In Conversation With: Anastasia Osei-Kuffour
Multi-hyphenate Anastasia Osei-Kuffour is currently Associate Director at Theatre503 and Artistic Director of Wrested Veil, a production company that unveils stories that explore truth and the human story behind real world issues, in order to spark change.
Over the last few years, Anastasia has had several accomplishments including directing the Edinburgh Fringe and Soho Theatre hit, ‘Typical’, and touring the play ‘Seeds’, at Leeds Playhouse Theatre.
Our conversation was an opportunity for Anastasia to detail her journey into directing, speak about the highs and lows of the pandemic and hint at what we can look forward to in her next steps.
The Floor: Can you tell me how you got into theatre and directing? Anastasia: I've always been interested in theatre and telling stories. It was a long journey. I loved drama in school, I did GCSE and A-Level drama. I didn’t enjoy acting and wasn’t told that you could do anything else in the industry. I was quite involved in church as a Youth Leader. We were always looking for things to do with young people, so I thought, ‘why don’t I do a play?’. I wrote the play really quickly; we had big dance numbers, an amazing video wall, music. All the young people were bopping their heads. I remember that moment in 2010 being a real exciting moment. I just loved seeing the audience reacting to the work that I’d put on stage.
I wanted to know how to direct better so I thought I’d go to the Young Vic - they were doing a free Introduction into Directing course. I did the course and was blown away by all the things they were telling me about directing. It’s not just about telling people what to do. It’s about leading a team, with people who are experts in every discipline – lighting, sound, music, set, costume - and bringing them together to create something great, something out of nothing. Something that will affect people, touch people, make people cry, move, laugh. When I realised that, I was like I found it. I found the thing that I would love to do for the rest of my life.
I was able to watch Typical in 2019 and was pleased to see that it had been adapted to film on Soho Theatre On Demand. How did it feel to direct in such an important and powerful play?
I felt really privileged and blessed. When I first read the script, I felt it was beautiful, poetic, powerful. I scrolled back up to the top and it said, ‘based on a true story’. I started researching and thought, ‘this story has to be told, it is really important we get this story out there.’ It was a tragedy we didn’t know what happened to [Christopher Alder]. Everyone needs to know about him and about systemic racism in the U.K. This story really looks at him as a full human being. Sometimes when you see black people dying, you become desensitized to it. Stories that humanise people are important stories to tell. The effect of tragedies, systemic racism and the injustice affects more than one human being. I was pleased to direct the play. It felt more than just art, I was doing something worthwhile to try to change minds.
2020 was a tough year for the industry. What were some of the challenges you faced due to COVID-19? Wow, a lot of challenges. I was in the middle of a tour for a play I spent 2 years on, called Seeds. We’d done a few shows, then the pandemic hit. I was in a place where I couldn’t direct. It was challenging, but the silver lining was getting some rest and thinking about what I’m doing and what I want for the future. We had to adapt to directing plays and having meetings online on Zoom. Financially, I took a hit. Organisations like the Arts Council and charities raised money to give to artists during that time – those were lifesaving things for me.
This month, Talawa Theatre Company are presenting original audio dramas. Can you tell us about ‘Precious Little Thing’? Precious Little Thing is a half an hour drama, it's on 21st May on BBC Radio 4. It’s a dark comedy and also a heartfelt drama about being a woman, and the challenges we face...I’m not going to tell you much more! It was so great to work with Jocelyn Jee Esien, Tuyen Do and Jacoba Williams. I worked as one of the directors, supporting the development of the play, giving notes to the writers. We spent two days recording in a socially distant studio. After the recording process, I worked with a sound designer to comb through all the material we recorded, adding and tweaking so the story made sense for the listener.
How does directing a play differ from directing an audio drama? There’s transferable skills from my theatre experience, but it is very different. It’s a quicker process – you have to get what you need from the actor straightaway and a lot of giving notes. Whereas in theatre, you sort of grow the play with the actors, take them on a process for them to discover the play for themselves, as well as directing them about your vision for the production. Radio is much quicker and basically getting as much acting juice from them so that you have enough material in the editing stage. In theatre, it’s sort of a longer process, 3-4 weeks to grow a play and you’re creating a live thing. [In theatre] there’s always changes, little things are different on the night. I enjoyed the quick, fast pace of radio and I found it quite exciting to be able to change the story a little bit. It’s interesting, I like both though!
What has been your greatest achievement at work so far? I'm really proud of Typical and going on that journey, especially proud of being able to do my debut film. Just going through a film process, having three quality cameras and a director of photography behind each one. I loved the whole process and learnt a lot. I’m proud of the story we are telling. I hope and pray it will change mindsets, make people more aware of the racism that exists and do something about it. Be more willing to rise up against injustice.
What advice would you give to aspiring directors, particularly for those who are underrepresented in the industry? The Young Vic Directors programme is a great place to start and get involved with their workshops. You do have to work hard to know your craft. Books like ‘Directors Craft’ and ‘Different Every Night’ were useful to read and learn from to create my own process. I’d say seek Assistant Director jobs – that's your opportunity to get into a room and see how another director directs a play. And you could pick up all the techniques those directors do. Pick and choose what you think would be useful for your own process. Never give up. As a Black woman, sometimes there can be challenges with people not thinking that you’re qualified or able to do a job well. It’s about standing your ground and knowing who you are, not allowing the world to dictate how you think about yourself. If you put the hard work in, that hard work will manifest itself well in the things that you do...and the quality of your work.
What are your next projects? I am in the process of talking with various theatres about shows my company, Wrested Veil, will co-produce. We will also do a show at Theatre 503. I am carrying on my work with film and working on a production called, ‘Chevalier de Saint-Georges'. It’s a feature film, directed by Stephen Williams and written by Stefani Robinson. I'll be on the project as a Director’s Assistant, getting an insight on what it means to direct a feature film with Searchlight productions – it's exciting!
‘Random’ by Debbie Tucker Green
‘The Crucible’, ‘A View from the Bridge’ by Arthur Miller
‘A Raisin in the Sun’ by Lorraine Hansberry
All of August Wilson plays!