Founder of Artistic Directors of the Future Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway talks about second season of the podcast series Beyond the Canon: The Writers Room

An extension of the initiative Beyond the Canon; formed to highlight the works of Black, Asian and POC playwrights, Beyond the Canon: Writers Room Podcast further delves into this conversation of representation in a post pandemic world. Debuting last year amidst the global crisis and Black Lives Matter movement, the podcast returns for its second season,  featuring conversations with award winning playwrights and play anthology specialists. Founder Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway – also known for her important work leading the Artistic Directors of the Future tells us more about what to expect.

Beyond the Canon was founded in 2016 with a focus on highlighting and raising awareness of theatrical works created by Black, Asian and POC playwrights. Five years on, how have you found the journey so far?

The Beyond The Canon journey has been a fantastic roller-coaster ride which has picked up momentum at a record-breaking speed. Built on my extensive play knowledge from researching Black British and international classical and contemporary plays by BIPOC writers. Beyond The Canon is the first and foremost UK organisation dedicated to decolonise academia and arts intuitions as well as empower, champion and advocate for POC students and theatre professionals.

We started the work by producing the first of its kind, monologue showcase, in partnership with drama schools, including RADA and East 15. Five years later, our Beyond The Canon Monologue Showcases (inspired by my monologue anthologies: The Oberon Book of Monologues for Black Actors and Audition Speeches for Black, South Asian and Middle Actors) have gone from strength to strength with students taking ownership and demanding that it happens in their institutions on an annual basis. Our work has inspired organisations in education and in the arts sector to make different programming, recruitment and casting decisions and I’m pleased to say, we have increased employment opportunities for Black, Asian and POC creatives in the arts sector as a whole.

I’d like to believe that our work created a bedrock of decolonisation learning and education and the bridge to lifelong collaborations and opportunities. Moreover, it has incited change in the industry with many of the students that have been involved in our work, taking the baton to enforce change that will benefit generations to come. I will be forever inspired by the many students who took the time to make demands of their institutions by writing a 99 page anti-racism action plan – I’d like to think that Beyond The Canon work (and others) acted as a catalyst for this.

Your work with Beyond the Canon witnesses you provide support to students, teachers and examination boards. What does this part of Beyond the Canon involve?

At the heart of Beyond The Canon is advocacy.

We are committed to advocate for the only POC student in a classroom, or a teacher who wants to teach their students about humanity, equity, culture and empathy or the examination boards who are genuinely interested in challenging the status quo and enforcing a non-white-supremist educational curriculum and holds the examiners, institutions as well as the teaching bodies accountable.

Needless to say, as an agent for change, I have delivered numerous keynote speeches at various education conferences, attended ongoing strategy meetings with examination boards and used our website and social media platforms to increase awareness to Black, Asian and POC writers and their work. This includes, our online podcast Beyond The Canon: The Writers Room which has attracted not only students and the wider artistic community, but also teachers who are following us to stay abreast of plays and playwrights that did not know about.

In addition, I have created courses to demystify and educate everyone to the rich theatrical legacy of Black, Asian and POC plays, artists and theatre companies that are overlooked, forgotten or completely dismissed. More recently, I was asked to create a recommended play list suitable for 14-16 years old students for multiple examination boards to influence change in the curriculum. However, beyond compiling lists, I see my role as an agitator to interrogate systems, artistic programming and curriculum, monitoring and evaluation to ensure that we are not living in the past on outdated systems, but truly reflecting the times, communities and experiences of the present to nurture the leaders and artists for the future. This means challenging terms such as ‘risky’, ‘universal’ and ‘suitability’ in meetings, as these words are generally used to exclude work by BIPOC communities. Whereas, I am more interested in pushing the envelope, widening accessibility and increasing visibility of talent.

We are excited to announce that we are in the process of commissioning four POC British Playwrights to write learning resources, in order to support our efforts to diversify the curriculum.

The Beyond the Canon: The Writers Room podcast series debuted last year and has returned with its 2nd season. How did you find the debut season and how are you feeling about the current season?

The first season of the Beyond The Canon: The Writers Room podcast was a direct response to the global pandemic and the disruption on education and artistic programming. There was little to no planning involved, which also meant that we had no financial support. However, we did manage to set up a crowdfunding page to support our efforts to post the plays to anyone in the world, and we were humbled by the generosity of individuals who supported our endeavour.

The podcast was initiated by the desire to give back and show our support to the students and freelancers who were left stranded, decentralized and anxious. Through my relationship with publishing houses, namely Bloomsbury Metheun Drama, Oberon Books and Playwrights Canada Press, I managed to secured a sizeable donation of play publications – with the intention of raising morale by offering students and freelancers free plays to build their home libraries. Our intention was to create a new learning online platform to strengthen the relationship between students, freelancers and BIPOC writers through fun, informative, educational, interactive and inspirational interviews.

