BEAF Interview: Omar Bynon

Omar Bynon is a London-based writer, poet, actor and workshop facilitator. His latest role is performing as Decius / Soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour performance of Julius Caesar. He talks to Sarah Gane at BEAF about Benjamin Zephaniah, the importance of community projects and how to carve out a career in the arts. 

Can you tell me about the first time you were aware of poetry, theatre or the arts?

That’s a good question. The first thing my mind went to was my Mum reading me Benjamin Zephaniah’s Talking Turkeys when I was a kid. 

I was also the biggest Postman Pat fan as a child. My Mum took me to see Postman Pat live at the theatre – I don’t remember this, by the way – and I screamed the house down because he was too big. She had to pick me up and take me right to the back of the theatre so he was the right size again [laughs].

Was it always a dream that you would make a career of the arts?

Not at all. These were just things I did as a hobby. I was lucky enough to grow up around some really cool arts organisations, I had friends that went to the youth theatre at Stratford East, near where I live and grew up, and my parents encouraged me to go too. I applied for drama school because it was the form of university that I could most stomach [laughs].

I read somewhere that at aged 16 you were selling bread on a market stall in the day and performing spoken word at events in the evenings. Is that true? What did you learn then that still serves you well today?

Yes, it is true. Well, you’ll see in the show [Shakespeare’s Globe’s Julius Caesar] that I have a really nice little role where I open the play with some direct address to the audience. Working on markets means that I have met so many different people and characters that it’s just… I feel I can talk with anyone. I can communicate with anyone. 

What would you say to someone who is currently in that position? How might they carve a career out of the arts or follow a similar path?

Stay open to opportunities, get involved in things. I’d also say that they are already [carving a career out of the arts]. Don’t see it as a negative. These are the skills that are going to allow you to survive as an artist. 

The other members of my cast, the vast majority of them, do other jobs when they need to  and have other jobs that they are good at. They know how to hustle and that’s a positive. The negative is that you can feel tired. Just do what you can. Don’t burn yourself out. 

There’s a theory it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I think your 10,000 hours doesn’t need to be 10,000 hours of acting classes, it can also include the conversation you had with a customer that day who really inspired you or the poem you scribbled down on the bus on the way home. The 10,000 hours includes that too. Just do what you can and don’t feel like you’re not doing enough because you’re not able to go to an acting class every night of the week.

You’ve facilitated drama and creative writing workshops in a number of settings, including SEND, community centres and refugee groups. What drew you to this work and what did you learn from the people you worked with?

Both my parents work for charities and always have done, my big sister is a social worker, so it’s very much my background. I grew up in community centres. If I had a day off school, that’s where I’d be.

My Dad worked at a Refugee community centre in Kings Cross. I remember being a kid playing and the guys there teaching me how to play table tennis. That’s what I know. I feel at home in community environments. My route to the arts was through Stratford East and other outreach projects. Working in the community… it’s just so much fun. It’s very important personally. It’s how I got into the arts and I know how valuable the work is.

Let’s talk about Shakespeare’s Globe. You play a couple of different roles within Julius Caesar, can you talk a little more about this experience?

It’s been amazing. I felt nervous… a little out of my depth, for sure, but nowhere near as much as I was expecting. I’ve really enjoyed getting to go to different places. I’ve felt really supported on tour by the director and also by the cast, people of all ages. But one of the best things has been getting to perform at the actual Globe. It’s like Disneyland. It’s like a dream. A magical, magical place.

You once said you want to create work that is important, that changes lives, that changes the world. Is that still the plan? What’s next on the horizon?

Of course, that’s always the aim. Otherwise, what’s the point? What’s next, it’s hard to say. I’ll be working with Shakespeare’s Globe until 25th September 2022. My goals in general are to write more, write more plays, maybe do some TV and film work that is cool and good and important and always, always keep doing community work and outreach work. I love it.

Image © Helen Murray

TICKETS:

Saturday is now sold out, but join us to see the Globe on tour’s production of Julius Caesar live on top of the roof the Sovereign Centre car park this Sunday 3 July at 2.30pm or 7.30pm.

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