Interview: Olusola Oyeleye

“it is our personal duty to ourselves to realise our creative goals: ‘by any means necessary’”

Sola Oyeleye photo

Sola Oyeleye

Olusola was resident director on Trevor Nunn’s production of George Gershwin’s musical Porgy and Bess, and has the distinction of being English National Opera’s first black staff director. I met her several years ago when I went on an inspirational directing course that she was teaching. Sola also spoke at our 17Percent Why and What Next? mini festival.

She’s directed productions for Adzido Pan African Dance Company at the Royal Festival Hall, and her other notable UK theatre credits as a director include: the world premiere of Tayo Aluko’s award-winning Call Me Mr Robeson, Don Kinch’s Scenarios, and Anita Franklin’s The Resurrection of Roscoe Powell at Soho Theatre, The Shelter for the Royal Shakespeare Company Early Stages Festival at the Barbican, and Medea at the Royal National Theatre Studio; The Playground, at Polka Theatre, was a Time Out Pick of the Year in 2004. Olusola has also worked in many prestigious productions abroad, including: Akin Euba’s Orunmila’s Voices: Songs from the Beginning of Time in New Orleans, Chaka: An Opera in Two Chants in St Louis, Missouri, also by Akin Euba, and the British Council’s Write a Story initiative in Ghana. She also directed Twelfth Night for a British Council Tour of Zimbabwe. Her poetry has been set to music by Akin Euba, and has been performed at Harvard University.

Sola has worked extensively in education, both as a writer-in residence, and as a visiting lecturer/artist. She is passionate about her work with young people, and about developing the potential of emerging artistes; including the multi-disciplined, multi-cultural production of There Ain’t No Black In The Union Jack – involving young people from across 13 London boroughs – culminating in performances at Hackney Empire.

Sola is the executive director of Bush Boy Productions, and an associate producer with Collective Artistes. She was the judge for the BBC World Service African Theatre Competition in 2007.

17%> You do so many different creative roles. Do you think that the ability to be flexible in the work you undertake and make your own projects happen is something that is essential to be successful in our industry?

SO> For me it has been absolutely essential. My flexibility comes from working across media. My interests are varied and I am aware of the boundaries set by others, which I will not entertain. There are many dream breakers in this profession, and we are all susceptible to the vagaries of the appointed gatekeepers, but it is our personal duty to ourselves to realise our creative goals: ‘by any means necessary’.

17%> Focussing on writing: What was it that made you start?

SO> I have stories to tell. I have a passion for writing, whether I am working on play with a writer or creating my own.

17% > What is the project you dream of making happen?

SO> I am making my dreams happen each time I make a piece of work.

17%> What do you consider your greatest achievement?

SO> Hopefully there are more to come, but in the main when someone talks about a production I have directed or a workshop or class I have taught years afterwards that is very gratifying. I have witnessed the transformative nature creative writing can have on individuals and within communities both in the UK and abroad. In essence a great achievement is to have the ability, in some small way, to touch people’s lives, through creativity.

17%> What do you love or hate most about the writing process?

SO> Writing is an emotional journey into unchartered territory. It is a process that takes physical time and emotion, filled with euphoria and doubt. There is only one thing I hate and that has nothing to do with the actual process.

17%> Where do you go for inspiration?

SO> Inspiration comes from within, the world around us and the commission.

17%> Which book/play or film do you wish you had written?

SO> The ones I am writing and will write.

17%> Does your writing run away with you, or do you plan meticulously before you start?

SO> All of the above.

17%> Finally, what are your top tips for aspiring writers?

SO> All conventions are there to be broken!

(Sola was interviewed for the 17Percent website in 2009)

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