guest post: when a dream becomes responsibility / leon mayne
It’s been three months since I joined the tiata family as a digital content producer and only last week did a friend question why I moved into theatre. This would’ve been the easy response:
‘I was interested in merging my background in content creation in the digital space with the expressional yet intimate medium of theatre’
Although true, there lies a deeper meaning, it’s a responsibility of mine to tell our stories.
Allow me to take you back in time a little bit, a #20yearchallenge if you will. I was a quiet introverted kid who was spoilt plenty by my mother, I had everything I needed in my room from game consoles, to a small library of books, to the only computer in my house, to both Cable and Sky. In hindsight I was probably coddled to keep me being on the roads too much, but ultimately it introduced me to the more expansive world of storytelling. I was glued to my TV especially, and exposed to an array of representation, both home-grown and international. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to have aspects of resonance in what you watch, but even at a young age I was conscious of the fact that watching shows such as Desmonds, Sister Sister, Moesha, Hanging With Mr Cooper, Blouse & Skirt and so on and so forth, enabled me to see myself in the present and future of friendship, family, business and love. It felt real and I was inspired from a visceral and creative perspective.
Fast forward 10-15 years, a #10yearchallenge if you will, representation was sparse on the mediums I held dear to me. Black U.S sitcoms had depleted, we lost our most prominent channel in representation (Trouble) and again I don’t need to tell you how useless we had become in this country in producing diverse content. Ultimately it was the first time that I discovered a disparity in the way our stories were treated and marketed. In that time I had gone to University to study Business and Management Computing, putting my creative endeavours to the side to please my worried yet supportive Ghanaian mother. But my heart was still in writing and creating. I’d take any opportunity to write poetry, short stories, articles, blogs and even scripts. Once I graduated, much like Ryan Leslie at this stage of his journey, I felt like I had repaid the support and push my mum had given me. But it was time to move on to what I really wanted to do. I began creating content again, firstly co-founding a user-generated media site which enabled people from all walks of life to write think pieces on matters of interest from entertainment to politics, I then started a blog ‘Brothers With No Game’ with my friends – a candid but light-hearted insight into the minds of the male psyche. The blog took off and within nine months we were approached to make our blog into a series.
It had been a dream of mine to create my own series, and the opportunity to write and produce a project in a medium that gave us creative control, with no favouritism or disparity of attention, was something I jumped at. But with all the enthusiasm and forward-thinking I had, even I didn’t realise what the release of our webseries would do for my mindset and even that of the diaspora. Although I had long wanted to produce three-dimensional black characters for the screen again, I hadn’t paid attention to that part of the creative process, as it’s almost subconscious to me. My focus was more on making the most edutaining show possible with zero budget and me in my infancy of production. However upon release of the first four episodes, which depicted black women and men of all shades – more importantly dark-skinned female leads – we were bombarded with a host of comments, messages, emails and face-face praise thanking us for bringing the aforementioned characters to the screen in a positive light.
I spoke continuously with our fans, who felt so passionately about the show, that I soon realised this was bigger than my dream or creative endeavours. It became a purpose, a responsibility. I had no intention to change anyway but this solidified my vow to make sure that I wouldn’t stop telling our stories and showcasing our three-dimensionality; no matter the genre or medium.
Fast forward to 2019, I run a production company who have distributed multiple series in over 60 territories worldwide, I’m a freelance writer and producer working on projects with UK broadcasters and I’m a proud digital producer at tiata fahodzi facilitating the company any way I can to continue telling the stories about the changing African diaspora in Britain. If only I had known sooner how much theatre had, and continues to be a prominent platform for non-restricted, expressive and edutaining stories about ourselves. I know now, and have been afforded the opportunity to participate.
I love what I do, it’s a dream come true, and responsibility realised.
Leon Mayne is an award-winning scriptwriter, producer and co-founder of BWNG Ltd. Known for his unique themes, natural dialogue and three-dimensional characters/storytelling, he has brought relatability to a variety of screens. His work, especially in providing richly detailed BAME characters has recently earned him a feature in Powerful Media’s edition of Britain’s most influential people of African and African Caribbean Heritage and BBC’s 2017 New Talent Hotlist.