“This show has been like therapy to me, where I’ve had to accept and let go of some pain I’ve carried for years.” Writer-performer Kema Sikazwe on Shine
Kema Sikazwe (Kema Kay) is an actor, rapper and singer. He starred alongside Dave Johns in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in 2016 and was selected as a Live Theatre Associate Artist in 2017. Moving from film to theatre with his debut play, Shine, Sikazwe brings to life this show about his family’s move from Zambia to Newcastle’s West End through an electrifying live soundtrack and heartfelt words.
Kema, having a tendency towards film, talks about how he wrongly judged the theatre earlier in his career. The Upcoming interviewed the writer and performer and discovered the way in which writing Shine had therapeutic effects for him. He also shared his writing process for both the script and score as well as the challenges of crafting such an intensely personal story.
When did you initially start working on Shine? Was it something you always had intentions of creating?
I’ve always wanted to tell my story and this platform came at the right time. I was looking for more experience as an actor after starring in I, Daniel Blake, and it wasn’t until Graeme Thompson (director of Shine) saw me performing live at a festival. He suggested we do something for a Scratch Night. We tested it out at a Scratch Night at Live Theatre’s new writing festival, Elevator Festival in 2017, and the response was bigger than we both expected. We decided to create a full show out of it and the rest is history!
How difficult or easy was it to draw on your own life experiences when crafting the play?
It’s been a mixture of emotions. In rehearsals I broke down a few times as I realised how much bottled emotion I’ve had in over the years.
How true is Shine to your own life experiences? Did you struggle with fictionalising the play or is it strictly based on your lived experience?
This show has been like therapy to me, where I’ve had to accept and let go of some pain I’ve carried for years.
You mention you’ve “always wanted to inspire people to follow their heart through storytelling and personal experience”. Who are you influenced or inspired by?
I’m inspired by everyday life, my experience, other people’s experience. Through music I’ve always been open with what I’ve been going through and I hope my story will inspire other people. I hope people come away inspired to go find their shine.
Shine will be your stage debut, how does working on stage compare to film and television?
Everyone asks me which I prefer more, and how they compare! I see myself as an entertainer, I just love being on stage. It’s been a challenge writing the play as it’s the first play I’ve written but I enjoy the process of both.
Was performing for the stage something you knew you always wanted to pursue?
I just go with whatever feels right at the time. I wrongly judged theatre in the beginning, but once I got a taste of it, I was hooked from then onwards. I’ve been a sponge since starting. I’ve learnt so much in a short space of time.
Was it always your intention for Shine to have such a rich musical side to it?
I’ve always been telling my story through my music. I’ve always felt the need to tell this story but didn’t know how best I could, a theatre piece was perfect.
What is your process when writing a song?
I usually do everything by gut feeling, so for Shine I’d write a bit of the script, then if I felt a song should be next then I’d write one.
Shine asks what makes us who we are and whether the choices in our lives determine who we become – are we in control of our own story or is it in our DNA? Is this something that you struggle to answer yourself? Is the play an answer or a questioning of what makes us who we are?
In the play there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered and I know people will want to know. As I mentioned, this show has been like therapy to me. I just want the audience to keep fighting the good fight of life and find their shine!
What’s next for you after Shine? Do you intend on staying in theatre, returning to film or perhaps trying something new?
I plan to turn Shine into a film next. A lot of people keep asking me about creating Shine 2 because some questions were left unanswered. I have a lot of ideas and stories to tell so who knows?
Shine premiered at Live Theatre, Newcastle on 2nd May and transfers to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh from 16th until 18th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Shine here: