The inspiration for Gideon D. Wilonja’s stories come from all around him – his experiences and those of his family, friends and community. It makes sense then that he works closely with his community to encourage them to reclaim autonomy over their own narratives in his newly found theatre company Mwangaza Theatre. And he has certainly taken this advice on himself for his new play The Way We Were.
What made you start writing for the stage?
I started writing for stage – and writing in general – as a way to make sense of the world around me, to explore in-depth questions that I wasn’t provided answers to. I started writing at a very young age and back then I would say I wrote as means to escape my reality. Now I write because there are stories that I feel get overlooked and I want to make sure that I am servicing those voices and bodies that often get silenced or pushed to the side. I think theatre is one of the most beautiful forms of art; it heals, affirms and connects us as humans, so it doesn’t make any sense to me that it should only service one group of people, while ignoring another.
Can you tell us more about your Cybec Electric play The Way We Were?
The Way We Were is an exploration of the tensity that race often creates in an interracial relationship. It’s a play about how truly messy a relationship can get when egos aren’t put in check and when we fail to truthfully acknowledge the vital role that race, class and privilege play in a relationship. We see the two individuals who are stuck between the woes of their pain, past and insecurities, while trying guard the love they have for one another.
‘Now I write because there are stories that I feel get overlooked and I want to make sure that I am servicing those voices and bodies that often get silenced or pushed to the side.’
Why this play and why now?
I think stories that centre the Black and queer experience are so vital, because I personally have yet to see those stories be given centrestage in a significant way. Australia is so rich in culture and human experiences, I think it’s about time the Australian stage started reflecting that, not just by who we see on stage, but also the quality of stories that we see on stage. I think a play like this is just a small step in the right direction.
Where do you find creative inspiration for your ideas and writing?
Any time I need inspiration I look around me. The best piece of advice I was ever given was ‘write what you know’ and that’s what I tend to do, I don’t need to look too far for inspiration lies all around me. From my own personal experiences to the community, family and friends around me, these are real people and their stories often inspire me. Black women, Black men, Black queer folk, Black love, Black pain, Black joy. That’s where I find my inspiration.
What do you hope audiences feel or take away after hearing your play?
I want the audience to find the freedom and get empowered to examine their own relationships and question when they’ve left things unsaid because they were too comfortable or uncomfortable to have difficult conversations about race, class, privilege or just plainly setting certain boundaries within a relationship.
Cybec Electric 2022 runs from 3–5 March 2022 at Southbank Theatre.
Cybec Electric forms part of MTC’s ongoing commitment to the development of new Australian writing, and is only possible due to the support of the late Dr Roger Riordan AM and The Cybec Foundation.
Published on 21 February 2022