It’s October and that can only mean one thing: much to the joy of creatives everywhere, it’s time for the annual release of the Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook.
This well-established and respected directory supports you in your training and search for work in theatre, film, TV, radio and comedy. The only directory to provide detailed information for each listing and specific advice on how to approach companies and individuals, this Yearbook will save you hours of research whilst also offering a clear path to progress your career. Simply put, it is the essential reference book for actors and performers everywhere.
As ever, the Yearbook isn’t only a handbook for the year to come, but also a reflection on the year that’s just been. And what a year it’s been. Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the battle for ACE Emergency Funding, and the necessary dialogues on systemic racism following tragedies in the US, the theatre industry has faced reckoning after reckoning. The Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook 2022 reflects current conversations through featuring interviews with industry professionals. This year it’s led by Joan Iyiola and Polly Bennett—founders of The Mono Box who have recently announced they’ll be handing over the reins.
Take this interview with Cherrelle Skeete, co-founder and Artistic Director of Blacktress UK, a network that supports Black womxn creatives through providing them with a community. Here, in this exclusive extract, she speaks to actress Joan Iyiola on the impetus behind Blacktress, what it means for the theatre industry to be anti-racist, and why recent drama school graduates need to practice self-care.
An extract from Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook 2022:
Active Listening in a Community of Nomads
Cherrelle Skeete, co-founder and Artistic Director of Blacktress UK
Interview by Joan Iyiola
Cherrelle Skeete is an actress, writer, cultural curator and consultant. She is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Blacktress UK, a network and support group for Black womxn actors and creatives providing a platform to grow and connect through community. Cherrelle works across theatre, television and film and was on the 2019/2020 Soho Theatre Writers Lab. Cherrelle believes storytelling is a necessary tool to activate understanding, build bridges and heal ourselves so we can all move towards our own freedom.
How have you used community practices in your work as an artist?
I think community is the ultimate dialogue, a dialogue of active listening in the hope that no one gets left behind. I have to mention ‘community’ because no person is an island and I didn’t just turn up here. It took a group of people to make various decisions and who said different things to support me and remind me who I am. To me, community is liberation, strength, a place to really learn. I’ve found a lot of solace in different communities. Your community is your chosen family, it’s the place where you learnt your craft at different points. It might be the place where you learnt that you were actually good at something or where you felt seen for the first time when other parts of society weren’t seeing you. It’s a space that’s about everybody who’s responsible for taking care of it, a space that’s cultivated, with a sense of community, similarities based on what that community is setting out to do. There’ll be a certain demographic within that community, with similar cultural interests. I think it’s something we as artists do. We’re always looking for our tribe. When you’re auditioning for something, you’re looking for your tribe. Everyone involved is involved in a sense of community, it’s everywhere.
Off the back of that, can you give us an overview about Blacktress, your reasons for setting it up and the work that you have created with this wonderful group?
Blacktress has been going for 4 years. I’m a co-founder and I run it alongside my partner, Shiloh Coke. It’s a network, support group, and we’re curators. The work is Black women and femme-centered. We do Spark workshops and we’ve run a festival of Black women-led work early in its formation called the Blacktress Season. We’ve curated specific events, which again are Black-women-centred, but they’re open to all. We have socials where we’re celebrating women who may not necessarily be recognised within the mainstream and we’ll see them first and celebrate them. This was a space cultivated out of many conversations I’d heard, women saying they felt alone, isolated or didn’t feel seen or heard. So we create a safe space which is often about healing. I believe those who’ve suffered most deserve the greatest victories and I think we’re so victorious. Yes, I’m the founder but I’m not the sole custodian of that space. Every single person holds everybody’s story—everybody’s physical and spiritual being’s space—with a sense of care, thoughtfulness, consideration, compassion, curiosity and the ability to just listen.
What might you want to say to the graduating actors and performers of this year about the importance of this act of self-care?
Firstly, it’s really important to spend some time on your own to get to know who you are—who you are without the noise, the industry stuff. Just strip back and learn so you can identify when you’re feeling low and also identify what you need to get back to a place where you feel balance. Because the word self-care has been thrown around a lot, it’s become this almost overused buzzword. I think what I’m going to start using is ‘balance’. To get back to a place of balance.
