A Chat With: Kai Jolley

Ahead of Little LTF (Liverpool Theatre Festival), which runs from 12 – 18 July at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, we chat to Kai Jolley about his new show This Skin of Mine (Thursday 15th July), surviving as a creative in the pandemic and his plans and ambitions for 2021 and beyond.

First of all, Kai, for those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about yourself…

“My name is Kai Jolley I am experienced in acting, directing, writing and am an award winning filmmaker. I continue to explore storytelling through all forms of media. I am the Writer/Producer of the short film Coming Out, which was part of LCR Pride Foundation’s Film with Pride series and A Fairytale Journey Across The Mersey, as seen in last year’s Liverpool Theatre Festival. My previous acting work includes, Aladdin at St. Helens Theatre Royal, Jerry Springer The Opera in Manchester, To Kill a Mockingbird and ITILY (I Think I Love You). I also had crew positions on The Amazing Race Canada, 12 Monkeys, The Ruby Slippers and The Pride!”

Phew, that’s quite the CV! Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming show at Little LTF (Liverpool Theatre Festival)?

“This Skin of Mine’ is a dark comedy full of brash humour tackling challenging subjects like the difficulty of self-love, abuse, race and transgender equality. A wonderfully awkward world where comedy can be found in the darkest of places. Our story explores the relationship between two siblings who have had more than their fair share of differences. Though after some strong words and hysterical conversations these two flawed yet lovable sisters come together in a beautiful game of tug of war. Humanity, in all its glory shines light on social, racial and gender statuses with side-splitting humour that will have you snorting like an impregnated seal!”

What was the inspiration behind This Skin of Mine? Some of it is based on real-life experiences, can you elaborate on this a little?

“If you are writing about a certain subject I believe it is important for the subject or situation to be something of some familiarity or experience. This I find allows for the story  being told to be grounded and hold true. I think even if just a small amount extends from personal experiences or ideas then the story has the chance to grow and evolve into a relatable journey for the audience. There is a lot in this show that I had to go out and research. I held interviews and asked a lot of questions in order to make sure our story was coming across as authentic as possible.

“Being transgender is something I don’t have personal experience with, however being Black and identifying with the LGBT+ community I have a lot of experience with. My experience growing up was that my Black Jamaican heritage frowned upon the idea of being gay. My Dad and I had many words, or maybe too little in some respects, in order to come to the understanding of my feelings and who I naturally grew attracted to. I remember a specific phrase used by one of my family members coming out to them in a somewhat awkward circumstance: ‘Your Grandmother would be turning in her grave right now.”

“I think those words will stick with me for the rest of my life. Not because I believed it was true, but by the pure hypocrisy of it all. She had died from cancer only months before. I knew my Grandmother would love me and care about me no matter what, but the words still stung and had laid its own scars within my skin as it were. This story tackles these kinds of family dynamics as well as some more potentially triggering subjects as abuse. Which again is a subject I could personally relate to and draw experiences from. This show is so much more than a call for conversation, it’s a call for action. It poses the questions a lot of people are afraid to ask and it spins it on its head with dark humour that will make the audience both laugh and recoil.”

You have an impressive cast and crew line up for the show, can you tell us more about them?

“We are excited to have an authentic voice from the Black Trans community involved in our production as Artistic Advisor, Mzz Kimberley (Kim Tatum). Kim is a regular on the main stage for London Gay Pride, judge for ‘Pride’s Got Talent’ and Gay Pride’s queer art show. Kim is also the host for Brighton Gay Pride, Brighton Trans Pride and Hastings Gay Pride. Kim was made patron of ‘CliniQ’ last year, a health service for the trans and non-binary community. Kim is also the ambassador for ParaPride, highlighting the queer disabled community and AIDS memorial UK.

“Budding new talent Eden Jodie plays Sarah – a bold, intelligent and brash transgender woman, whose journey transitioning into a woman was only the first step in truly finding love for herself. Eden is a gender fluid independent artist currently studying at award-winning part-time drama school IDSA. The enthusiastic Janelle Thompson will play the role of Barry – a heartfelt, naive and emotional young woman, who wears her heart on her sleeve. Janelle, who is based in the North West, has more than 20 years industry experience working with Limehouse Films, Lancashire People’s Theatre, and Iron Pier Films to name a few.”

So, what should the audience expect from This Skin of Mine?

“The audience should expect to have a fun and memorable time. This is a show that is made for people to enjoy. There is something for everyone in this show. Whether it’s brash humour, touching stories, relationship problems, or just wanting to be in an open space where the only limits are your own. This fun filled story is a relatable experience for so many who will be coming to see it. Although it explores some very heavy subjects, it does it in a fun and playful way. Engaging the audience in a humorous way in a similar style to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag.”

