Yearly Catch-up by Moji Kareem
One dream that remained constant, even from those early days was the dream to be able to go to the theatre and see people that look like me and sound like me on stage.
I founded Utopia Theatre in 2011. I had finished university and won an award for my first publicly shared directing piece. I was full of ideas and dreams abounding, with enthusiasm and passion for the theatre industry. One dream that remained constant, was to be able to go to the theatre and see people that look and sound like me on stage. I believe we need to exist as characters because our stories matter and deserve to be told.
Since relocating to the United Kingdom in 1986, I have learnt so much from the television and the plays that I have seen on stage about British way of life, values, culture and tradition. Wouldn’t it be great if people went to the theatre to engage with diverse stories? Stories of blacks and ethnic minorities in England can surely connect us and allow us to have deeper conversations and a better understanding of each other.
Utopia’s current focus is stories of West Africans in England. I am interested in stories that are accessible and resonate across all cultures. Stories that celebrate our strong African heritage.
Utopia Theatre’s first major tour, a production of The Duchess of Malfi (Iyalode of Eti) premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse and went on to Sheffield Theatres and Cast in Doncaster. Iyalode of Eti is a unique West African transposition of John Webster’s masterpiece The Duchess of Malfi. The play's themes – abuse of power, corruption, status of women, family, honour and revenge are still very relevant to today’s society.
I am on a self development journey and with every project I learn what I did not learn in books or at university. I am learning to find my voice, to find words to articulate what I do and why I am passionate about it.
A member of the Arts Council recently commented
“The work is so ambitious and aesthetically polished – as is your style as I am becoming to know as I see more of your work! It was so wonderful to see what was the ‘one woman show’ now developed into this beautiful three hander with live music and interweaving narratives that cross time, continents and cultures with a universality attached to daughters and mothers and our very complicated relationships. As always your storytelling was beautiful and the audience were clearly engaged and enjoying the work."
It was amazing to work with singers and non-performers from the community who happened to be engaging with opera for the first time.
It’s been a year since we became a resident company at The Crucible, Sheffield. In that time we have developed three pieces of work. The Pied Piper of Chibok saw us begin the process of making a new opera which retells the real-life story of the Chibok girls through the classic tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The residency and support from Opera North, brought to life some of the possibilities with the piece, especially in terms of the music and how some of the ideas in the piece can be represented visually. It was amazing to work with singers and non-performers from the community who happened to be engaging with opera for the first time. For me, working with these people was an inspiration. Not just creatively, but personally too. It lifted me to know that we can make a difference in the most unlikely of circumstances.
We are are also developing a new play about David Oluwale and making it relevant to the current zeitgeist. David Oluwale arrived in Leeds from Nigeria in 1949 and died in 1969. During his time in the city, he encountered anti-immigration racism and experienced mental health issues, homelessness, police malpractice and destitution, all of which still scar British society to this day.
We immediately started work on the second exploratory workshop of ‘Shadows in Different Shades’ by Oladipo Agboluaje, with music by Juwon Ogungbe. This led to a presentation of our work in progress for two nights at Sheffield Theatre studio. Our work was well received and it was refreshing to see a lot more people of colour in the theatre.
On 16 and 17 August 2018, we will be presenting (as a member of MOSAIC OPERA COLLECTIVE),‘The Pied Piper of Chibok’ as part of the Grimeborn Festival at Arcola Theatre - London.
We are also planning, in partnership with Sheffield Theatre, Spirit of Africa Festival - 26 and 27 October 2018. We take over The Crucible and curate a festival of cultural immersion. The vision is a vibrant celebration that shares Africa with the world.