Actor, writer and director Patrice Etienne is a Hackneynite through and through. This multi-hyphenated East London boy grew up in the borough and has continued to support the community through his work with youths in the area. Patrice’s latest play, Venus / Mars about love and intimacy in 21st century London is about to open at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington at the end of May. I asked him about his thoughts on how how he transitioned from performer to writer and what he thinks about the transitions his old neighbourhood has undergone since he was a kid. Here’s what he had to say:
HH: When did you first get bit by the acting bug?
PE: I started acting at the age of 7, when I attended the Anna Scher Theatre in Islington. It was great as it give me a lot of confidence and brought me out of my shell. I then went on to appear on BBC’s popular children television program Byker Grove for 5 years.
HH: You took part in the Soho Theatre’s Young Writing Programme, how did you make the transition from actor to writer and what made you want to start writing?
PE: The transition came quite easily, whilst at the young Vic Theatre doing the young Directors training, I got the bug by doing rewrites for a scene. Then I really became empowered and wanted to create new stories for actors because I could not be the only one frustrated by a lack of universal and imaginative characters.
HH: Can you tell us a bit more about your new play “Venus / Mars”?
PE: On a simplistic level Venus/Mars is about modern day relationships. On a deeper level it explore everything that goes in to making them work. The special structure of the play is that we the audience can hear the character’s inner thoughts no matter how disgusting or cringey they. I also want this play to be more accessible and hope to attract people that don’t normally go to the theatre, I want to invite a new audience in to the theatre experience.
HH: You have said that you have come up against a lot of negative stereotypes when auditioning for parts can you tell us how you have tried to transcend them and how you keep going in this “cut-throat” industry?
PE: I try to write characters that anyone can play, no matter race, culture or religion and still keep the characters well rounded. I think the way to keep going in this business is by creating your own openings, don’t wait for big companies to help you. Do work that you’re passionate about and remember this industry is a marathon and not a 100 metre sprint.
HH: Having grown up in Hackney , what do you think of the changes that have taken place here over the last few decades?
PE: Interesting question, I’m torn. On one hand its great as Hackney especially Dalston, London Fields and Homerton have really been cleaned up. However, there seems to be a type of cleansing going on where long term Hackney residents are being forced to leave the borough as it has become very expensive.
HH: Can you tell us about the work you are doing with young adults who are at risk of offending? How can someone get involved if they are interested?
PE: In Hackney the work that I do with young people are: Performance BTEC at Hackney Community College and working with young people on Newlon Fusion, Inspire & Young Hackney’s KIM Project and GLYP04 ESF Project -doing CV writing, interview techniques and functional skills. Volunteers/Interested parties can get in touch on the Newlon Fusion via their website http://www.newlonfusion.org.uk/
HH: What inspired you to co-write and direct two BT sponsored documentaries on the world’s biggest sporting events : 2012 : London and 2012 : The Parallel Games with Dershe Samaria?
PE: I love sport with football being my biggest passion. However, I also love the Olympics and what it stands for. You train hard long in advance and reap the rewards. Which is a metaphor for this industry and for my young people. I wanted to get involved in the piece as the presenter Dershe Samaria had a great project and contributors.I was more than happy to be part of the piece when she asked me to direct it.
HH: What else can we watch out for in 2013?
PE: In 2013 I will be directing some more documentaries under my own film company nuwave pictures. Main ones include youth unemployment and the other body image ideals. Again both written by Dershe Samaria and include some very high profile contributors… Watch out for them.
Venus / Mars will open on the 28th of May at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington . All the booking information for the production can be found at http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/venus-mars.htm or you can follow the facebook page.