Ahead of his performance at The Lowry in Salford, Frankly My Dear UK chats with Joe Sellman-Leava, writer and performer of LABELS, a new 60 minute show which explores immigration, prejudice and the global refugee crisis.
Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): Your award-winning play LABELS is currently on tour in the UK. Tell us about the play and what inspired you to write it?
Joe Sellman-Leava: The play is a blend of theatre, comedy, poetry and satire that unpicks prejudice and racism. It’s centred around the true story of my own mixed heritage, compared with my Dad’s experiences of being a Ugandan-born kid from an Indian family, growing up in Cheltenham. The show has a playful, humourous and literal approach to using labels to help tell the story and ask questions of the audience.
FMD: The play is very much based on your family’s personal experience of racism. Does this make it easier to put pen to paper or harder to express?
Joe: It was certainly a very long development process, and I felt we had to tread carefully using the stories my parents had given so trustingly. We wanted to do them justice! But it also meant the humour, sadness and anger came from a place of authenticity.
FMD: What kind of challenges did you encounter when writing LABELS?
Joe: Finding a balance between the dark and light moments of the text: we got there in the end!
FMD: Did you have any reservations about drawing from your own experiences?
Joe: Only that you have to think carefully about the ethics when your story is shared by other people to. But being aware of this from the start resulted in, I hope, a process and performance which respected the subject matter.
FMD: What do you think or hope the audience will consider or think about as they watch the play?
Joe: It’s very easy to see people as labels or numbers, rather than the human beings they are. I hope the show engages and challenges our audiences with this in mind, and highlights that everyone is capable of doing this.
FMD: LABELS was inspired by a racism and equality workshop run by Emma Thompson? What was it like to work with such as inspiring actor and activist?
Joe: It was incredible! There are a lot of things that stick with me from that workshop years later. And her encouragement and words of support meant such a lot.
FMD: You’re nearing the end of a UK tour, what has the reaction been so far? Has it been what you had expected?
Joe: It’s been a great reaction overall – so many people want to share similar stories, or explain why it resonated with them, and that’s so rewarding. Worklight always aim to create space to think and discuss with our work – to embrace the liveness of theatre. It’s a privilege to meet so many people doing this show.
FMD: How did Worklight Theatre come about?
Joe: We met at Exeter University and began making work before we’d graduate, with a bunch of other people. After a while, we formed Worklight and satrted maing How to Start a Riot which we took to Edinburgh in 2012. Labels is our third show.
FMD: What is next in the pipeline for you?
Joe: We are developing a show called Fix, which uncovers the complexities of addiction. I’m also writing a short play with Soho Theatre’s Writers’ Lab. And Labels is heading to Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival Fringe again this year, sow we’re looking forward to that!
LABELS: Tour Dates
13th May: The Lowry, Salford
18th May – South Hill Park Theatre
19th May: Theatre Royal Margate
26th Arts Out West – The Kirkgate Centre, CA13 9PJ
27th May : Arts Out West – The Beggars Theatre
29th May: PULSE Festival
30th May – 11th June: Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter
17th June: Quarry Theatre, Bedford
30th June: Fallibroome, Cheshire Rural Touring Scheme
6th July: Hampshire Cultural Trust
7-8th July: Oxford Playhouse Burton Taylor Studio
9-10 July: Pound Arts Centre
16th July: Latitude Festival
25th July – Cheshire Rural Touring, Whitby Hall
29th September: Spring Arts and Heritage Centre
30th September: Garrick Theatre
27th October: Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis
29th October: Bridport Arts Centre