What effect do you want the show to have? What do you want audience members – LGBT+ or not – to take away from it?

“There is so much turmoil right now in the world. With homophobic attacks, transgender equality and Black Lives Matter there are marginalised groups that have no longer decided to stand silent. In order for change to happen, we need to have a voice, and I hope that all of these voices are heard through this story of this specific relationship between two reunited sisters. Hate is not okay. Ignorance is not bliss. We want the audience to walk away having brought to light some of the more intricate and exciting conversations in the show, and just to reflect. Having moments through the day where you think of one of the crazy situations in the show and have a little laugh at the madness that has unfolded.”

The last 18 months have been an extremely challenging period for the theatre and creative world. What challenges have you faced and what emerged from those challenges?

“As a creative I feel like so many of the challenges faced during these last 18 months were just struggles I tend to face anyhow being a freelance creative. I have yet to be so lucky as not to worry about when the next paycheck is coming in, or when the next gig will be, or where my next meal will be coming from. These have been struggles I have had to deal with for most of my life ever since I was a young child, so I guess in a way what I have gone through in my childhood has allowed me to be able to cope with such extreme circumstances. My mother, bless her, provided for us the best she could as a single parent, but she has had her own battle with mental health which made for even more challenges growing up. We were lucky however, because you could not find another soul out there who has as beautiful and kind a heart as her own.

“It was tough, don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of heartache, losses, uncertainties that came with this whole pandemic. Including having a show we were just about ready to get into rehearsals for completely on hold even still for the foreseeable future. The first few months were incredibly productive. I was busy producing content online to help people take their mind off grim circumstances. I was able to catch up with so many friends and family that I hadn’t been able to properly speak to in ages and I was able to create without a time limit to my work.

I created the short film Coming Out which was featured by Film with Pride along with winning a few awards on the film festival circuit. There was a crazy dance video…. Oh yes, it’s on YouTube! Plus, I had the opportunity to explore more of my written word storytelling through several different projects and platforms. Liverpool Film Initiative was also amongst the first in the city to get out and film once restrictions eased.

“Navigating our way through the new COVID-19 regulations and guidelines on set. It really was exciting. Then we got to these last couple of months. I had taken up a job this last year as a Care Worker. I absolutely loved caring for people, but it got very tiring, especially on those 14-hour shifts cycling from client to client. This opened up a few doors for me to explore my creativity in the support I gave. Hence my work with Moving On With Life and Learning (MOWLL). I began helping coordinate projects such as our DigiDrama programme, combining care and support with creativity and learning. I’m thrilled to be involved with them.”

Looking at the whole Little LTF line-up, aside from your show, what are you most looking forward to watching?

I am really looking forward to watching A Brief Conversation About The Inevitability Of Love by Ian Salmon as I have seen some of his previous work and find his writing quite gripping and engaging. Completing the powerhouse pair is Mikee Dickinson as Director, which I also have enjoyed previous works of. So, I am sure it will be a real treat to go see at Little LTF.

What are your hopes and ambitions for 2021 and beyond?

“There are three main things I want to make sure I focus on for 2021 and beyond. One, work and life balance. I have always been a very hardworking individual and I tend to spread myself too thin a lot of the time. I am hoping that my recent career moves will help balance things out so I am focusing on my creative path, rather than scrambling around in every direction trying to make ends meet. This will allow me to spend more quality time with my friends and family which has always been really important to me. Two, to continue to grow my theatre and film career in a way that will open doors, not only for myself but for those that are so kind as to take this journey with me and believe in the work that I do. Three, really start moving toward bigger projects and being able to produce touring shows for both theatre and theatre in education purposes.”

What else are you working on at the moment?

“At the moment I am teaching Film and TV at PQA. It’s been a delightful experience and we will just be heading into production of our own short film pieces as we are in the midst of ‘This Skin of Mine’. I am also one of the project coordinators for DigiDrama with MOWLL. Helping teach adults with learning disabilities the art and business of being a digital content creator. Focusing on aspects of filming, photography, web design and more. My company, Liverpool Film Initiative, is currently working on an exciting documentary on Ex-Military who have been seeking aid in finding gainful employment through a fantastic training program at Veterans Into Logistics. And we have our eyes set on producing a couple of really heartfelt music videos and short films in the next little while too. All this whilst writing a couple more theatre scripts to get off the ground in the next short while, one specifically on Lord Leverhulme for the local charity, The Power Foundation for Young People.”

You can follow Kai on Twitter @KaiJolley

For more information on the Liverpool Theatre Festival and Little LTF, visit: liverpooltheatrefestival.com