Chad St Louis

Updated: Feb 19

Chad is in his fourth year at the University of Exeter and is currently directing the musical ‘A Chorus Line’, which will debut in March 2021 at the Northcott Theatre. Previously, he has been President of Semi-Toned and has been a part of many other creative societies such as Soul Choir, Exeter Footlights, Shot Gun Theatre, and more. He has recently set up @openingupexeter, which you can read more about in this post.

'I thought I’d split these posts by year because my experiences as a BIPOC creative have been so different! All I knew about Exeter University before I came here in September 2017, was that it had a great History course, the highest tree to student ratio in the UK, and that one of my closest family friends in the year above had a lit time in his first year. I had no idea of the performing opportunities at Exeter before I came, I just knew that I had to carry on singing or performing in some way.

In fresher’s week I stumbled across @semitoned and @exetersoulchoir and it’s fair to say they shaped my university experience. I was suddenly doing gigs in Exeter and across the country, Semi-Toned sold out the Northcott and we toured the East Coast of America! The point of this post, however, is to say that despite these wonderful creative experiences, my first year was difficult - due in part to what I can only describe, with hindsight, as an identity crisis.

Coming from an inherently diverse family, with a Caribbean Dad and a British Mum, and having grown up in South London, it was a shock for me to come to Exeter and barely see anyone that looked like me. Throughout my life, my friends have simply been the people in my creative circles and in London, those creative circles were diverse – in Exeter, not so much. My friends in Semi-Toned didn’t necessarily have to think about their safety when jokes were made about touring to the American South or the potential reaction of crowds when performing in certain areas. Nor did the majority of my friends have to consider the effect of the BLS scandal or Neo-Nazi symbols being carved into doors at halls of residence on a nervous fresher who was just singing his way through Uni. Toss in the added discovery of my sexuality, my creative outlets became a crutch to ground me in the whirlwind of finding an identity.

It has taken a lot of frustration, anger and confidence to try and go about tackling the lack of diversity in Exeter’s creative circles for future Chads, but I hope that by facilitating discussions with @openingupexeter , which I’ll soon talk about in more detail, I may have made some form of start.'

'Being president of @semitoned in my second year was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My committee and I organised a month-long tour of the UK, released two singles, sang at Sandy Park and sold out Edinburgh Fringe with a 5 star show! But it was doing Spring Awakening with @shotguntheatre , my first show in Theatre at Exeter that really made my year in terms of creativity. Besides enjoying the process, the people, the performances, it was the fact that, unlike other performances I had done, we were somehow doing something a little bit bigger than just performing by raising money for @youngmindsuk ; our creativity had more purpose than simply to be self gratifying.

We could have gone further! We should go further still! This idea of purpose is something I really wanted to instil in the future shows and creative projects I was involved in at Exeter and beyond. That purpose may be charity based, diversity and representation based - anything! It’s so great to finally see shows like @leila_lockley 's 'Hair’ (@theatrewteeth) being shown at Exeter and Collectives like this one bringing a renewed sense of purpose and meaning to our creative circles.'

'Last year, I took the plunge and auditioned for @exeterfootlights Northcott show and I was fortunate enough to get the role of Oda Mae Brown in ‘GHOST: The Musical’. This show not only gave me the opportunity to perform at the Northcott again, but also gave me the freedom to express and explore my sexuality in drag. I cannot thank Footlights enough for encouraging this often nervous, self-conscious, queer man of mixed heritage, to bask in said queerness and blackness in such a creative arena as the @exeternorthcott . I sincerely hope that all of those involved recognise the importance of that show to me and my personal growth. Inspired by the positive experience I had in the show and with the society, I decided to run for Director of the Northcott myself. I’m humbled that in my fourth year at uni now, I have been given the opportunity to direct ‘A Chorus Line’ in March 2021.

Upon assuming this role, I was determined that history not repeat itself. My experience of Theatre at Exeter has been overwhelming joyous. Its been fabulous and formative and freeing - but, upon reflection, somewhat isolating in casts in which I was the only BIPOC. As I said in my first post, I personally was going to perform at Exeter in some capacity regardless - where, however was the effort for those who did not feel as welcome? Included? Enfranchised?

So y’all want to know what it’s like being a BIPOC creative at Exeter? It is often difficult to be seen, hard to find opportunities, it’s deciding which creative society to join based on whether you know anyone else that looks like you joining as well. It’s joining @exetersoulchoir instead because that is the music of your heritage, it’s not joining Soul Choir despite that being the music of your heritage, it’s deciding not to audition, deciding TO audition, it’s worry whether you’re a token, it’s getting your script turned down because of a ‘diversity issue’, getting your script ACCEPTED because finally something reflects our society and it’s EMPOWERING when an effort is made and you are rightfully seen in the glaring spotlight of centre stage.'

He also wrote an open letter earlier this year, which you can read by clicking on the graphics below.

Photography by Hanife H Photos @hanifehphotos and Graphics by Andrea de Jong.

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