Cecilia Alfonso-Eaton – a talented actress, staple member of the University Drama Society and the new inclusion representative, was kind enough to have a chat with me over zoom from a bustling café. I wanted to speak to her about her new role as inclusion officer for Drama Society and what that entailed.
Just after our interview, there appeared a post on @uomdramasoc reaching out to black actors and creatives to take part in their Autumn Fringe, an indication of Cecilia’s tireless effort for inclusion.
What are your most important values as inclusion officer?
Making sure that the drama society is as inclusive and accessible as possible. What’s really important for me is representation. In the drama scene there’s not a lot of representation of races and different ethnicities and cultures. Being from a community that is under-represented it’s always been something that is really important to me. I think there’s a certain agenda of what a drama society should look like and I don’t want it to just stick to that.
How will you go about implementing this?
By making sure that in the plays we choose there are opportunities given to diverse stories and voices. Also, the drama society are now committing to one third of work being made by women, one third by the BIPOC community and the other third is everything else. Just making sure that we are giving voices to those who are under-represented in the community.
How much does COVID pose an obstacle to your work?
Its hard because we can’t do live theatre but its also quite exciting because people are having to be creative in different ways. We’ve just started the Autumn Fringe and the submissions are really cool. It’s nice to see how people are adapting and still wanting to make theatre even though it’s not live.
Tell me about Women’s Theatre
I love the women’s theatre. It’s an inclusive space for women and non-binary people. They explore different intersections of being a woman and are very centred around activism and political topics. They’re holding some cool events and doing play readings written by women of colour, it’s sad we can’t perform together.
How do you want the Drama Society to look by the end of the year?
A space where anyone can audition and submit writing. Drama is sometimes perceived as something that isn’t for all, but it is, especially because of the importance of telling everyone’s stories. I want to gather skills from this role on how to help people even more and learn from it. Ensuring representation is something I want to continue to strive for.
Do you think there’s lots to improve on?
I think so. It’s just one of those things that sometimes, like with the agenda of the university and looking at the cohort of people who do drama society, it has been quite white and for people who are seeing that on the outside they might think ‘Oh I don’t want to get involved.’ I know that last year the play ‘Nut’ did struggle to find black actors. I’m not saying a safe space hasn’t been provided that in the past, it’s just enforcing that a bit more.
Are there any works written by people of colour that are offered in this Autumn Fringe?
There’s a play called Twilight by Anna Deavere-Smith. Not sure if there’s any others, this is sometimes the problem when you get the submissions and you just have to work with them. More diverse options are something that I will encourage later on in the year with the MIFTAs.
Are there any plays that you would personally put forward?
There’s a play called ‘For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow is Enuf’ by Ntozake Shange. It’s a Choreopoem, a series of poetic monologues and the author intertwined it with movement and dance and I’ve always wanted to see it put on.
I asked if she wanted to say anything else and she immediately said, ‘Credit should go to the team and the co-chairs for their effort, it’s important we have the support from them to push for inclusivity, so it’s credit to them also.’
As we were waving off I quickly asked where you could access information on upcoming inclusivity events. Always a fountain of knowledge, she shared, ‘UoM Women’s Theatre Society, QTIPOC society, Feminist Society, Young Identity Manchester and Kids of Colour.’ All Manchester based and all are welcome.