Meet Malakai Sargeant, co-founder and co-executive director of S+K Project. When he’s not focused on showcasing his own stories, Malakai’s co-running S+K company: a youth-driven theatre company and creative agency that creates space for PoC actors, playwrights, and aspiring directors in a bid to make the arts inclusive for all.
Malakai and I were lucky enough to be graced with glorious rays as I settled down to interview him with our iced teas in London Fields. Since September 2014, Malakai, alongside his business partner, actor Steven Kavuma, has been chipping away at the “white mask” of the performance art world. Paving the way for actors of colour through writing and producing plays, they are driving forth a much needed diversity revolution in the performing arts industry .“Revolution starts with education,” Malakai tells me, “you cannot, will not, change anything without education. We wanted to be responsible for telling our own stories.”
The process of reclaiming the black voice in theatre contributes to transforming its predominantly white landscape. Like many creative industries, the theatre and acting world has for too long been a white, middle-class playing field. “I read this article last week. I’m not going to say BAME anymore; it’s the lack of global majority people on stage, behind the stage, creating the stories, producing them, directing them, stage managing them, doing the lighting and sound [that] is disgusting,” Malakai expresses. “Onstage, offstage, the whole process of a play being put on stage is dominated by white middle class people. You cannot argue that that is right to any degree.”
Initially, both Malakai and Steven trained as actors of inclusive theatre company Haringey Shed. Both had endured the disadvantages of being pigeonholed or typecast. “As young, black male [actors], we sort of both realised that most of the jobs out there for us were pretty much the same. We either die within the first 5 minutes, or we’re killing someone else.” The young, black hoodlum living on the estate block; it’s been rehashed time and time again. This cliched, unadventurous characterisation all too easily springs to mind when it comes to the young, black male identity in our hegemonic popular culture. It’s a cheap move, one that devalues black British cultural diversity, and its divergence of voice. “These are not accurate stories, they are not representative of the black community, and it shouldn’t be allowed to continue to escalate.”
It’s a narrative that both Malakai and Steven quickly sought to extricate themselves from. “It’s just too easy to allow for these stereotypes to continue,” Malakai says. By continuing to play into these tropes, it can be somewhat self-sabotaging. “I choose not to play these [typecast] roles. I don’t put on a hood accent if I’m told to. I can for fun, but if that’s part of the casting call, I’m not going to take that job. It’s just too easy for other people to fuck you up that way. Some black writers are guilty of this too, because that’s what people want to see and hear.”
Following from their official launch in September 2015, the S+K Project debuted their first play CONTROL at the Lion and Unicorn in Kentish Town. The production managed three runs, and the impetus to continue representing their stories was truly cemented. (“The stew had begun cooking,” as Malakai describes it). From there, the boys were “running on high” and dived back into writing.
“We started writing another play called PACIFY, inspired by FKA Twigs’ song PAPI PACIFY. It’s kind of about submission, and love, and domestic violence. There were only two characters but there were five actors.” Working alongside writer Casey Thompson, the play was transformed into an interactive two week summer workshop: “We’ve engaged a lot of the young people back into performing arts. It was a really fun, intense two weeks: 40 young people, aged 11 to 18, from all different backgrounds and all different abilities. I won’t lie, I shed a tear watching the shows afterwards. It showed me the power of theatre. At that moment, I really recognised that you can educate and entertain and tell stories with theatre.”
Malakai is beaming at this point. On Wednesday 27th July, the S+K Project will be taking centre stage, debuting their specially curated 2 day festival, #SKFEST. It endeavours to bring together all aspects of the changing and diversifying culture of London. Instead of creating divisions, it aims to bring people together and make the arts available to everyone.
#SKFEST will be split into two events: a performance of the play Black Tongues on Wednesday, followed by a Q&A with the cast and creative team and a panel discussion with young creatives of colour. On Thursday, S+K Presents: Art in the Garden, a daytime market followed by performances featuring the likes of Caleb Femi, Miss Banks, and much more fine talent from millennial creatives that are authorising and empowering the black experience.
If ambitious, driven individuals can begin demarcating a space of inclusion in theatre, then we can begin the process of educating, engaging and enlarging the space as a whole. It will be baby steps, but the S+K Project are most certainly laying down the foundations. With two self-written plays under their belts and a permanent residency at the Hackney Showrooms, there is some real potential to wrought significant change. “I have this vision in my head. A vision for revolution…” Malakai says, his one final note. “[and] I believe revolution starts with education. It starts from within.”
All pictures used are courtesy of the S+K Project.