Simeilia is a Black British producer, director, arts-activist and visionary.
Founder and CEO of Artistic Directors of the Future and Beyond The Canon Limited as well as Co-founder and Creative Director at Black Lives, Black Words International Project and Curatorial Consultant at Manchester International Festival. Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway has been listed four consecutive years in the Stage Top 100 Power List (2017-20), named in the London Evening Standard The Progress 1000: London’s most influential people 2018 – Performance: Theatre, Google & TED: Emerging Innovator (2019) and included in the Who Who’s 2020 publication: The standard, up-to-date source book of information on people of influence and interest in all fields. In 2020, her work on diversifying arts board in the UK at Artistic Directors of the Future was awarded an Innovation Award at the Stage Awards.
She is also former trouble-shooter and Project Manager of the National Theatre’s Black Play Archive, Editor of the first monologue anthology for Black British Actors to be inspired by black British Plays: ‘The Oberon Book of Monologues for Black Actors: Classical and Contemporary Speeches from Black British Plays’ which was followed by a second monologue anthology, inspired by the work of international playwrights, published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama: ‘Audition Speeches for Black, South Asian and Middle Eastern Actors’.
Former Trustee at the Directors Guild of Great Britain and Company of Angels Theatre Company. She also works nationally and internationally as a theatre director, producer, dramaturg, audience development consultant and educator.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No. I never planned my career. However, at the start of my career, I remember being adamant that I could be more than one thing. I hated the idea of being put into a box and told what my limitations and aspirations could or should be. My first love was dance and I gravitated to people like Alvin Ailey, because I loved his creativity, resilience and innovation – the ability to create a genre of his own and do what many people believed was impossible. Needless to say, my favourite quote is ‘Everything seems impossible until it’s done’ by Nelson Mandela.
I find it more useful to set myself provocations which are the starting point (the genesis) for all my work and companies. For instance, the provocations which led me to select and edit my first monologue anthology for Black actors, inspired by the work I had carried out on the Black Play Archive at the National Theatre, were ‘how many black British Plays can you name?’ and ‘who can name a play a classic?’ The provocation for the second monologue anthology was a little tougher ‘Who can write for whom’? And the provocation for my company, Artistic Directors of the Future was ‘how can we increase the number of Black, Asian and POC artistic leaders in the arts’, Artistic Directors of the Future (ADF) was created less than a week later.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Yes. I believe that whenever you are doing anything that disturbs the order of things and challenges the status quo, you should expect challenges. In a strange way, it’s almost an indication that you are doing something right. The challenges faced are multi-faceted because I am a black woman, small in stature and not scared to speak truth to power. People that look like me in the arts industry are still undervalued, underserved and completely underestimated. I am not afraid to hold a mirror up to the industry, force them to take an honest look and demand action. The challenge is twofold, applying pressure on organisations to take measurable, meaningful and sustainable action to change the industry for the better and also the personal challenge to maintain the resilience, tenacity and strength to endure setbacks, pushback and disappointments.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Earlier this year, ADF was awarded The Innovation Award at The Stage awards for my work on diversifying boards in the arts sector, including the design of the national board shadowing programme.
Last year I was included in the Who’s Who 2020 publication: The standard, up-to-date source book of information on people of influence and interest in all fields. This was an unexpected accomplishment because I had never heard of the publication before, I was extremely honoured.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Leading with integrity. I think if you lead with the right intention to empower, support and advocate your community, the work will have the desired impact. I’ve always said that I do not serve the industry or large buildings, my primary focus is to serve the people, my peers and the next generation who will enter the industry years afterwards – to ensure that they have a positively different experience to what we’ve had to endure, their experience should exceed ours in every sense of the word. That’s my intention.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is extremely important. I have had some incredible mentors in my life who have acted as a trusted critical eye, sounding board and advisor. Having a mentor in your life is a necessity to maintaining your resilience in any industry. This year, I hired a leadership coach which was instrumental to bringing clarity to a transitional period in my career. I highly recommend leadership coaches to everyone!
I have had the privilege of mentoring a handful of people, however, I believe that I have probably mentored more people than I can recall without having the fancy title.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Fair pay. If industries instilled more equitable practices the fight for gender equality would be accelerated at record speed. It is time for equitable rates to be put in place, Black, Asian and POC are still paid significantly less than white men and women and then proceeding to give them a harder time when they try to negotiate their salaries.
It is also important for organisations to stop exploiting people of colour by refusing to pay them for consultation, expecting them to offer this service free of charge, while paying white men and women at £500-1000 per day.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I actually live by the words of Nelson Mandela ‘It always seems impossible, until it’s done’. However, I would tell myself, to prioritise and value rest and wellbeing as much as productivity.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The challenge still remains to increase the equality of opportunity for Black, Asian and POC artists and leaders by dismantling, demystifying and reshaping the leadership and governance structures within the arts and entertainment sector.
I am thrilled to announce ADF’s new e-learning platform ‘ADF Bite-Size’ which is the UK’s first virtual leadership resource for any aspiring or existing leader of colour. ADF Bite-Size has been developed by our Associate Producer, Sandra Thompson-Quartey to address the lack of Black-led theatre companies and to inspire, support and nurture a new generation of POC arts leaders. The new platform was inspired by our successful training programme entitled ‘How to start a theatre company’ and our acknowledgement of the lack of attention and insight given to anyone wanting to start their own organisation, as well as our intention to make our work more accessible to our members who are located across the UK and internationally. Our new e-learning platform consists of videos, articles and additional resources which include audio descriptions. We are in the process of developing more content for ADF Bite-Size, so watch this space.
I intend to continue leading by example, implementing a more flat-lined leadership structure at ADF. I am in the process of creating an open leadership initiative which will provide the opportunity for ADF members to influence the creative programme at ADF and take the lead on managing new projects and look forward to finding more ways to share power, agency and resources.
I intend to continue making ADF a global organisation, by rolling out our initiatives in different parts of the world, as well as creating new initiatives with new, exciting and like-minded partners. We recognise that our initiatives will benefit other industries and will seek to cultivate partnerships which enable us to work collectively to create change.
I have recently received another book deal which I hope will provide aspiring and existing leaders with tools to empower them, strengthen their practice and take bolder steps to create change in the arts industry and beyond.
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