Sara Shaarawi introduces Megaphone
The Skinny talks to the playwright, performer and co-founder of The Workers Theatre about the company’s phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign for artists of colour in Scotland
When we speak to Sara Shaarawi in what turns out to be her first ever interview, her Kickstarter campaign Megaphone – a new residency for artists of colour – has not just hit its £11,000 target, but exceeded it. At the time of writing, the donations were still coming in, with the campaign exceeding £12,000 by the time it closed.
“I’m still half-shocked, half-super excited, half-terrified...” begins Shaarawi, when asked how she feels about the reaction to the crowdfunding campaign, which she describes as “overwhelming.” The campaign will fund residencies for three artists of colour, which will run from April-June 2017 and include mentoring sessions, plus a £2,500 bursary.
Originally Shaarawi’s idea, Megaphone is the first project from The Workers Theatre, “a new theatre cooperative that supports radical performances and theatre” which was founded by Shaarawi, poets Katherine McMahon and Harry Giles, and writers Dr Poppy Kohner and Henry Bell, and was fully funded within weeks. Created to amplify the work and voices of writers and theatre makers of colour in Scotland (hence the name Megaphone), the project aims to better reflect Scotland’s changing cultural makeup on the national stage. Or as Shaarawi puts it, the cooperative sat down and went, “OK, Scottish theatre; still very white, middle class, what can we do to change that and what kind of performances do we want to see?”
The decision to turn to Kickstarter over other arts funding options, such as Creative Scotland, was because of one important thing: time. As Shaarawi puts it, “the thing about institutions, is that they just talk. All they do is talk. They get really interested, they get really excited, and they’re lovely individuals, they’re like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” It could go on for years, they could go on talking for years and it just amounts to nothing.
“I felt this was really urgent, especially now, with everything that’s happening in the world, and everything happening in Scotland. Particularly in the arts with The Arches gone, and there are all these gaps and resources are becoming really, really limited, and every time I chat to someone, it’s 'We’d really love to do this, but we don’t quite have the resources to do it.'”
Megaphone is a response to not only the time an average funding application takes to be approved, or declined, but also the number of resources in Scotland at the moment. According to The Workers Theatre, immigrant communities in Scotland have doubled in the last ten years, but the Scottish theatre industry remains a mostly white platform, with the voices and experiences of artists of colour not being represented. The premise of Megaphone is simple: if we give more artists of colour both the opportunity and the resources to share their stories on stage, it will make the theatre more accessible to other underrepresented people.
“I don’t know many artists of colour, I know they’re here, I just don’t know where they are,” explains Shaarawi. “And this is one thing that really worked well, where people are just sending a text and going, ‘I’ve got this friend, and they’re struggling to find work. When’s this call coming out?’ I’ve got different people that I’ve never heard of approaching me, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so cool, I never knew you existed!’”
Originally from Cairo, Shaarawi came to Scotland in 2011 to study a Masters degree in European Theatre at the University of Edinburgh. It was a chance meeting at A Play, A Pie and A Pint that put her right at the heart of the Scottish theatre community, when, during a conversation with the playwright Jo Clifford, Shaarawi learned about Òran Mór’s upcoming Arab Theatre season, which led, in turn, to a chance meeting with the playwright, David Greig.
“He thought I was an English student,” laughs Shaarawi, “...and I said, no, I’m a theatre student, and I could just see, like, immediately, he was like, what, they didn’t tell me you could do theatre! But he knew of people who’d done the same programme as me in Egypt and he said, 'this changes everything, I need you! I need you!' He ended up casting me and that changed my life, it changed everything.”
Now a well-established artist in the industry, Shaarawi is keen to give a helping hand to unknown artists of colour, and weeks later, she is still blown away by the positive response to the crowdfunding campaign. “It’s been great, it’s really really, really been overwhelming to see the amount of support we got, it’s fantastic.”