Adam NZ Play Award Nominee Estelle Chout
The prestigious Adam NZ Play Award has just announced its shortlist of nominees. Among the names is the first black female to be on the shortlist, Estelle Chout!
Estelle’s ancestors rise from the island of Martinique in the Caribbean and is a proud member of Black Creatives Aotearoa (BCA). After moving to New Zealand four years ago Estelle found her first creative love, acting. After volunteering in the inaugural 2019 BCA Playwrights Lab, she joined the 2020 Lab where she wrote her first play ‘Po’ Boys and Oysters’. Writing has become her second creative passion. We had the privilege to chat with Estelle and know you will enjoy getting to know more about her.
Check out this extended QnA with Estelle by BCA member, Daisy Remington.
‘Po’ Boys and Oysters’ is a delicious title, tell us more!
‘Po’ Boys and Oysters’ is the story of a black lesbian couple, Flo and Jo, living in New Zealand who have decided to adopt a Chilean child. As the final steps in the process draws near, Flo invites her sister over to break the news. The play explores sibling rivalry and provides a view of adoption that is often, especially on the so-called ‘mainstream stages’ not portrayed.
This is your very first play, what was the inspiration?
I wrote this play during lockdown after a failed Zoom call with my family. We are scattered around the globe from the Caribbean to Paris, and of course, here in New Zealand. I thought it would be a good experience for us to all connect during this difficult time. It seemed like such a lovely idea but shortly after the call started it went completely pear shaped. Everyone was shouting, it was as if we were 14-year-olds again. After we ended the zoom call I was struck by the fact that sibling dynamics are so visceral and adult relationships starkly reflect childhood interactions. I knew I had to write about this. Sibling rivalry was the starting point, it was all I had to begin with and I felt many people will be able to relate.
What was the writing process like for you?
When I started all I knew was that I wanted to write about sibling rivalry. I was so fortunate to be able to work with Dione Joseph as my dramaturg during its first development which happened through a Prayas initiative. She helped me build a world and I was able to run with it. During the BCA Playwrights Lab I worked with Aroha Awarau as my second dramaturg. He helped guide me through shaping my characters' interactions and arcs. This is my first play and having help was invaluable as both Dione and Aroha helped plant seeds to create characters and the world of the play.
Would you describe yourself as a creative child?
Absolutely not! Interestingly I did not come into my creativity until, what I would consider, quite late in my life. I moved to New Zealand four years ago at that time I had no idea that creativity lived inside me. My creativity revealed itself to me only a few years ago when I decided to act in community theatre - and - the moment I was on stage I knew this was for me. It was a surprise to me, I mean I lived in London for 12 years and that is a wonderful place to act, but no, I was an accountant.
What called you to the start writing?
As I fell in love with acting I was told by a number of people, being a black woman with a french accent, I would not get tons of opportunities through the normal channels. I was strongly encouraged to start writing the roles I wanted to play. When I started writing I found my second creative passion. I intend to write and be on stage. If no one is going to give me the opportunities I'm going to do it myself.
[Let’s just give the lady an AMEN]
How do you feel your acting has informed your writing?
When I write about characters I can see myself acting out my words. That doesn't mean that it is always about trying to make actors look good. As an actor I know it is important to show vulnerability and uncomfortable moments sometimes. I really wanted to give my characters beautiful souls, a hard time, and opportunities to reveal themselves. I feel acting has also helped me bring more depth to the characters.
Do you find writing therapeutic?
I have found writing to be therapeutic, healing and a growing process. There have been times when writing this play that Dione would say, that character feels a little flat. It was true and often that character would be one that I felt reflected myself. I feel it's a natural instinct to want to keep parts of yourself private as a form of protection. As a new writer I have found this process to be quite vulnerable. When revealing parts of myself through my words I sometimes wonder what the audience will think of me as the writer, and that’s scary. However, when you do open up you get to really work on yourself and gain greater self acceptance - it's part of the reason I love writing so much.
How do you feel being the first black female New Zealander to be shortlisted for the Adam NZ play award?
I have so many emotions. I feel overwhelmed it's hard to process just how prestigious this award is. I am so very humbled, this is my first play and I couldn't have done it without a community. I have to acknowledge the help that I received from Dione, Aroha, BCA, and so many others. My acting coach Casey also comes to mind for encouraging me to start writing. There are so many people who have helped me through this process and that is truly humbling. At the same time I am thrilled, I get to bring a little light to the life of the black community in New Zealand. Our stories have not been told.
What do you see for the future of black plays?
I think of an interview I watched where Viola Davis said something along the lines of ‘the everyday life of black people, that's the novel idea, that's a progressive idea.’ I think that is the future: everyday stories, the diaspora living our life in all our different ways. I feel we have heard so many black voices scream about discrimination and the suffering we have endured. We must continue to tell those stories but also stories of black joy and black love. These are the stories I stand upon and have allowed me to be right here, right now telling the story of black people just living their life here in Aotearoa NZ. Ultimately, I think now is the time to bring these different stories to the public.
What do you love most about being a black creative in Aotearoa?
Our community is deeply interconnected. As you start interacting with other black creatives you find so many connections and I love the tight-knit feel within the community here, everyone helps each other. There is something about the land in New Zealand and the strong connection Māori have to this land, their land. As a person of the diaspora whose ancestors were taken from African to work foreign lands. I find my relationship with the land where I was born problematic, the land and the causes for my ancestors to even be there were dominated by motives that kept the wheels of slavery in motion.
Yet today I find myself here and I am so glad. There is something magical about this place. I feel it is fertile terrain for black creatives and I know people of Aotearoa are open to hearing diverse stories and make space for different voices - it is our time.
Once again, Congratulations Estelle and we wish you all the very best for the Adam Award. We are all here supporting you!
*** This QnA was undertaken and written by Daisy Remington***