"This play will always have a special place in my heart."
Writer, director, and producer, Tom Wright, returns to the theatrical stage with his fantastic new play, I Ain’t Dumb.
The gripping production has its world premiere on February 9, 2022, and will run until February 12, 2022.
Showing at Coventry’s largest professional theatre, the Belgrade Theatre, the building is a landmark for entertainment and culture.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Tom chose the ground-breaking hub to showcase the play’s plethora of talent.
Established director, Rikki Beadle-Blair, is overseeing the production and managing an entirely Midlands-based cast.
This includes Simon Castle, Kavita Vyas as well as newcomers Nicole Mbaeri and Vikas Gogana.
I Ain’t Dumb is a poignant tale of culture and identity with elements of LGBTQ+, hip hop and hope to be at the forefront of the play.
The production is set to address stigmatic issues that are not usually discussed on a wider scale. By doing this with such a diverse and modern cast, audiences are in for an insightful spectacle.
Emphasising the themes of inclusivity and representation within the play are two fantastically gifted actors in Kavita and Vikas.
The British Asian talents are hoping to elevate themselves amongst the theatrical landscape, especially Vikas.
The Leicester-born star is excited to be making his stage debut and playing the role of Vikram.
Whilst Vikas gears up to illustrate the depth of his skills, his creativity also lies within screenwriting, and is developing his own projects.
He admits that these will feature British Asian leads to help improve the much-needed representation of this community within theatre.
On the other hand, Kavita is a more experienced actor, having trained at the National Youth Theatre and Court Theatre Training Company.
Undoubtedly she is aiming to follow on from her captivating performances in plays such as Happy Ever After (2019) and LoveSexIdentityAmbition (2020).
As well as participating in a variety of short films and commercials, there is elation on how Kavita will bring her expertise to I Ain’t Dumb.
DESIblitz exclusively caught up with both Kavita and Vikram to discuss the play, character preparation and their perception of acting.
Kavita Vyas and Diversifying the Landscape
What inspired you to follow a career path into acting?
There were a few instances in my childhood. One that really springs to mind, is going to the theatre with my whole family to see Meera Syal and Thomas Meehan’s Bombay Dreams, in 2002.
I don’t think it was the first theatre show I’d ever been to, but it’s the one that’s clearly left a lasting impression.
It simply blew my mind! Seeing so many Asians; SOUTH ASIANS for that matter, on stage, my little brain couldn’t contain itself!
When they say representation matters, it really does. Little 6-year-old Kavita was completely overwhelmed; seeing them on stage knowing this could be me.
Another reason why I pursued a career in acting is simply that it is the only place (except for my home) that feels like I belong.
Playing Mary in the production, what characteristics drew you to her?
What drew me to the play in general, was the writing. Tom Wright is a fantastic writer. He has made our jobs very easy, in bringing these characters to life!
“Mary has this constant need to be liked and accepted; I definitely felt like that as a teen.”
But there is a part to her where she doesn’t necessarily care if people know when she likes something; and if that’s what makes her different, then she is ok with that.
“I love that about her, it’s inspiring to see a young British Asian girl be comfortable in herself.”
What was your creative process to make the character your own?
One way I really like to get into character is, I read the entire script but exclude all of my character’s lines.
That way I can see what they offer to each scene; making my intentions and internal monologues much clearer and personal.
This is one I guess you could say, I stole from the great, Sir David Suchet!
One of my hobbies is, I paint, so with each character I play, I draw them so I can envisage what they would look like.
How does ‘I Ain’t Dumb’ differ from other projects you’ve been a part of?
The obvious would be this is the first play I’ve been a part of, with all the new Covid-19 protocols. So, that has been different and a challenge to say the least.
There is something so refreshing about being a part of such a beautifully diverse bunch of creatives.
With this project, in particular, I feel very grateful to have not one but two South Asian characters that are integral to the narrative, and it not be just because they are ‘brown’.
“I haven’t been a part of a project like this before, so it’s very exciting.”
What themes in the play resonated with you the most?
I think the biggest theme that resonates with me most, is race. To be honest, I think it’s safe to say I’ve experienced my fair share of racist remarks.
I mean, ‘fair’ probably isn’t the most appropriate word to use – if we were in a ‘fair’ world, then I, like many others, wouldn’t start the conversation with ‘I have received racist remarks’.
This play explores race and racial stereotypes in a very realistic, but hilarious way.
All the characters face discrimination in some form, unfortunately, I know all too well what that feels like.
How do you want audiences to feel after seeing ‘I Ain’t Dumb’?
I hope you leave feeling empathetic to what teenagers now have to face, especially with the added pressure of social media.
I think we forget what it was like, I know I do and it wasn’t even that long ago!
“Teens of the modern world have such fragility about them and I think we look past that.”
We forge,t that to them, what happens in school or at this age, can seem like the end of the world because this is all they know.
However, if you leave saying ‘this is a fantastic, funny, honest play’, I would equally be happy with that too!
What do you feel is more important for an actor, talent or training?
Oh, this is a toughy! Going from my experiences alone – that’s all I can really do – I have to say both. Talent and training can go hand-in-hand, as you learn on the job! However, for me, talent only got me so far.
I didn’t get into drama school the first time round – they were right to reject me, I wasn’t ready!
I didn’t get into the National Youth Theatre until my third try! But I never stop believing in my talent; I knew it would open those doors, and eventually, it did.
