GETTING TO KNOW JANICE OKOHThu 10 May 2012
Award-winning playwright Janice Okoh talks to Soho Theatre about what inspires her, winning the biggest playwriting competition in Britain, and her upcoming production at Soho Theatre, Egusi Soup.
What made you write your first play?
Kwame Kwei Armah’s Elmina’s Kitchen. I remember watching it with my family in the West End and my brother saying to me that I could write something like that. I still have yet to do it but Egusi Soup was inspired by Elmina’s Kitchen, in that I knew I wanted to write a funny play with really funny characters and have a good time.
Tell us a bit about Egusi Soup....
A daughter comes home, after years away in the states, to prepare to make a family trip to Nigeria for her father’s memorial service only to find that everything has changed. Her sister has gone “traditional” and a strange pastor is sniffing about her mother. It’s a comedy about culture clashes and intergenerational relationships set against the background of mourning the passing of a loved one.
You had a great year last year, being shortlisted for the VBA and then going on to win the Bruntwood for your play Three Birds. How has life changed?
It’s been really good so far. A few more doors have been opened in theatre and I’m doing a lot more writing AND being paid to do it. That’s the weirdest bit to get my head around, being paid. The Bruntwood prize has allowed me to give up the day job that’s been a bit weird – not having to worry about money for a year. I’ve also now got an agent.
What inspires you creatively?
Injustice, stuff that makes me angry or upset, gets me thinking. People. I enjoy talking to people, hearing their stories. I find a lot of people want their stories heard. If I’m emotionally moved I’ll end up writing about it in one form or another, sometimes many years later. I’m lucky in that I have the memory of an elephant when it comes to remembering things people have told me about themselves. I also read about stuff in the papers and if something catches my eye, I tear it out and file it away as something I might want to write about later. I enjoy researching ideas. And going to the places that I’m thinking about writing about. If I don’t believe what I’m writing about I’m not as confident.
Is there a piece of advice you couldn’t live without?
Write about what you feel passionate about. Sometimes I worry that no one will like the stuff I’m writing but the stuff you choose to write shouldn’t be about the audience (how you engage the audience with this stuff is a different thing). It should be about the enjoyment of the process. That’s why I started writing because of how I felt doing it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that and I end up writing stuff that I don’t really want to and not enjoying it. Remembering to write what I feel passionate about always makes me put things into perspective and not worry about industry stuff.< Back to List