Ifeyinwa Frederick (Lady in Orange, Co-Producer)
Ifeyinwa Frederick is a young woman who likes to be busy. After founding her own dance school at the age of 16 she went on to produce a performing arts showcase ‘The P Word’ for Barnardo's in 2011. Now studying for a degree in Classics at Cambridge she has headed the university’s dance society and performed in productions such as the Vagina Monologues.
Now on her summer break Frederick is co-producing and acting in a one night only performance of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls on September 13. Directed by Justina Kehinde, the show received five star reviews during its run in Cambridge and with Frederick’s business know how the production seems set to wow our London audience.
Speaking to Frederick it is obvious that she feels passionate about the issues raised in the play and has a deep belief in the production’s universal significance.
How would you describe this production?
It’s very much a journey and I might call it a bumpy ride. There’s a lot of dark and upsetting moments but they’re offset by humorous moments. It is the story of seven black women and their experiences but that doesn’t mean if you’re not black and not female you can’t take a lot away from it. There’s a lot in the production that will resonate with people. Even some of the one-liners are so powerful that they’ll resonate with people whoever they are. There’s one in particular about loving yourself enough, and it’s regarding ending a bad relationship. Anyone hearing that line that’s been in that situation; boy girl, old or young and whatever colour can connect with that. One of my favourite lines is “I found God in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.’ I’m not a religious person but what I took from that was finding strength in yourself. I think those particular lines are so beautiful and so relevant.
For Colored Girls has been performed in a number of different mediums, such as a Broadway show and as a feature film. What format does this production appear in?
For me maybe because I’ve been in highly academic schools, if you’re aiming for the top you have to accept that you may not see other people like you.
We stay closest to the poem/play tone. Officially it’s described as a choreopoem. To call it musical theatre would be wrong. Even though there is singing and dancing which embellish the stories it’s not a straight play in any sense. We don’t have a script; we work directly from the original book so it’s true to Ntozake Shange’s work and her words.
Shange’s book is a collection of African-American women’s experiences and was published in 1975. How do those factors translate to this production in Britain, 2013?
It’s fascinating that something written so long ago is still relevant. These issues still are issues and were conceived by someone decades ago. Social issues and art don’t change as much as we think. In terms of the American setting, we didn’t locate it. The references to places are in the play but it’s not reflected in the scenery or set. We did it with accents the first time and will be doing it again. The characters don’t have names they’re only identified by their colours and that adds to the sense of these women existing in any time and any place. I think there is a strong sense when you watch it that it’s supposed to be America but because it’s so stripped I think it allows you to take it where you want. Watching it is an individual experience. The way that Shange writes and the issues she covers I think it could be set anywhere. I don’t think there’s any detachment on that basis.
Ifeyinwa Frederick (Lady in Orange, Co-Producer)
How did you get involved with the production?
Well I played Lady in Orange when we performed the play in Cambridge and we got such an amazing response from the audiences. Then Justina said she wanted to do the show again in London and I asked how she was going to do that and she replied “Well, I’ll send letters to some theatres and then I guess one of them will take us on” and I was like “Justina, that’s not quite how it works. If you’re serious about doing this I want to come on board.”Justina is just an amazing person and she did the whole thing the first time round and I don’t think it’s good for anyone to take on that much by themselves. She’s madly creative so she’s in the director’s role and is co-producer so is in control of that side.
I’ve got some experience in putting on shows, I started teaching dance when I was 16. Basically my dad said that if the pocket money he gave me wasn’t enough for everything I wanted I’d have to find it myself. I love dance and am passionate about it so I thought I could teach it. So I spent the summer holidays researching and putting up posters and then when I went back to sixth form in September I started the school. I had to stop halfway through my second year of A Levels because I had to focus on my work but in my year out I resurrected it but took it in a different direction.
For Colored Girls is something that can surprise people and I would like to see people in the audience who don’t consider themselves theatre people.
We put on a performing arts show which was to raise money for Barnardos and also to give people in my local area a platform to perform. Once you leave school opportunities to get on stage as an amateur become limited so it was great to provide that platform. But because of my background I know I have a business sense and am able to balance budgets and deal with cash flow projections and I think we needed that to take it to London.
Do you have any official training as an actress?
Nope, no. (Laughs.) As far as I’m aware the most anyone in the cast has done was go to a performing arts class at weekends. I did drama at school but I was always a dancer in productions ’cos I couldn’t sing! For Colored Girls in Cambridge was the first proper show that I did.
Ifeyinwa Frederick (Lady in Orange, Co-Producer)
How have you found studying at Cambridge?
It hasn’t been easy by any means. I didn’t want to go. I thought it was gonna be hard work, I was concerned about my academic ability and there are so many myths about what people are like and so I worried about fitting in. Then I went and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. In the first year I think everybody thinks everyone else is doing fine but then you realise everyone was worried that they weren’t smart enough to be there. Also because there was so much work, I had to cut back on a lot of things I enjoyed like plays and dance. But after I got my first year results and realised I’d done ok I felt more settled. So in my second year I’ve been the president of the dance society, I was in For Colored Girls and The Vagina Monologues and I feel a lot happier.
This is a very obvious question, but has being a black student at Cambridge ever been an issue?
No. I think you’re maybe aware of it like if they have Caribbean night and the food isn’t right, but nothing overly negative. In my own experience I haven’t felt unaccepted. I do a lot of access work and I don’t want people from an ethnic group or a minority area to not apply because they think they won’t fit it. Maybe it’s because I went to a sixth form where casual racism was so common and I’ve always been a minority at school. There were three of us in sixth form so when I came to Cambridge and there were five of us I was like ‘I’m winning!’ (Laughs.) For me maybe because I’ve been in highly academic schools, if you’re aiming for the top you have to accept that you may not see other people like you. My brother was the only black person in his year at school. In terms of how people have been I’ve never had any issues. If I said there had been I would be playing into what people expect and it wouldn’t be true.
You mentioned academic schools having a low ratio of non white students. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s a combination of things. My sixth form was private and I was on a scholarship for that and even then we’d probably have a lot more money now if I hadn’t gone there. My mum always put a lot of value on education. So I think it’s an economic thing in terms of private schools. Even with grammar schools where you don’t have to pay you have to be tested and I think for some of those things you need to put in a lot of effort early on. I have memories of my mum doing a lot of work with me when I was young and that’s a privilege that not everyone can afford if they’re working long hours for example. Whereas we like to think that primary schools cover everything I don’t think they do. I think there are a lot of issues around education and areas where children are being failed. A lot of black people I know at Cambridge comment on the effort their parents made early on to push them. I know for my mum giving me that start was all that mattered.
Ifeyinwa Frederick and Justina Kehinde © Natalie Keeney
Why should people come and see this production?
I have a real beef with the idea that the arts is for a certain sort of elite and one of the things I liked about the play was that people who’d never been to a play during their time at Cambridge came to see it and really engaged with it.
I just want to say ‘Because it’s amazing!’ (Laughs.) I would say that it’s something that can surprise people and I would like to see people in the audience who don’t consider themselves theatre people. I have a real beef with the idea that the arts is for a certain sort of elite and one of the things I liked about the play was that people who’d never been to a play during their time at Cambridge came to see it and really engaged with it. It’s a play that shows you that theatre isn’t just about the plays you studied at school. Theatre can be relevant to you and presented in a way that you don’t expect. This is a play that has something to say to everyone and you might be surprised by how much you enjoy it or by how much it moves you.
For Colored Girls, London - press release
For Colored Girls, London - Meet the cast