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Alumni profile - Elliott Ajai-Ajagbe Daley

As a freelancer, I can commit to a project, give it my all as I know it can't last forever, and I have to get what I can while giving all I am to the finite experience. I've travelled around the world and directed theatre in forests in Portugal, villages in Africa and schools and theatres around the world performing at the V&A, TedX and the Olympics.

20 September 2019

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What did you study at Queen Mary? - As a lover of literature and performance I came to Queen Mary University of London to study English and Drama.

Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities? - I went to university as I wasn't ready to work, not yet knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I needed to find myself and chose Queen Mary as the place to do it because it was a Russell group university with a good reputation. When I came to visit I enjoyed the energy of the place and the staff on the course, they were my type of crazy, warm and passionate about the subject. I'd have gone to Oxford or King's, but Queen Mary was where I felt I would best enjoy my time after visiting.

How has your degree had an impact on your career/life? - Attaining a degree showed me where I was in regards to my effort towards my own life and goals as the process was all about what I was willing to do (hours of study), how I could shape my arguments and what I could decipher from the riddles thrown my way. It gave me the tools to pursue the answers to my questions and helped me learn how to better shape my life in pursuit of my desires. The mistakes I made along the way (often leaving things until the last minute), and dealing with the consequences allowed me to grow and figure out my direction.

I understand that you are a freelancer; in your opinion, what is the beauty of working for yourself as opposed to being tied down to one boss or one organisation? - I am passionate about my work and freedom. I work very hard, but know that I am the type of person that needs variety, expression and movement to grow, so a career as a freelancer was essential for me! When I first sat at a desk for an office job, my body threw me out of the seat and the whole office turned to look at me, asking: "Elliott, are you ok?!" I was confused too, but I quickly realised that my body was telling me that despite the fact that I was working for a theatre, both an office environment and having a boss were wrong for me. As a freelancer, I can commit to a project, give it my all as I know it can't last forever, and I have to get what I can while giving all I am to the finite experience. I've travelled around the world and directed theatre in forests in Portugal, villages in Africa and schools and theatres around the world performing at the V&A, TedX and the Olympics. The nature of my work means that when I need to commit to my own writing/performance I simply don't take jobs and I can relax and work without worrying about being late to/absent from anywhere, allowing me to be a part of the arts world I teach, rather than separated from it.

You seem to have had a busy and colourful career path since graduating from Queen Mary, filling your time with running drama and spoken word workshops, as well as writing, directing plays, or teaching creative writing. What sparked your passion for all of the above? And what do you find most exciting about engaging with an audience? - This is a really fun question and super easy to answer ... My mum. She was a clown, theatre actress, play centre worker and all round hero! I watched as she pursued her dreams and threw her energy into her artistic passions. She is an amazing inspiration to me. My love for stories and connection through performance was nurtured and inspired by her. As a child however, I found reading and writing very difficult and attended specialist classes to catch up with my peers. I had so many stories and ideas but I couldn’t express them; once I was helped to crack the code (the alphabet), I was able to unleash my ideas on the world and I promised myself I would never stop. I’ve conquered spoken word, plays, operas and graphic novels so far, but there's so much more I wish to explore!

I was captivated by your spoken word performances and your ability to manipulate words so beautifully to tell a story or to get a message across. What tips would you give to alumni and current students who must perform or present in front of an audience? - The biggest tip I have is twofold: 1) Love your time on stage, no-one can take it from or do it for you, so do it your way and enjoy the experience. 2) Be the fool you fear. Give yourself totally to the experience, if you hold back through fear you won't do your art/yourself justice, but letting go draws your audience in deeper and will enable you to grow faster as an artist and a performer.

Your graphic novel, Winter Solstice, is out this Christmas. What did you find challenging about writing your own novel? How did you overcome any obstacles you encountered? - There were many difficulties; the writing itself can drive you crazy when you get stuck, but for me getting past that just required a sit down with my characters, because if I knew them well enough, then the story would write itself. Finding an artist was also difficult but exciting. I wanted someone willing to go on the adventure with me and eager to throw themselves into the project; my guy was amazing, shout out to Antonio Piedade! Working with another person, especially artistically, can have difficulties and it did, but we found ways around this because we respected each other, got on really well (even when we were in our respective artistic strops) and loved the project. This meant that even though we were working from two different countries, we achieved something crazy special and never gave up despite difficulties with funding or whatever else. Getting the book published was another adventure that required patience, research, a thick skin in regards to constructive criticism and a firm belief in the project. If every publishing house in the world had said no to me, I was ready, willing and happy to self-publish; I'd decided long ago that this was worth it to ME, so nothing could stop me!

I am really interested in, and inspired by, your work with ex-offenders. What techniques do you use when working with ex-offenders? What was it that motivated you to work with these individuals in the first place? - Working with so many people from different walks of life, I have come to understand powerfully the injustices within our system and how many people it leaves behind. For example, a person coming out of prison receives instant mistrust and their name is tarnished, making their lives even more difficult, despite the fact that they've done their time, which can lead to a vicious cycle. I wanted to work with these people and learn from them, hear their stories and help them express themselves. I am lucky enough to be able to work with ex-offenders helping them upskill and prepare for life outside of prison, finding work etc. and just being someone they can talk to. In terms of techniques, it's a mixture of drama and poetry for expression, as well as laughter and games for fun and team building, or simply talking and eating some good food together.

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? - Pick your job like you pick your partner; "Do I want to do this/be here every day? Can I learn, love and grow with passion here? If not then what's the point?"

Lastly, do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your career field? - My mother as I said, Bruce Lee for his resilience, philosophy and passion ("Martial art, like any art is an expression of the human being.") and Lauryn Hill – her flow and technique as a lyricist are brilliant.

 

Here are some links to Elliott’s work:

TedX Performance alongside two of Elliott’s young students: https://youtu.be/qjUwV3LKl1E

The trailer for Elliott’s graphic novel Winter Solstice (an assassination attempt on Santa Claus at Christmas), out this Christmas: https://youtu.be/buGgS2Yiys0

King's University poetry Slam, which Elliott took top prize for. The theme of the slam was addiction, which is something that Elliott has seen extensively in some of the people he has worked with as a mentor for ex-offenders through 'Key for Life's. It is called Dodi: https://youtu.be/VodWa1PuhHA