The first thing I say to graduates is find your tribe. You were put together with other people within your year group by circumstance. They may be your tribe but you may also need to reconnect with yourself and find your people. Speak about your experiences; they’re valid. Use this wonderful thing: the internet. And reach out to people. We’re all in it together, literally. There’s no wrong way of doing it, they’re all just experiences. Affirm your experiences for yourself by writing them out. I encourage everyone to journal, but if you don’t like to write, maybe scrapbook. Do it for yourself first and then everything else will come from that in terms of connecting with people and you’ll attract the right people who might be your future collaborators. That’s the whole point: you want to be making art with people who respect you, respect the dignity of life, and you can be on the same page in terms of how you want to make art.
We’re seeing a lot of anti-racism pledges from theatres and companies at the moment. What does leadership in this space look like to you?
If you look at your team of people that you work with and the building that you might work in, and you see that there are opportunities being opened up, maybe think about what you would usually do and then challenge yourself to do something slightly different. Bring in someone who wouldn’t necessarily be within that environment that you’ve created. If you’re actively wanting change, as an artist, a venue, an organisation, then bring in people to do that. I think what we’re asking for post-lockdown is actually human kindness and it’s not passive. It’s a loving action. Create that space, even give up space. A lot that we’re doing is about the dismantling of the powers that be, speaking truth to power, which is not always easy.
In order for us to sit in this space where we can all sit together, it’s “I do something for you, you do something for me” and we’re constantly going, making offerings of kindness in the space to find out what our collaborative power is.
The relationship is reciprocal. That’s why I said community is for me the biggest dialogue, not one-sided. When you have community leaders, the pyramid is upside down and you as the leader are at the bottom. Because you’re answering to people at the top and that’s your community. It’s actually about being of service. I want to create more spaces where we’re doing more reimagining, talking about what we need, what are the active measures that we need to do. Do we need to ring-fence tickets to make sure that we’ve got audience members? We can’t be using the same tactics as before. We’ve got to up our game. If that wasn’t working, let’s try something else. We’re very fortunate in the arts to lead on that because we are the people literally creating with our tools, our hands, our talent, the people that we come across. So every kind of process that we’re going into with our storytelling, you literally get to reset and restart again how you want this ship to run. I think that’s amazing. You know, in theatre you build this incredible relationship with people over the course of 5 months and then that’s it! Then you start again with these nomadic people but I think there’s something so beautiful about that.
That’s beautiful, our imagination is our superpower.
I think the most powerful thing that we have as a people, as Black people, as human beings, as creatives, whoever you are, is our imagination. In terms of culture, it is a collection of concepts. There has to be a dialogue. We can’t just have one concept all the time. The exchange has to be happening back and forth constantly and the concept grows then we all agree and eventually that becomes a culture. There’s a repetition of concepts that everybody agrees on. So if we’re saying that we want to keep reimagining, we’ve got to keep talking to each other, listening—actively listening—and, from that, take action.
You incorporate activism in your artistry. How would you encourage others to do the same?
Everyone is responsible for their own activism but, firstly, it’s to be active. It’s a movement of love, corny as that sounds. We’re actually wanting to say: can we stop hurting each other, live peacefully, be kind, make space for those we’re pushing out. When the theatres closed, obviously it was very sad, but we have to think about what happened to all of us, how these spaces function and if they’re functioning in a way that’s serving us as a people.
Let’s reevaluate our core values and what we need. Remember, those spaces belong to the people. Our taxes fund those buildings so we have to hold them accountable. Let’s start with self. What do I need? What can I do to achieve the things I need to get me balanced? What spaces and environments for the people of certain communities they’re meant to be serving are going to give them balance? Does the environment we’re creating and cultivating support that? Reevaluating and reconnecting, these are brilliant places to begin. This period and returning has to be about us opening these spaces in a way that introduces different things, making these spaces more accessible for everybody. To serve the community, serve spaces where dialogues can be had and that requires everybody. Everybody speaking and knowing what that they need.
Actors’ and Performers’ Yearbook 2022: Essential Contacts for Stage, Screen and Radio is now available to buy at bloomsbury.com