The road not taken: Bernardine Evaristo on her career in theatre

I cofounded a theatre company, Theatre of Black Women, because there was such a paucity of roles for us, good or otherwise

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My first career was as an actor in the 1980s. I’d spent my teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre and loved performing and being in a creative space. At the age of 14 I starred as Captain Cat in a school production of Under Milk Wood, which was a big success. Here, at last, was the approval I’d been craving. I set my heart on a career in theatre, went to Rose Bruford Training College of Speech and Drama and left to co-found a theatre company, Theatre of Black Women: because there was such a paucity of roles for us, good or otherwise, it made sense to create our own theatre.

So far so good, except the stresses of running an underfunded theatre company 24/7 and writing and performing in my own plays proved too much and I stopped enjoying acting in front of an audience. What had begun as a vocation became an ordeal. Four years after I began acting professionally, I gave it up.

To be honest, I didn’t feel that I was a great actor, and my range was, shall we say, limited. With hindsight I can see that I didn’t do it long enough to develop my skills. When you’re young, you think that either you have a special talent or you don’t. Life has taught me that talent has to be nurtured over a long period and then it’s incredible what can be achieved.

I don’t regret leaving the acting world. Actors have it so tough and unless they generate their own productions, they are constantly at the mercy of others – waiting to be chosen. My temperament is much more suited to being a writer. I’m not an introvert but I have a strong interior world, and as a writer I’m always presenting myself at events to the public, which is a kind of performance.

This article is from our “Road not taken” series

This article appears in the 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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