Ola Ince: ‘Achieving what you want just means you get to dream bigger’

With as many as 92% of the UK’s top theatre leaders are white, many Black theatre makers still feel unwelcome in major venues. We sat down with Ola Ince, a British Theatre Director, to discuss the power of storytelling in helping white audiences confront their own prejudices

Next in our #WomenWhoWin series is British Theatre Director, Ola Ince.

A graduate of the Rose Bruford Theatre College, Ola burst on to the drama scene in 2016, after winning The Genesis Future Director Award and staging a provocative production of Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman in the Young Vic Theatre.

The young director also made waves in 2018 with her production of Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, at the Gate Theatre – a one-woman play about the riots that broke out across LA after four policemen were acquitted in the savage beating of African-American Rodney King.

Far from shying away from controversy, Ola is credited for facing it head on by ensuring that her long line of work has stimulated further conversation about colonialism, cultural identity and gender roles within society.

With her latest project, 846, comprising of a series of audio plays responding to the killing of George Floyd (this was performed live as part of the Greenwich + Docklands International festival on 12th September), Ola recently discussed her hope that venues will do more to combat institutionalised racism when they open up again.

We spoke to Ola about the moment she discovered her passion for directing, her diverse on-stage repertoire and why taking bold actions can really pay off…

‘I was interested in story telling from a young age’

I realised my enthusiasm for directing when my classmates and I were asked to devise a play in secondary school. I remember being amazed at what we made and wanting to do it all the time, so I joined a youth theatre group. From there I went to Brit School, before doing a directing course at Rose Bruford College. I met so many weird and wonderful people, which was a nice contrast from my ordinary school.

 ‘I needed to be brave, so I applied for the Genesis Future Director Award’

In 2016, I was working on big stages as a Theatre Associate, but I wasn’t putting my neck on the line. I pitched my idea for Dutchman, a provocative play set in 1960s New York. I wanted my production to be a thriller inspired by Alfred Hitchcock, and I had some really nuts ideas for the set. Low and behold, I won! I grew lots of muscles during that process. Later on with The Convert, I was really bold about picking superstars to work with. Achieving what you want just means you get to dream even bigger.

‘It’s amazing to see the kind of conversations sparked by plays’

Twilight Los Angeles, 1992, [a one-woman play about the LA riots] stands out to me in how it presented the complexity of the prejudices between Korean Americans, African Americans, and white Americans. One of my upcoming shows, Is God Is?, is a spaghetti western about female strength and empowerment. Black women have long been known as the mules of society, and this play reverses that. Rather than being seen as victims, they are both villains and heroines, which is exciting and unusual.

 ‘I’m proud to have turned a form of expression into a job that I love’

You are often told as a young artist, ‘It’s really nice that you want to be a director, but you are going to be poor and unhappy forever. While your loved ones are getting mortgages and having kids, you will just be a pauper of an artist.’ This year I have learnt that you can have both. Something that I’ve worked on for a really long time is now paying my bills and allowing me to travel the world. It feels good that I no longer have to suffer for my art, and that it’s actually helping me.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical officially opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 17th April 2018. Tickets are available at www.tinathemusical.com.

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