Introducing… Inua Ellams

Ahead of Under The Radar starting this week, we caught up with the award-winning poet, performer, playwright, graphic artist and designer Inua Ellams to talk about the work he’ll be presenting at the New York theatre festival.


Tell us about Borders & Crossings.
Borders & Crossings is a pairing of two pre-existing works that I wrote over the last few years, called Dolphins or The Unaccompanied Minor’s Tale, and Icarus, which is an adaptation of the myth of Icarus. It’s about migration, travel, identity, displacement, and destiny.

The first was created for an organisation called Refugee Tales, and the second for Bedtime Stories for the End of the World, and this work is an attempt to pair those stories together, showing the wider context in which both stories operate and how they might work together.

How do you feel about sharing this work with a global audience?
Because of the pandemic, a lot of immigrants were stranded at various in-between places across the world; in refugee camps, across the Sahara Desert, in Ethiopia, Eritrea, in prisons, in detention facilities here in the UK, etc. I’m hoping that in sharing the work with a global audience, it will bring to light their stories, the plight of such individuals, and how there is a continuum of migration. These stories have been happening since the dawn of time and this work hopes to show that there are real lives at the heart of these topics and issues.

What do you think the importance of events like Under The Radar are?
The importance of theatre festivals is they bring to light stories that create spaces for human beings to be with one another, to think with one another to experience with one another, and I’m happy that Under The Radar is happening despite the pandemic and they have found a way to still platform artists who fly under the radar.

What does it mean to be presenting work about the migration movement on an international platform to global audience?
As I said, to carry on the continuum of those stories to make sure that despite the pandemic, these stories are still important. And immigrants have contributed to creating these great countries to add into their cultural, fiscal and economic wealth. Their stories are still part of the mythology and the makeup of these countries. And we don’t forget the global community in which we live in despite the right wing and nativist governments who tried to suggest otherwise.

Inua Ellams sat on a stool. He's talking into a microphone, has his hands raised almost to his face making an 'OK' gesture with both hands. He's wearing a white t-shirt with 'NEVER FORGET TO SAY THANK YOU' emblazoned across it. Image from An Evening With An Immigrant – credit Oliver Holms


What challenges and opportunities have you found presenting your work online as opposed to in person?
The main challenge is not being able to see my audiences as a whole to speak to them as one, to be in the same room with them to breathe with them, to gauge the togetherness of storytelling in real time, in the physical lived experience of storytelling, to further drill into the suspension of belief which is required for work based art form things like that happened in theatres, for instance, the sharing of poetry and the magic that exists there. When you’re not being able to do that in real time before an audience in the same in the same room that we become a symbiotic creature, a one living organism that only happens, you know, in a room – that everyone is going through the same thing. The challenge is trying to imagine that is what is happening, looking into my laptop and trying to emote with this flat screen camera pointed towards my face and imagine its people on the other side, that extra step has been difficult.

What advice would you offer to aspiring emerging creatives inspired by your work?
Just to resolutely be yourself and to hold on to the weird, idiosyncratic things that make you you. That gives your voice definition, that holds it above-beyond-apart from other voices. Without that your audience lose focus of your identity.


Manchester International Festival, Arts Council England and The Public Theater will showcase work by Inua Ellams and Javaad Alipoor at The Public’s Under The Radar Festival (6-17 January 2021), as part of a three-year partnership, that began last year, to promote artists and companies based in England to a global audience.

Under The Radar supports artists who are at the vanguard of theatre and performance practice, redefining and refreshing it. As an internationally significant festival, it has become an important meeting place for presenters and curators from across the world and an important platform for artists seeking touring opportunities. This year, for the first time, it will be free and online, further expanding the reach and access of cutting-edge performance to worldwide audiences.

Borders & Crossings will be presented between 7 – 10 January 2021

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