Updated: Feb 19
Leila is a 2nd year English and Film undergraduate at the University of Exeter who shines in both acting and dance circles. In this post, read about her acting background, including her most recent play "Hair", the intersectionality of diversity and creativity in theatre, her dance history as well as what she would like to see from the university and theatre societies to improve inclusion.
'I’ve always been a super keen actor, from little roles in annual school musicals and weekend performing arts classes to drama summer schools in London. Over the past year, I’ve kind of migrated over to the behind the scenes part of the stage and am trying my creative hand at writing. I’m currently taking an online Writing for Stage and Screen course with National Youth Theatre and have various snippets of play scripts, poetry, etc on the go. It’s been really cool to work on the flipside of acting and find a new creative outlet.
As a result of this (teamed with lockdown frustration and BLM protests) I wrote my first full play ‘Hair’ which has been chosen for Theatre with Teeth’s term 1 show. It’s a one woman style play that centres around mixed-race Ali, aspiring actress and feisty teen, trying to navigate a life confronted by microaggressions in an industry concerned with appearance. We’ve already had so many positive responses to the show with regards to people being happy that some diversity is being shown through a new perspective and that a new and important story is being told. We are still looking to fill some production team roles so please drop me a message if you’re interested! The idea of this show is to create a collaborative project that’s so much more than just rehearsing lines and performing and we want as diverse a team as possible to bring Ali’s story to life.
Alongside the actual play, we are looking to run workshops and discussions that spotlight both our creative process (to allow more people to get involved with the production) and the important issue we’re tackling. This week we launched our first #BlackHairstory, led by our fabulous AD/Creative Consultant Libby Gervais, which will be weekly social media posts showcasing amazing black hairstyles and other content such as podcasts, discussions and little snippets of rehearsal footage so keep your eyes peeled on Teeth’s page!''
'I was lucky to stumble upon a society called URBN Dance ( now @legiondanceexeter ) last year as a fresher and remember being amazed how diverse and welcoming they were. My previous experience of dance had been about competition and I made no real friends or ties. Legion is amazing because they celebrate individuality, whether that be a particular dance style or culture or background and use it to create a strong and diverse group of individuals who support each other. I felt, and still do, really at home there. I’m currently Contemporary Fusion Dance coach and am loving choreographing different pieces for class each week. There’s nothing like music and movement for expressing emotions…come along to a class if you can!
A creative who inspires me: Bernardine Evaristo. She’s a cool lady who fought hard to get where she is and her book Girl, Woman, Other had me feeling every emotion under the sun. I could spend a long time writing about all her achievements, outlooks on life and feminist ways but I won’t. Go look her up!'
'I’ve been lucky in that my uni experience so far has been a positive one and I have never felt out of place or discriminated against because of my skin colour. I would, however, want more diverse stories that call for a diverse cast and crew being put on at Theatre at Exeter. Though there has definitely been a conscious effort to include more BIPOCs this year, there is still a lack of stories being told from this perspective. It’s one of the reasons I’m so keen to write plays because I’m not just writing for myself but for every other black and mixed-race girl who hasn’t seen herself reflected in a character onstage before, especially not as the lead and with a unique storyline. We have to write the change we want to see, and if that takes physically writing ourselves onto the stage then do it we shall! I’d love to see more shows being selected that allow a range of people to audition and widen the theatre circle, even if it means they are not fully-fledged acting professionals from the get-go but passionate people who learn on the job.
I’d also love the university to create a more diverse curriculum where not only do we study a larger range of authors from different ethnic origins, but content is also being delivered by someone with personal experience or understanding on the topic. Countless times my friends and I (on different courses) have been studying post-colonialism, race, etc but have not heard from someone on the topic who is non-white. We want our staff to reflect the society of today too and to be able to share their unique viewpoints with us from a place of authenticity.'
Photography by Hanife H Photos. @hanifehphotos