Hey Gavino how’s it going, you all set for the fringe?
Hello! I am incredibly excited to bare my creative soul to the world with my first ever show! I have to say I’m very proud of the progress I have made in past few months. I would like to say I am all set, but I am still currently in the midst of writing/rehearsing/flyering/inviting/hustling… Ask me again on the 8th!
What does it mean for you to be bringing AUNTIE to Camden Fringe?
It means finally achieving my childhood dream of performing, which I never had the chance to do, thus compensated over the years with constant showing off whenever I could! Growing up mixed race in the North West wasn’t easy, and I had to overcome a lot, from family issues to racism to dealing with poverty, but through all of that, my dream was always burning strong. I get to gather all my accumulated emotions, thoughts and feelings about the world and also everything that has made me laugh, fascinated me, horrified me and captivated me and throw all of it out into a few dozen people over an hour.
Do you get nerves ahead of a festival run?
This is my first ever show and first ever run, so I only have this time to go off! The nerves started last August when I went to the Edinburgh Fringe last year. I already had ambitions to do my own show but hadn’t yet given it proper thought, only having a vague idea of what I wanted to do. Going from a passive consumer to a critically minded performer meant dealing with my own ego. After watching a few shows and realising how many hours of research, rehearsal, admin et cetera had gone into that very short hour made me think “Oh crap,” and gave me a slice of humble pie and get realistic about what I needed to do to get this show on the road!
Any last minute tweaks or you all fired up?
It’s back to tweaking as soon as this interview is finished!
As well as writing and directing AUNTIE you are also the star, how have you managed to stay sane throughout this process?
Thank you for asking! I did not anticipate the raw energy that would have to go into keeping on top of so much. It feels like I have completed a degree and can add so many job titles to my CV after all that I’ve had to learn over the past months… Before this, I didn’t even know how to construct an email! Working and learning this much at a grass roots level is tantamount to success, I think, so knowing that what I am achieving now will help in the future has definitely helped me keep it together. Once agents, publicists and other folk that cost you cash start to appear, I will know when I am being BSed because I’ve already done it myself!
Did you have any apprehensions about bringing writing a show that was/is so personal to you?
It has all felt quite natural, actually. My biggest fear last year was writing a blog – www.gavinodivino.com – which I was putting off doing because the thought of letting my most private thoughts into the world wide web was so terrifying. I didn’t want people knowing my business! But since starting the blog, I have become so much more articulate about my personal struggles and am able to package them up in an accessible, humorous way which simply led me on to start writing this script, which has been a source of therapy, a fact many artists can relate to.
Tell me a little bit about AUNTIE, what can we expect?
Laughter! And lots of it. Both of the characters are completely outrageous, and although they hold very different beliefs, they are mother and son, thus are more similar than they think. They love to shock, love to express their own opinion, dress flamboyantly and both say the things a lot of us are too polite to ever utter! I also want people to see my work as a guiding beacon through this rather confusing planet we live on, where I seek to reach out to people who feel isolated and alone, hoping to touch on many of the issues all of us have to face on a day to day basis, such as homophobia, racism, the British class system, religion, gentrification, plus familial and cultural conflicts
What was the inspiration behind the play?
I have spent a lot of life feeling fractured and ashamed – ashamed of my heritage, ashamed of my sexuality, ashamed of my ambition, ashamed of my desire to dress and be different. Coming to London meant looking around the street and thinking “Oh! it’s okay to be brown,” and it has meant I have finally met people to whom I can relate, often feeling completely unique in my suffering and like nobody understood me, which was very frustrating. Since making friends with people who share my experiences, a lot of my confusion and undirected anger has left me, and since then have been intent on exploring art, local community groups and other media that aim to dissect society’s way of ostracising minorities and its effects, particularly internalised racism and homophobia. Having felt inspired and enlightened by other’s work, I feel it is my duty to do the same for other slightly lost souls, young and old.
What has been the biggest challenge in putting this show together?
I found writing the dialogue for the main character, Auntie, relatively easy, drawing on my love for the fabulously over the top Nollywood films of the 1990s that I grew up watching and African women I have grown up around, either in my family or what I’ve observed at street level. Mtoto, the son character, has been a lot more difficult, as a lot of his character is based on me! He represents a mixed race twenty-something growing up in the rapidly mutating borough of Hackney, struggling to find his own identity amongst the storm of indignation in his heart, which has meant trying to think objectively about my own opinions and how the world sees me. Not easy!
You also use real quotes within the play, why did you decided to add this element to the play?
When I started writing the play, a lot of my memories, good, bad and ugly started coming back as I drew inspiration from people from the past. I think it is extremely important when doing any piece of writing, whether it be theatre, music or literature, that the source is personal, as a piece of work can very quickly seem inauthentic or based in ineffectual stereotyping than real life, which can be dangerous as people get offended when they feel like they’re being misrepresented. I want people to be watching my play and almost be mouthing the dialogue as it runs like a song they know by heart. That way, I know my play will touch the soul rather than skim the surface.
How has making this play helped you deal with some of the issues you’ve had to contend with?
I have learnt how to talk openly and honestly about things I kept quiet about for years, and hope I am giving permission to viewers to do the same, which can only ever be a good thing.
Have you always had a passion for theatre and performance?
From being determined to be give the most theatrical reading of Shakespeare in English lessons and school to outstaging everybody in my GCSE drama class, there has always been a rebellious and attention-hungry thespian waiting to burst out of me! Although I have no formal drama training or experience, I always managed to find the hilarious and absurd in the banal, gaining quite a bad reputation for mimicking classmates and teachers I didn’t like which was never a source of comedy for the victims, but always in my friendship group. Accents fascinate me, having been surrounded by some of the strongest ones in the country in Liverpool and Wigan and I love the character that goes along with each one, one of my favourites being the 1980’s and ’90s nasally New Jersey mob wife, the most famous examples being the mom in Matilda and Tony Soprano’s wife. Working class glamour at its finest!
What was the first show you saw that made you go ‘yeah I want to do this!’
My friend Lasana Shabazz put on a show at Lime Wharf called Minstrels back in 2015, which was an hour long piece about people’s perception of black people and how the racist stereotypes of the past and present perpetuate a belief that black people are somehow inferior to white people. As a mixed race person raised mostly around white people, it forced me to question some of the subconscious biases that I have developed, which Lasana touches on when stating his mother “is proud of her light skin.” Until this point, without realising, I used my mixed black and white heritage to distance myself from the ‘undesirable’ stereotype of blackness, internalised years ago when I’d open a newspaper and would see black teenage faces associated with yet another London gun crime. I encountered similar feelings after attending my friend Scottee’s scratch night at The Roundhouse which looked at how pro-white bias affects people of colour of all backgrounds in the UK.
What 5 words would you use to describe your show?
Hysterical, insightful, inclusive, authentic, nostalgic.
What has been the best advice you’ve been given?
Go for it!
For anyone out there also fighting their own personal demons what advice would you have for them?
Keep searching, keep believing and keep breaking the rules.The only difference between you and the people you idolise is in doing and achieving what your heart craves.
And finally what do you want people to take away from your show?
That it is possible to come through things that would break most people and still have a huge smile on your face. To step outside of comfort and be proactive in understanding and being compassionate to the world.