outside of London, so it’s great to have my work being shown in new places.
What kind of stories inspire you?
I love seeing stories about characters who make a change in their lives. Watching characters who are going through some hardship (whether big or small, political or personal) and find a way to take a step forward or even half of one. I think it’s a reminder of the resilience of humans. This can also be present even in tragedies, where there’s often a lesson or idea being challenged through pain, which is so often true to reality.
When did you realise that a writing career was going to be the way?
I’ve been writing for a long time, but playwriting came into the picture later. In 2017, I had three short plays on and those enabled me to get an understanding of what it means to bring a play to life. The following year, I received my first commission from The Yard (for An unfinished man, which premiered earlier this year) after a Live Drafts performance of my play The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. From that as well as opportunities that later came, I began to find my theatrical voice and discover the stories I could and wanted to tell in this space.
What are themes in Half-Empty Glasses?
The play explores several themes. These include education, race, activism, youth. Within those, there are questions around power and inequality, good vs. bad, friendship, and family – much of these seen through Toye’s eyes, as he comes of age and navigates his activism journey.
Do you think creatives should be vocal in politics?
I think all people play different roles in life and politics, so this extends to creatives too. Some people’s strengths are behind-the-scenes, others are more useful on the frontlines, so I think it’s just about being true to who you are and being aware of the world you’re in. Workwise, there’s an argument for pure entertainment but I think there’s politics in everything we do, whether it’s subtle or more overt. Each story has a message so, if you have a platform, it’s worth thinking about how it’s used and what people might leave your work questioning.
Who are the playwrights you admire?
There are so many playwrights I admire: Suzan-Lori Parks, debbie tucker green, August Wilson, Annie Baker, Tennessee Williams, Wole Soyinka, Edward Albee, Arthur Miller. They all have singular, distinct voices; use language and theatricality in ways that are unique to them; and their stories feel specific and yet have wider resonance. No matter how many ways their plays are done, their presence is felt and that’s amazing to me.
A recent report stated over 90% of theatre goers are white what do you think needs to change?
I think one thing that needs to change is the perception of what theatre is. It’s typically considered quite an elitist medium, which is what I think keeps most people away. There’s an argument that it’s the cost of tickets, which is definitely a barrier for a large group, but other forms of entertainment are incredibly popular and sometimes costlier. I think it’s about opening up the industry to a wider audience and letting them see how exciting it can be, how their stories can be reflected back to them and also entertain simultaneously – and you see those changes we speak of when there are shows with buzz. I believe it’s largely about that, which connects to marketing, and theatres being consistent with their programming so new audiences don’t fall off.
Where do you call home?
London, Stratford specifically. Having been born and raised (and still living) in Newham, I tend to set all my plays in East London, as it’s what I know and there are a diverse range of life experiences in this part of London that feels underrepresented on stage.
About Half Empty Glasses
An empowering new play by Channel 4 bursary winner Dipo Baruwa-Etti about the pressures of being young, gifted and ready to change the world.
Toye is preparing for his piano exam to get into a prestigious music school. He’s doing it for the contacts, the opportunity, the love of art. But when he notices the lack of Black British history in his school’s curriculum, he begins to question himself and the world around him. Is this really his dream, or is he letting these institutions write his story?
He starts offering his own school lessons on Black cultural icons, but he quickly discovers that maybe not everyone wants Black history to be celebrated…
‘I still play to their chords.
Livin’ within conventions.
Livin’ within restrictions.
Livin’ within a structure.
Lettin’ someone write my story.’
Get tickets Get tickets Get tickets…..
Half-Empty Glasses will be touring the UK as part of Paines Plough’s Roundabout until 9 October, premiering at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this month.
The Clinic will be playing at the Almeida Theatre from 2 September – 1 October