guest post: reflecting on two years/ anastasia osei-kuffour
It’s been a challenging and rewarding two years working as trainee artistic director at tiata fahodzi as part of the Artistic Director Leadership programme.
Before I got the job I was a freelance director and writer, having worked as an assitant director on several productions. I was starting to produce producitons which I could direct and beginning to establish myself as a director in my own right.
When I got the job at tiata fahodzi, I was overjoyed and overwhelmed because I didn’t think I was experienced enough and I felt that what the job required was going to be a big challenge.
This is the kind of feeling that I hear many women of colour voice, the feeling that you don’t deserve an opportunity even though you’ve been working away and grafting for several years. It’s something that I will encourage all of us to put aside, you may not feel qualified but they gave you the job because they believe you can do it and whatever you don’t know you can learn on the job. It’s alright not to know everything!
I am so glad I put those feelings aside and decided to embark on this journey, it’s been a thrilling ride.
The feeling of beginning at a theatre company where for the first time I didn’t have to hide who I am. As a Ghanaian heritage, Christian, black, British woman, born and bred in London, my experience has been one where I’ve never felt able to be fully who I am, in theatre circles. The main reasons being that I didn’t see many people like me, doing what I was doing in the industry which means sometimes I felt other and sometimes experienced riddicule about parts of who I am which made me feel the need to mute parts of who I am. When I began at tiata fahodzi I felt able to epress who I am personally aswell as profesionnally because the organisation is interested in that. The fullness of me was acknwoledged and I was encouraged to bring as much of who I am to the job. I felt seen, this is because of the values of tiata fahodzi, the main one being welcome — Inclusive practice, free from barriers, humanity and warmth. Here’s what I wrote when I began at tiata fahodzi.
Seeing shows on behalf of the company — as trainee artistic director I got to represent the company in various ways. One such way was in responding to invites to see shows and actively seeking out shows created by African heritage artists to go to. This is part of the ethos of tiata fahodzi — championing african heritage artists by turning up to their shows, acknowledging the hard work these artists have put into making it happen. I have seen so much more work by creatives of colour, as part of this job, than ever before, it has made me feel less like I am other in the industry, feeling like stories I recognised are being told out here. I wrote about my experience here.
mixed brain — developing a festival show — the first project I worked on at tiata fahodzi was mixed brain, written and performed by Nathan Bryon. It was fun to develop a festival show for the fringe and see how Natalie Ibu and Nathan colloborated to create a new piece of unconventional theatre that felt part theatre, part game show. Seeing first hand what it takes to take a show to Edinburgh was a valuable experience.
Going to South Africa for the Pan African Creative Exchange (PACE) — this was a major highlight. I have always had the ambition of being an artist that works internationally aswell as nationally. Natalie Ibu was going to PACE a networking and sharing event for African artists which was connected to the Vrystaat theatre festival in Bloemfontein South Africa. I asked to join her and she gave me the challenge of raising £500, if I could raise that money towards the trip tiata fahodzi would pay for the rest. Thanks to the Carne Trust I was able to fulfil that challenge and fly to South Africa. It was a great experience to be in an African country I’ve never been before and get to meet lots of African artists, which I still keep in contact with and will one day be able to colloborate with.
Completing two arts council applications and getting the money — with the support of the tiata fahodzi team I was able to write my first arts council applications. I had never felt confident to do one before. Both applications were a big learning curve and I learnt so much about how best to articulate my ideas and the projects I want to get off the ground. It was euphoric to get the first one awarded, I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to fund the R&D of the play I wanted to co-produce with tiata fahodzi. All the funding I needed was there and it was a joy to be able to spend a week exploring and interrogaitng the play and importantly to be able to commission my writer to write another draft. This was a significant step in both our careers.The second application was for the production and I was even more ecstatic when I received 30k towards the production of the show. Natalie and I were screaming and jumping in the office that day. Stay tuned to tiata fahodzi socials for an announcement about this show coming up soon!
A retreat in Jersey — this was a truly beautiful experience. I have never been given the chance to go on a retreat and focus purely on the art. For a week I got to go to Arts House Jersey, prepare for the upcoming R&D of the show I will co-produce with tiata fahodzi, develop my writing and have a much needed mentoring session with Natalie Ibu. Walking on the beach and exploring the Island in my down time was truly magic. You can read about my experience here.
Being Associate Director on the national tour of good dog by Arinzé Kene — I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of looking after the show and seeing it into 13 of the 14 venues on the UK tour. I got to visit 13 regional theatres, many I had never been to before, and begin a relationship with the people who worked in them. Here’s what I wrote when I was right in the middle of it.
Running two sets of Introduction to Directing Courses funded by RTYDS on tiata fahodzi’s behalf, in Sheffield and Watford — this has felt like a truly rewarding experience. It felt good to share my knowledge and open the door to theatre for 10 African heritage artists who have very little experience of theatre and knew little about what a directing career involves. I saw faces light up as they discovered a whole world they didn’t know about before, there were lots of laughs and as I begin a mentoring relationship with them for a year I am excited to see what budding directors will emerge out of these groups.
the end but not the end
Over these two years I have learnt what it means to run a National Portfolio Arts Council organisation, including managing budgets,writing strategic documents including business plans, producing projects, fundraising, what it means to be a leader and how important your unique voice is, and lots more.
Now I feel I have the confidence to make happen any project that I put my mind to because I have the tools and the know how. I am also not alone. Being part of the ADLP means that I have a network of brilliant theatre practitioners of colour who I can call and lean on as I continue my journey as an artist. I also have mentors including Natalie Ibu, who I can go to for advice — something I didn’t feel I had in the same way before.
I can confidently say that I am a director, writer and producer, who in future is not afraid to pursue an artistic director job, because I’ve received the input and enocuragement I needed through this two year residency, which has allowed me to feel equipped enough to tackle any challenge.
Opportunities like this don’t come often and I feel grateful that I’ve had the chance to go through this.
And I am also excited to start as Associate Director at theatre 503 where I get to keep exercising my leadership skills and supporting artists.
This is not the end for me and tiata fahodzi as we have a couple of ongoing projects that we are working on, I feel excited to see what the future will bring.
anastasia osei-kuffour is a writer and director, trained through the Young Vic Directors Programme. She is currently Associate Director at Theatre 503 and just completed two years asTrainee Artistic Director at tiata fahodzi theatre company as part of the Artistic Director Leadership Programme. She is Artistic Director of Wrested Veil theatre company.
Direction includes: Typical (Pleasance Courtyard Edinburgh Fringe & Soho Theatre); Cuttin’ It (Royal Court, UK schools tour); Footprints on the Moon (Finborough Theatre); An Adventure (an excerpt, Bush Theatre); Cell (Young Vic); Here Comes the Bride (Black Lives, Black Words at Bush Theatre); All the Ways to Say Goodbye (Young Vic); Hosea’s Girl (Talawa Studio Firsts); Dishonour, You Know That I’ll Be Back, Universally Speaking (Theatre 503); Pushers (Etcetera).