Lamesha joined Highgate when she was in Y7, graduating in 2019 with A levels in History, Politics and Theatre Studies. Following a History degree at Durham university, she now produces theatre and events that aim to promote active engagement with Black British History, and encouraging others to respond creatively. She follows the motto of ‘each one, teach one’ – a sentiment that champions the spread of knowledge and betterment of the community through education and growth.
What was your experience like at Highgate?
My time at school was very varied. There was so much going on, it really pushed me to try new things and meet people who I’m still friends with today, especially from my House (Fargate).
I played Eton Fives, netball and hockey. In Y9, I was very much a Bridge girly and then Y10 I was into Model United Nations. I loved that. In sixth form I was in the Environment Committee and worked on the meat-free Monday campaign, banning plastic water bottles, and supervising younger years to get them involved.
With your shared love of history and theatre, how did you decide which route to follow in your studies?
I decided to do history when I was about 16. I joined this organisation called Young Historians Project, which encourages the development of young historians of African and Caribbean heritage in Britain. We started doing a project on African women in the British health sector, and I realised that there is such a rich history of Black British history that is being missed. I decided to bring that back to school and did a presentation at the History Society around the project.
I just wanted to continue developing those skills as a historian. That’s why I went on to do history at Uni, and now I focus on Black feminist history in the 20th century. That’s what my passion is.
How was your time at Durham University?
I was a huge theatre kid at uni. I was President of Durham Student Theatre and President of the History Society. I started a scholarship at my university called the Spotlight Scholarship, to get people from underrepresented backgrounds to Durham. As one of 204 black students when I came, out of a student population of 17,000, I just wanted to bring more people who look like me to Durham to do more theatre.
I did a play called Sing Your Heart for the Lads by Roy Williams, which is about football culture and how it can be racist and scary. I got a lot of my friends who had never acted, who have never seen themselves on stage before performing, and then they went on to continue to perform.
Your career since university has blended these interests, can you explain how that has evolved?
All the shows I’ve worked on have been history focused. I try to do projects that are trying to platform a voice. It’s voice that’s really important to me.
The show I did in July, God forgive us we have burnt a saint was around Joan of Arc and bringing her female struggle to a more modern perspective. I’na suit you was a research and theatre making project around the development of Jamaican patois in London. I worked with a group of teenagers to research, devise and write the performance. We’re also launching an ebook on 1 November at Pop Brixton.
I stage managed a show called Breeding at the King’s Head, which is about a gay couple who wanted to adopt. And then I did a show at the Royal Court called Baghdaddy, which is around the Iraq War and young girls – the experience of that from the diaspora; and The Cherry Orchard at The Yard, was a South Asian retelling of Chekhov’s play.
As a historian of 20th century Black British feminist history, how has your research influenced your work?
It affects who as I am as a person, it’s my mission. It’s what my dissertation was about and what I spent my last year of uni obsessing about. These women pop up throughout my research in different ways. I want to show how active they were and how they had to intersect different groups to get heard.
For the project on women in the British health sector, we interviewed some of these women, looking at their careers in the health sector but also their political activism. They were working women, mothers, immigrants and activists. I just want to be them – I want to make my work stand for something.
Do you have any career highlights so far?
I would say, even though I got COVID, it was the reopening of Hamilton, which I did an internship on and then I got a stage management deputy role. I knew after the work we had done all that summer that the show was gonna pop off, that there be standing ovations. It was a real achievement.
You are currently mid-way through your co-leadership of Boundless Theatre, how is that going?
It’s been an interesting experience. Boundless Theatre is a national portfolio organisation that works with 15 to 25 year olds to co-create, make, empower, inspire. I started in May and through it I’ve learned how to do board papers, work with trustees, how to write KPIs, good CRM, evaluation, working with funders. It’s been varied.
Do you have any plans for your next project?
I’m moving to Toronto in a couple of weeks to continue my research in Jamaica Patois, but looking at the Toronto diaspora. I got funding from Arts Council England and I’ve set myself up with some mentors already, who have plugged me into various archives and creative people. I’m hoping there might be some production potential at the end of it. It would be great to do a second version of I’na Suit You with some Toronto and New York characters, and have a representative cast, telling representative stories.
If you were to give some advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I think maybe learn a language. I did Mandarin at GCSE and feel like I could have pursued it at A Level. I have friends from school who are now fluent. Also: offer to do more talks. I only did two talks, I was always a bit scared about the questions, the judgement. But if you need public speaking experience, just do some talks in front of your peers.