In this blog interview writer and actor Chris Tajah talks about Martin Luther King Jnr inspiration for Dream of a King.
Why did you write Dream of a King?
Martin Luther King Jnr is an icon. He is a personal hero of mine, as he is for many. He inspires me to do better, to try harder. He was a unifying figure when alive and is respected the world over still today many years after his death.
Why do you think Martin Luther King, is relevant for British audiences?
In today’s Britain in 2018 Black & Minority, Ethnic communities can very often find themselves feeling marginalised, isolated and used as scapegoats. King wanted to pull Communities together not push them apart. So for me as a black actor living and working in Britain I wanted to reflect, challenge and question the world that I live in. Martin is the perfect role model to hold up to the powers in government that want to keep the poor and BME marginalised, under-represented, disenfranchised communities apart. Martin was the African Diaspora’s gift to the world; teaching us all by way of his example; his discipline, pride, determination, intelligence, self-reliance and excellence.
What does Martin Luther King mean to you?
Martin Luther King Jnr is an icon. He is a personal hero of mine, as he is for many. He inspires me to do better, to try harder. He was a unifying figure when alive and is respected the world over still today many years after his death. He is a continual source of inspiration to me, an iconic figure. He was a great black man who exuded a sense of pride, dignity, intelligence and humanity. I wrote my play to try to understand the man behind the great orator.
What did you do to research him?
I read everything I could get my hands on. I watched documentaries, read articles in Newspapers from the time, YouTube. I read everything I could get my hands on. But there comes a point when you have to stop researching and decide on the story that you wish to tell and start to write it.
How did you recreate his accent?
Sometimes as an actor no matter how much research the character you are portraying their mannerisms, the way they speak, their dialect, accent, the way they move etc you never quite get them. But there are times when it’s just down to luck, plain and simple. You just happen to sound or look like the individual you are portraying. I have studied Martin and I hope to get close to his cadence and delivery, audiences will have to tell me if I pull it off or not.
How do you feel about portraying Martin in front of a live audience?
It’s quite daunting playing a great figure such as King. There’s a great sense of responsibility to portray an icon in the Theatre or on film. It’s never easy there’s lot of pressure to get things right. It’s important to me that my depiction of him is honourable, respectful and honest because that’s how Martin came across at all times.
How do you approach playing a role as an actor?
Acting is my profession and I take it very seriously. It’s my view that if an audience have decided that the want to give up their precious time and part with their hard earned cash to travel to a venue to watch a performance that I am in then I have a duty to give that person and audience, the very best performance that I can give.
What is it like being the writer and the actor?
Being the writer and the actor is a lot of work. There’s a lot to think about.
I have placed a great deal of pressure onto my shoulders. Not to mention a large quantity of lines to deliver. I’m on stage for the entire length of the play, “there is no safety net!” But I’m really looking forward to taking the writers hat off and putting the actor’s hat on playing the role and bringing the play to life.
What has been the reaction to the play?
This is a brand new play and it has not been performed before but I have shared selected scenes at writers-workshops, play-reading groups and scratch nights. The feedback has been very heartening and encouraging. It has given me a great sense of satisfaction and achievement,
What feedback that gave you most satisfaction?
The comments that I was really pleased to hear was that people said that they learnt new things that they didn’t know about Martin and what was going on in America at the time. They also felt that the play didn’t feel like a history lesson and it was enjoyable to watch. Those were amazing comments, really pleasing.
What kind of audience would you most like to come and watch your play?
This play is for everyone and all ages. Some audiences will know more about Martin than others and that’s fine. I would most like young people in schools, colleges and Universities to come to see the play. That would give me a sense of passing on the Martin’s legacy to the next generation.