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Director and performer Stella Odunlami joins Wimbledon's acting and contemporary theatre course team

Portrait of Stella with sky line backdrop
Portrait of Stella with sky line backdrop
César Mota, Portrait of Stella Odunlami by César Mota
BA (Hons) Acting and Performance, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts
Written by
Tyrone Huggins
Published date
19 January 2021

Stella Odunlami joined Wimbledon as the new second year leader of BA Acting and Performance and BA Contemporary Theatre and Performance in autumn 2020. She is now Course Leader for BA Acting and Performance.

Having worked as a director, performer and maker, Stella’s career boasts a wealth of experience collaborating on productions at theatres such as the National Theatre.

We spoke with Stella about how she moved from acting into directing and how her career has helped shape her practice.

Shot of performance with actors on set
Mark Douet, Made Visible at The Yard Theatre shot by Mark Douet
BA (Hons) Acting and Performance, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

Can you tell us about your background? What was your training and what has your career path been so far?

I grew up and have lived most of my life in London. My first real introduction to theatre was through the Theatre Royal Stratford East and the youth theatre there. That's where I learned about what it meant to be part of a collective, and people who looked like me and had similar experiences to me had stories that could be shared onstage.

I initially thought that I would be a traditional actor, but my training confirmed I thrived when working collaboratively and actively shaping the work I was in, which led me to directing. I still perform, when the project feels right. My work focuses on the exploration of voices, stories and histories from those in the margins.

What are some of your most memorable projects to date working in the industry?

One of the most memorable projects I've worked on is Barber Shop Chronicles, as Associate Director. It opened at the National Theatre in 2017, before touring the UK, the US and the Antipodes.

It was joyous to be able to platform the voices of over 33 black men, unapologetically, and to centre the black experience in that way - and then to be able to share it with the black diaspora around the world.

Shot of a group of performers in Barber Shop Chronicles at The National Theatre
Marc Brenner, Barber Shop Chronicles. Dorfman Theatre, at The Royal National Theatre. Photographed by Marc Brenner
BA (Hons) Acting and Performance, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

How did working in industry lead you into teaching?

The importance of education was instilled in me from a young age, and I think this is something that is true of most migrant families. It meant that I was always aware of when I was accessing opportunities that young black kids from a similar background were excluded from.

I remember the individuals who took the time to teach me and expose me to new things that really opened my horizons and showed me what my possibilities were in terms of career options. It's a privilege to be able to offer those same opportunities to others, and to be a part of helping to open somebody else's horizons.

Shot of performer standing at the top of an outside staircase waving a red flag
Stella Odunlam, Model: Oríkì Mi, Wilberforce Building at Hull University, shot by Artist's own
BA (Hons) Acting and Performance, Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Wimbledon College of Arts

As the Course Leader for BA Acting and Performance and year leader for BA Contemporary Theatre and Performance - what can students expect you to bring to the courses?

A lot of fun! And wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary artists and actors.

Working as a director, performer and maker gives me an intimate knowledge of the creative process puts me in a great place to share from those experiences and how they have shaped my practice. Even more importantly, students can expect opportunities to work collaboratively and challenge ideas around whose voices and stories get heard.

Why is the course relevant to the industry now and where do you see student working when they graduate from this course?

This course gives students the tools they need to be the actors, and more importantly the artists they want to be.

We are seeing more and more actors-turned-writers making successful, engaging work: the likes of Michaela Coel, Nicôle Lecky, Sheila Atim whose experience onstage and screen makes them such brilliant storytellers.

I want to help our students to be proactive in making decisions that will determine the kind of work they want to make. I think that this is extremely exciting and empowering and leads to wonderfully fulfilling careers.

Find out more about BA Acting and Performance and BA Contemporary Theatre and Performance