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Ayesha's Blog

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After Earnest

12 April

Our Two Gents production of The Importance of Being Earnest was a 12-week project. And now it’s all done. These are my reflections, After Earnest.

For a 12-week period of time, we took Oscar Wilde’s seminal play, The Importance Of Being Earnest, and transformed this classical text into our own. We welcomed it into our lives, and we let it take over. Most importantly, we did our best to give it back to a modern day audience. This play is technical in its language and infamous for its presentation of English cultural propriety. What WE did was present it in our own voices. And it will never will be done like this ever again. Thanks to the God of cucumber sandwiches, it worked. We began with a rural tour of England, and finished with a three-week run at Tara Arts Theatre in London.

A photo of reviews for The Importance of Being Earnest feat. Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa
Photo: Harry Elletson

Back In The Day

I learnt from a young age that getting involved in creative projects is a love venture. It takes my whole heart. And I fall in love very fast.

I used to play the piano and the clarinet regularly, I was known as one of the music kids. Summer holidays were spent at music summer school, a lovely posh one held at Benenden Boarding School in Kent. Benenden is a beautiful, beautiful, place with 250 acres of sprawling parkland. Over those summers, a load of us talented young musicians from schools across the country would come together and play music all day for weeks on end. Orchestral music, big band music, classic and contemporary. It was a coming of age time, united by a deep creative love.

I’d get picked up by my mum:

Mama: We missed you! How was your time at Beneden this summer?

Me: 

Mama: Did you have a good time?

Me: Please stop talking to me. My heart is breaking.

Mama: Okay, well it’s lovely to see you.

Me: WHY DOESN’T ANYONE IN THIS FAMILY UNDERSTAND ME?! *Bursts into floods of tears*

The separation from my friends and all that we had shared was too much to bear. It took weeks of recovery to smile again at any one who did not share my Benenden experience. 

Thankfully, I’ve grown.  Part of choosing a career pursing my creative loves, means practicing my passion professionally. Earnest is done and writing this blog is part of the experience. 

Rural Touring for Earnest

Our Rural Touring for Earnest was organised by our co-director Arne. Arne found us brilliant places to stay, and eat. This even included staying on a venue with a gorgeous farm where cows were calving. This was an incredible experience. I loved the amazing and memorable places we stayed at. But in fact, my favourite place was a plain and simple Premier Inn.

I found that on tour, I did not need much. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. As far as rural touring is concerned, simplicity was best. Too much distraction and I was going into creative overload.

A heart showing names of the Two Gents Production of The Importance of Being Earnest Rural Tour destinations
Two Gents Production of The Importance of Being Earnest Rural Tour Destinations by Ayesha Casely-Hayford

We met people who loved their towns and villages and welcomed us with such warmth. They cooked for us and wanted to share the history of the area and let us know how thankful they were because we had travelled to perform for them. For one venue, we were their one and only theatre show for the year. Now that’s an honour. Witnessing all this pride in belonging was a light bulb moment for me. All the places we visited are part of my birthright too. Our touring around meant I saw more of my birth country. I honestly began to feel for the first time, England, I love you.  This is my home too. 

Challenges & Wonderful Audiences

Some of the Earnest performances were tough. Doing our pre-show warm up in a big school (that was nothing like my beautiful Benenden), and…yes I am going to reveal the truth of it…a men’s loo. These were some of the “Dear God, why am I doing this?!” moments.

At one venue we had a 91 year old man in the audience, which we thought was simply amazing. All our audiences were curious about how we two black women were going to pull off an Oscar Wilde play with nine characters.

We had standing ovations and encouraging compliments. What more can you wish for? To add to the glory our rural tour audience also blessed us with hilarious heckling and very enthusiastic audience participation. 

On a rural tour one of the great things about audience participation is that the audience knows each other. They would tease each other, and heckle each other. It was lovely, like being amongst family and friends.

The Importance of Being Earnest A Two Gents Production performed by Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa
The Importance of Being Earnest A Two Gents Production performed by Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa

It’s No Joke

Two actresses called Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa perform The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
The Importance Of Being Earnest feat. Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa. Photo: Harry Elletson

Doing a comedy is no joke. Learning to be confident and tell myself “they want me to be here! Just go for it!” That took a lot of confidence building.

Will the audience laugh at a certain joke? or smile? What if there are no laughs and not even any smiles?! Perhaps they will not come back after the interval…the show must go on. Each night deserves its own energy and best effort.

Tour developed me as a performer. Most importantly, I learned to separate myself from the audience’s experience and just get on with the show.

Two actresses called Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa perform The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa. Photo credit: Harry Elletson

To all the 19 venues we visited across East Anglia, West Midlands, South West England, East Sussex, and South East England  –  THANK YOU!

Where The Streets Are Paved With Gold

After the rural tour, we were destined for London. We had just a handful of days in between and a big task ahead. The lead up to Tara meant lots of promo. We had industry articles giving Earnest a shout-out, amongst which a highlight was an interview with The Guardian.

An interview with Robert Elms at BBC London was arranged for us. This interview with Robert Elms was another of my pre-show highlights.

I hugely appreciated the articles announcing our arrival. I especially love this article about the migrant perspective, written by one of our co-directors Tonderai.

Two actresses called Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa perform The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
photo: Harry Elletson

Home Time for Earnest

There is not much that can be put into words about being at Tara Arts. It was all I could ever have wished for, as far as a first theatre run for Earnest is concerned. Tara Arts Theatre is a home from home. It is intimate and warm. Zoe Biles and Harry Elletson (the PR team), conjured up trailer videos and a photo shoot. By that I mean they captured our joy and we are forever grateful to them.

The Importance Of Being Earnest: Tara Arts Theatre Trailer

Reviews of Earnest

The reviews for Earnest, which I have only read post-play, were in our favour (*takes multiple bows*). Being acknowledged and noticed by the industry was an encouraging confidence boost. And the show itself, did great! We got 4 and 5 star reviews.

To do a comedy that really makes people laugh and offers a great night out is a true gift. To share a space with people who have come to see you and enjoy themselves, is the best buzz. Any down day is lifted if I remember all the laughs we gave and shared.

Doing this play, I felt at home with myself. Whatever comes next, I’ve had this as a beginning. It’s in black and white, online and in writing. In the words of Nina Simone, nobody’s gonna take it away.

Our Earnest Reviews

Sisterhood

Kudzanayi. Honestly, the best way to make sure you can get to the end of a project like this (going on tour and having a cast of only two people) is to make sure you don’t get too close. Professional boundaries. Kudzanayi and I naturally fell into this rhythm. And in doing this, we became very real friends.

I trusted Kudzanayi completely. She had my back at all times. We looked out for each other. 

As the time went on I appreciated how we were each supporting each other in our dreams. Doing this play together, and all it needed and expected from us, meant helping each other to make our independent acting aspirations come true. 

Two actresses called Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa perform The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
photo: Harry Elletson

The end product, the confidence building, reviews, the successes, the exhilaration of pulling it all off is only a testimony to our sisterhood. To us saying to the each other “I got you”. 

Kudzanayi, Thank You. 

After Earnest

My main reflection on Life After Earnest, is that I’m thankful that a leap with an open heart, has paid off. Doing this play meant placing a lot of trust in myself and my co-creators.

How do I know the leap has paid off? It’s because you can’t fight the good feeling inside, when you know you’ve done well.

THE JOYFULLY CELEBRATED END. 

Two actresses called Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa perform The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
photo: Harry Elletson
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