After the debut, there was a demand to do more! However, at this stage, theatres were completely locked down and job losses in the arts industry were increasing rapidly with disproportionately heavily impacted on BIPOC artists and leaders.

Therefore, we successfully secured arts council funding to support the second season to provide Beyond The Canon writers and contributors with a fee. We moved from Instragram Live podcasts to pre-recorded podcasts. With support from YourStoryPR we realized our ambitions to increase engagement and reach by streaming our podcast on multiple platforms. Moreover, we built a stronger infrastructure which enabled us to produce our first roundtable discussion with anthologists. One of the main highlights for me, is that our Associate Producer, Sarudzayi Marufu is now joining me as co-host for Season Two, and together, we interview a stellar line-up of playwrights from across the world, including: Kwame Kwei-Armah, Nambi E.Kelley, Jeff Ho, Satinder Chohan, Trey Anthony , Vinay Patel and many more.

The podcast series looks to continue on from Beyond the Canon‘s aim of advocating, celebrating and uplifting legendary Black, Asian and POC plays and playwrights. Debuting last year during the pandemic and growing conversations around the Black Lives Matter Movement, how did these factors shape the podcast?

I have always considered the podcasts as a part of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Everyone is going to have their own way to address inequality. Our way is to increase the visibility of Black, Asian and POC authors and creators. I think visibility is key. Plays written by Black, Asian and POC writers are usually produced once (they’re lucky if it gets produced more than once). Therefore, visibility, as a way to preserve our legacy and culture, is vital. This work is a movement that requires all of us to support and invest in the change we want to see. I encourage everyone to invest in black art, books and play publication to ensure the visibility and sustainability of black arts.

At this time of a global pandemic and a global consciousness of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is important that we highlight the accomplishments, contributions and also the challenges experienced and overcome by artists of colour. We need to ensure that as we begin to strategise and rebuild our industries post-pandemic, the restructuring is informed by equitable practices and a commitment to do and act better.

To the community, we ask that there is a concerted effort to support black companies, black artists (productions and publications) and to support the efforts made by organisations and individuals by supporting and staying up-to-date with the needs and demands of those who are championing change within their educational institutions, theatres and other cultural organisations.

Guests include award winning and influential playwrights Kwame Kwei Armah (current Young Vic Theatre AD), Nambi E. Kelley, Trey Anthony and Vinay Patel. How did you approach organising the line up?

With over 20 years in the industry, I have developed an extensive network of writers and creatives from across the world. However, it was important to include some writers that I didn’t know, and fortunately, through the partnership with publishing houses, I was able to develop my network to ensure that the podcast included a wider range of voices.

That being said, it was important to include an international line up of writers from a wide range of cultural backgrounds who we felt were doing extraordinary work, politically-minded, and had inspirational stories and unique experiences. It was important for us to highlight the many pathways into becoming a writer and also the many hats worn by people who had diversified their writing careers.

We simply wanted to put a spotlight on the writers that we believed everyone should know.

The season will also feature a round table talk with pioneering play anthology specialists Kathy Perkins, Dalbir Singh and yourself. What will the talk involve and why are these play anthologies crucial for our industry?

Similar to the Black, Asian and POC writers, anthologists are also overlooked. As an anthologist, I understand how it is both laborious and beautifully liberating and rewarding to create an anthology – you learn so much about the work, yourself and humanity. It is the perfect act of activism. You get the unique opportunity to record and shape history as well as ensure that the names, productions and stories are remembered, revived, revisited and exist forever.

I thought that it was imperative to include anthologists in the Beyond The Canon podcasts as a call for action. We need more anthologists because there are still so many of our plays that are left unpublished.

From the roundtable discussion, readers can expect to learn about the many routes and motivations for becoming an anthologists, as well as the many corners of the world the work has taken us.

What can listeners expect from the podcast?

Listeners can expect a fun, insightful, and brutally honest conversation with some of the world’s most ground-breaking playwrights. They will hear personal accounts on their career trajectory, artistic choices, motivation to write and inspirations, as well as learn how far they go to tell a story.

Listeners can expect to meet a wide range of writers who are also: journalists, lawyers, historians, actors, educators, and broadcasters.

From the comfort of your home, you’ll be able enjoy an intimate conversation with friends, offering advice and a true insight into the world of theatre, TV and Film.

Expect to be entertained.

To find out more about Beyond the Canon, visit here…

To access the podcast, visit here...

To read Simeilia’s interview on Artistic Directors of the Future, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop