Tatenda Shamiso talks ‘NO I.D.’: “You don’t have to transition to undergo change in your life”

The experiences of a young trans artist throughout his journey of self-discovery come together in this fun show celebrating individuality. Guillermo Nazara chats with its author and star of the show, to learn more about this biographical piece packed with memories, songs and a whole bunch of laughs.

To make a piece about your own true personal quest, is the challenge as daunting as it sounds?

At the outset, definitely! I was so lucky to begin the writing/making process under the care of the show’s director, Sean Ting-Hsuan Wang, who’s a great facilitator/babysitter/drill sergeant depending on what the occasion calls for. The start was slow-going but once we started picking up threads in my story which we found artistically interesting, the process became super smooth and speedy and exhilarating and I stopped thinking about how vulnerable it could be to present to an audience.

How did you come up with the idea for this show?

I think I was sort of sick of doing the actual living of the story and wanted to make some art about it. I was in the house I share with most of my creative team, in the middle of the night, filling out papers and printing out documents to prove that I had been vaccinated even though my vaccination cards had two different names on them – nightmare – and I turned to my flatmates like, “there’s a show in this, right?” And they said “yeah, you should make it,” and two weeks later I submitted a pitch about bureaucratic performances of identity and transitioning in an application for Peckham Fringe’s inaugural festival.

Comedy and music are the essence of this piece. Why did you choose this approach to tell the story of your transition?

I think comedy and music are sort of the essence of the way I interact with the world. That sounds really intense but it’s true! I love to laugh and to make others laugh, and my emotions sometimes only know how to make their way out of my system in the form of music. It’s a true story, so I wanted to make sure the methods of storytelling are true to me as well. Plus it was very important to me in making this piece that audiences are able to walk away feeling like everyone has space to partake in trans joy, and that everyone benefits from queer liberation. What’s more freeing than laughter?

Is the purpose of this play educating or inspiring others?

This play first and foremost is intended to generate empathy, but not just empathy for trans people, and in that I think the purpose definitely includes both education and inspiration. I hope NO I.D. helps anyone look back on previous versions of themselves with empathy. You don’t have to transition to undergo change in your life. Nobody stays the same. So I think I’m really interested in that idea of looking at our previous selves with compassion. I obviously do aim to provide a perspective into transness that people don’t usually see, which is a form of education. And I want to show other genderqueer people that it’s okay to hold yourself with love, all of yourself, past, present and future. So hopefully that’s a bit of education and inspiration. And sometimes I think people need to learn in order to build empathy and compassion, so I guess the purpose of the play is both to educate and inspire, but the goal is centred around love.

What has it meant to you to both write and perform a work about such a personal matter to you?

 It’s been an incredibly healing process to place my story into a theatrical space, my happy space, and share it with such warm and open-minded audiences. It’s also been a great artistic exercise because the “truth of the story” isn’t a mystery, I lived through it, and now I get to piece together the facts to culminate in a performance experience. It’s also meant the world to achieve a Royal Court transfer with my own story. It’s a massive step in my career but also a massive step in my heart to know that others have found my story worth telling and believing in at such a revered cultural venue. 

What do you think and hope this piece can mean to others? 

I think as an artist I know what messages I’m trying to send, but not necessarily what I expect or want it to mean to people, and with this show it’s been just the most beautiful gift to actually find out how it’s touched others. From the queer community I’ve had the privilege of hearing what it’s meant to them to see themselves from start to finish in a story told onstage. From my community of fringe artists I’ve been delighted to find out it’s inspired more exciting, talented early-career creators to share their own stories, and to trust that their voices are worth hearing. Last week an amazing mother came and said to me after the show that NO I.D. had helped her understand her trans child better, which almost brought me to tears! Now having heard what the show can do I guess I hope it manages to touch people of all walks of life, and past that that it affirms them, teaches them, embraces them. All the eye-opening and heart-opening stuff.

Why come see NO I.D.?

It’s really good fun! All the transformative whatever stuff aside, this is a fun play. You might walk out queerer and gooey-er and sillier than you came in. You might bop along to the music I wrote when I was doing my second puberty. You might learn about the intersections between our beloved immigration system and gender transitions. And it’ll be fun!

All pictures credit to Marc Brenner.

NO I.D. plays at London’s Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs until 6 May. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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