Empower Her* Voice Theatre Collective introduces… ‘Spotlight: Female-Identifying and Non-Binary Voices in Theatre.’ This is a new series of interviews, released monthly, to broadcast the emerging and established voices of female-identifying and non-binary creatives within theatre.
lyds is a Black woman poet, playwright and facilitator based in Epsom, UK. Her primary obsession is examining the heart thru the lenses of musicality, the spiritual, the liminal and the radically honest. Her work has appeared on several platforms including Lungs Project, Guts Publishing, SYLA STUDIO and sweet thang zine. She’s joint mummy of Prism Writers and a member of Culford Company. She’s in the Royal Court’s Introduction to Playwriting 2020/21 cohort. Her audio poetry collection my love is the mid-morning sun (2020) is available on Bandcamp. www.lydialuke.com / @lydiahenriettao
What was your first experience watching theatre?
I grew up in a town just outside of south-west London called Epsom and my mum would take me and my sister to the local playhouse. I remember seeing a musical production of The Princess Bride and the narrator taught the audience a song that I still hum to myself this day. My mum also used to work for a civil engineering company that did Christmas trips to the west end and she would save up to get us tickets. A coach would drop us off outside the theatre and pick us up at the end.
What was the first play to make you want to work in theatre?
I’ve never seen a live production of it, but I read debbie tucker green’s random during the
second year of my masters in Black British Writing. Her depiction of grief and tragedy thru
her idiosyncratic and unapologetically Black British poetics have become foundational to my
playwriting practice. I’m also indebted to Caryl Churchill’s Far Away and Malika Booker’s
Why theatre for you? Why is it the right form for you?
I have a couple of lifelong obsessions: the questions that the human condition asks and
how the stories of Black people in Britain can answer them. In my opinion, plays are the
most immediate and remarkable translation of this struggle. It’s a medium where the chaos
in the writer bubbles to surface and runs wild. Not many forms of writing allow for that level
of madness. And nothing quite matches watching actors embody the skin of someone else.
It can feel like a séance when done correctly.
What influences your writing/work?
I imagine a sixteen-year-old Black girl watching a production of one of my plays or reading
thru a poetry collection I’ve written and seeing herself for the first time. I write for my
younger self and the girls out there who felt just as alone and invisible as I felt. It’s my
mission, my purpose in life.
Which playwrights/performers/creatives have influenced you the most?
As a writer, I credit Toni Morrison as my educator. It was watching her talk about writing
and reading her books that taught me how to write. I’m extremely influenced by musicians
who double up as poets such as James Blake, D’Angelo, Amy Winehouse and Laura
Marling. I’m also very lucky to be surrounded by incredible artists and friends who I get to
bear witness to.
What’s the hardest play/extract/project you’ve ever written/created and why?
I’ve been currently writing a one-woman show for the past eighteen months that I’ve hit a
wall with. I think I’m struggling because I don’t like one of the characters. I find her hard to
empathise with so it’s hard to hear her voice. It’s still not finished.
Are there ideas and themes that you keep coming back to?
Absolutely. I love writing about the in-between, the tipping point. That liminal space just
before a breakthrough, or a breakup, or a breakdown. It’s often the most vulnerable and
human you can get. I also write a lot about sex and relationships and love. Also about
motherhood and children.
What advice would you give to a woman wanting to work and write in theatre, but
without obvious access streams?
We’re in the same boat hun! I’d say focus primarily on developing your craft and building
lateral community. That’s all you have at the end of the day.
Have you written in other forms?
I’m a poet, by blood and bone. If theatre is my mind’s medium, poetry is my heart’s. I also
write short stories.
What are your top tips for emerging female playwrights/creatives who have not had
Put the craft first. Whilst doing my masters, I’d spend all my time off in cafes and hotel
lobbies writing constantly: working out my practice and developing my style. Read a lot,
immerse yourself in art. Figure out who your greats are and find out how they did it. You
don’t need formal education to work on your craft.
If you could go back to the beginning of your interest in theatre, what would you tell
When I was fifteen, I wrote a play for a drama assessment and decided that I wanted to
be a playwright. I then did absolute nothing with that thought until I was twenty-four. I’d
tell her to study English at A Level and write more but I also wouldn’t do anything differently. It feels like it’s all gone the way it was supposed to.
What are you working on next?
I’m workshopping some short monologues and pieces I’ve written with actors and I start
Royal Court’s Introduction to Playwriting next week. I feel blessed to have things to look
forward during this trying time.