The training I then received at both places, helped nurture that fire that was already inside me; it taught me how to navigate it.
I feel what really makes an actor is determination, resilience, and drive.
I had this tutor that would always say, ‘sometimes, it’s not always just about the talent, it is about how long you can last’, and I think they’re right.
This industry is tough, the constant rejections after rejection, the no-responses, can break you. When auditioning for this role, I also had 12 other castings within the three weeks. I only landed this.
You are not going to get every role you are put forward for, and that’s ok. But you have got to keep going, trust yourself and your craft.
As a British Asian actor, what are the biggest struggles you’ve faced?
Another loaded question, I love this!! In the beginning, my naivety definitely got in the way.
I truly believed my race, that me, being ‘British Asian’, wouldn’t bring up such complex conversations, or even enter the casting room.
I thought that what I was able to bring to the table would shine through and say ‘I’m right for the role!’.
Also, I remember being told, in my last year at drama school, to ‘westernise’ my name.
They said to do this, and I quote ‘because if I attended a blind casting, they would presume I couldn’t speak English’. I think that came from a place of ignorance.
But to tell an impressionable 20-year-old, their ‘stage name’, the one thing that makes them, them, their identity; would halter their career right before it even began.
But, in one conversation with my parents, mainly them reminding me how important my name is, I ignored the advice and kept my name.
I’ve been in the industry for six years now and I still grin with pride when stating my name for a take/casting. But the industry is now changing; with blind castings or prefacing no particular ethnicity.
“I can’t wait to get into more rooms like this and open more doors.”
Vikas Gogana and The Importance of Theatre
How did your love for theatre and acting begin?
I’ve always had a love for TV and films but I think my passion for theatre started when I did a production of Richard III at the Curve in Leicester when I was 14.
It was my first real exposure (other than school plays and the odd pantomime) to theatre and it really was the beginning of my passion for acting and theatre.
I was part of the ensemble and had no lines but to be working with such a large, diverse cast was eye-opening.
I saw that it was a real possibility to pursue this as a career. It’s led me to where I am today – making my professional stage debut in this gem of a play.
Can you tell us the type of character Vikram is?
Vikram is a complex character, for sure. He’s mischievous, politically incorrect, and always looking for a laugh, regardless of the situation.
He’s always trying to make sure that he gets the biggest laugh in the room.
Funnily, he’s definitely the class clown and reminds everyone of that whenever he can.
Everything is a joke until it’s not — but, you’ll have to come to watch the play to understand what that means!
“Also, Vikram and I share a nickname haha. We’re both working-class, Indian and from the Midlands.”
I imagine that we both would’ve had similar upbringings with large families. But I think Vikram is more self-aware than I was at 15. That turns out to be both a good and a bad thing for him.
What steps did you take to prepare for the role?
It’s the most significant role that I’ve taken on up to this point in my career so it’s all been a learning process.
I started by just reading the script over and over until I really had an idea about the sort of person that Vikram is.
After that, I wrote notes about him and his relationships with the other characters but I didn’t want to write down every single thing about him.
If I did then I’d get stuck with that image of him because I was very aware that this production is a brand-new play and things are always changing.
I wanted to discover as much as possible in the room and bounce off of the other actors, as well as get input from Tom and Rikki to understand what their vision was for Vikram.
It has been a really collaborative process.
What drew you towards ‘I Ain’t Dumb’?
The people that drew me straight away were Tom Wright and Rikki Beadle-Blair.
Friends of mine have worked with both of them over the years and I only heard great things.
Couple that with the amazing, energetic, and outrageously funny script that Tom has written and it’s a dream come true!
“I couldn’t have asked to make my debut in a better play. I’m so grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given.”
“This play will always have a special place in my heart. Also, the play lets us explore different points of view.”
Theatre lets us talk about uncomfortable things and it serves as a tool to tackle taboos. It’s like we can have a conversation with audience members because we’re in the room with them, face-to-face.
What challenges have you encountered on your theatrical journey so far?
A number of things. The pandemic is probably the biggest of them. A few people were still working on new things but, unfortunately for me, it’s been very stop/start the last two years.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in the last two.
I Ain’t Dumb is my first acting job in over a year, so it feels nice to just be back in a room with other creatives and let my creative juices flow.
You’re a screenwriter. How has that helped and what projects can we expect?
Yes, I am! I’ve never been the biggest theatre person – I was always a big TV guy (I watched Breaking Bad at, like, 13/14 and have rewatched it every two years since!).
So, screenwriting was a no-brainer. I think that, since I started writing, I watch things now with more intent – I like to try and break stories down and it’s made me a better actor.
I can’t tell you about any of the projects I’m working on at the moment because none of my projects have been announced yet.
“But I can tell you that all of my original projects feature Asian or British Asian characters as leads.”
I feel that we, as a community, don’t have anywhere near enough positive representation on our screens and, quite frankly, I want to help change that.
Produced by PlayWell Productions and Epicene, I Ain’t Dumb is going to be a culturally rich experience.
Not only that but Tom’s enlisting of such a young cast will highlight the talents of British and British Asian actors.
Evidently, Vikas and Kavita’s readiness to tackle their roles is stimulating the buzz around the play as well.
Their appreciation and passion for the play and theatre is a refreshing sight and certainly inspiring for budding Desi actors.
The wide spectrum of emotive themes, engaging performances and visionary scenes in I Ain’t Dumb will certainly leave audiences euphoric.
Find out more about I Ain’t Dumb here.