#SupportBlackCreatives Interview 2020
The brutal murder of George Lloyd has trigged a global #BlackLivesMatter Movement that is highlighting how indelible institutional racism & inequality is.
British actor Shak Gabbidon-Williams recently shared some of his experiences and the response he has gained has been inspiring. Those using their platform, big, medium or small, are contributing to a much need and long overdue conversation about race, inequality and prejudice that continues to hold the black communitdown.
Hi Shak thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during the lockdown?
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Lockdown has been okay, of course we have to try and stay positive during times like this. I'm personally just trying to stay busy and happy.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
This time has mainly been spent studying for a personal training qualification, but I've also taken the time to figure out some projects I'd like to start when these restrictions ease, as well as making some time for my own music projects.
You have recently shared on Twitter your experience at drama school, was this an easy decision for you to make?
For me, it wasn't necessarily easy or hard. It stemmed from a discussion I had on Instagram with a fellow ex-student about our experience at the same school (we were in the same year but separate courses). After that I received a couple of direct messages from current students who were telling me of incidents of racial abuse and the school's near-reluctance to help them. So when I saw the school posting a Black Lives Matter picture that they would have copied and pasted, it just felt very insincere and it made me want to speak up.
How did you cope and manage to remain positive when going through something like this?
The simple answer is great support from other students that had the same thoughts, feelings and experiences. We took it upon ourselves to make a curriculum outside of school time in which we could educate ourselves in some of the things that the school wasn't - and to my knowledge, still aren't - implementing. For example, our voice classes were tailored to accents that would only be useful for the caucasian actors. So we took it upon ourselves to teach each other accents that we would be able to implement in our careers. I'm never going to play an Italian American, however I could've done with lessons on the West African accent, so we basically had to fend for ourselves in that department.
Was it a difficult decision to stay at the school, what support was you able to get?
I always will say my drama school is a terrific school, and the general experience was massively positive. It was never a question of staying or leaving, more confusion as to why these tiny changes that we were suggesting were seemingly falling onto deaf ears. In terms of support there were a few teachers that really helped me out personally and some that have tried to help enforce a change but nothing has dramatically changed as far as I know based off of what I'm hearing, in fact it may have slightly regressed.
"Those with platforms must proactively use them for good, instead of constantly saying they do."
Did you have any apprehensions about the possible reprisals you may have encountered from the school or from the industry?
None at all. My feelings towards the drama school comes from a stance of 'We tried to tell you and keep it internal while we were there; this is the result of an unwillingness to listen'. In terms of any negative response from the industry, I don't fear what happens to me. If I find myself 'Blacklisted' from certain shows because I chose to speak up and stand for what is morally right and humane, then I wouldn't want to be part of those shows anyway.
The response has been incredible but with the positive there has been the negative, namely from @PhilCole61, has the reaction you have gotten for this surprised you?
Phil apparently spoke without full understanding of the context in which I was speaking. I'm not sure how true that is but I think if it is he is a great example to those who go onto social media looking for an argument. Know your facts first. In terms of positive feedback, it is important to remember that Twitter and other social media outlets work on algorithms; as a result you see the things that correlate with your own individual ideology. The real challenge is getting our words, stories and teachings to the other side.
Since you shared your experiences has your former drama school reached out to you?
I'm currently speaking with the head of my school's musical theatre course along with other students. Hopefully in time we can figure out a way to benefit the current and future students of colour. That's all that matters to me in terms of the subject of drama schools.
You also mention some of the cities you visit during the UK tour of MOTOWN where you experienced racism, did the team get any guidance or support from production before heading to these cities and was there any support from venues once your runs started?
I don't think the producers of the show would have even thought that guidance was necessary, not because they didn't care, but white privilege can subconsciously stop you from even considering what could have happened to us (i.e. it's not something they would've experienced so it may not be something they would even comprehend). That being said, I'm not sure how much was reported back to the producers so perhaps there is responsibility on both sides. In terms of venues, I personally didn't seek any support from them.
Did it surprise you that you would face such racism in places like Liverpool?
I feel I may have been slightly misconstrued in that tweet. I was stating places where racial incidents had occurred. In Liverpool's case it was one Bouncer that had a problem with us. Other than that I didn't experience anything that would suggest that there's a problem with race in Liverpool. I think the worst we received was sadly in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sunderland, where we would be heckled and would hear things being shouted out as we were on stage performing. One that rings in my mind constantly was when a man in the audience at Sunderland Empire made vocal his annoyance at 'Another black person' entering the stage. I'm not sure what he expected from a biopic about Motown to be honest.
The UK theatre industry that relies on black talent, Dreamgirls, Kinky Boots, Lion King, Aladdin, Hamilton, Thriller Live etc, seem slow to offer real support and any willingness at all to provide any leadership towards new standards for their theatres, why do you think there is such reluctance from theatre industry to come to the table and start a dialogue?
In my anger a few days ago I blamed the producers, however I think it may be a deeper issue. Everybody answers to someone in this industry. I don't know where the problem stems from, be it the producers themselves, or the rich financial backers that could take issue with shows that they're paying for taking a stance that they may not necessarily have. Whatever the cause, I believe that anyone who believes that they are morally good, anti-racist and pro-unity should do all they can to ensure that everyone feels they have a place in this industry. We pride this industry for being inclusive, but on too many occasions have I seen this industry alienate actors, agents and other professionals and quite frankly something must change. Those with platforms must proactively use them for good, instead of constantly saying they do. Actions speak louder than words.