Angola-born actress and writer Ailema Sousa is getting ready to present her World War II era production of Fort Huachuca (www.forthuachucaplay.com) at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival in Los Angeles, California.
The Levity Ball caught up with Ailema to discuss the new play, what it means to her, and where in NYC she likes to get frozen yogurt from when she does visit…
1. When did you first know you wanted to work in the entertainment industry?
Ever since I was a kid really. My favorite movie growing up was the Goonies and pretty much anything from Spielberg. Those adventure films that were so creative and imaginative really struck a chord with me. I remember seeing an adaption of Peter Pan at the open air theatre in Regent’s park in London. That’s when I knew I had to be on stage. No matter what I was going to end up doing it in life. I knew that was the direction I was headed!
2. You star next in the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival play “Fort Huachuca” … tell us about this production?
Yes, this production opens June 02, there will be five shows, at the OMR theatre at the Complex Hollywood. ‘Fort Huachuca’ tells the story of the first African American nurses who arrive on an army base camp during WWII. We follow their journey as they deal with growing racial tension, inequality and a community that refuses to acknowledge them even all they want to do is protect their country. So, get your tickets before they sell out!
3. What about this specific story of African American nurses during wartime related to you and meant so much?
This story holds a special place in my heart. As a history buff, I have always been intrigued by World War I and II. So when I discovered the real story of the women at Fort Huachuca, and how these brave African American women formed such a significant part of it, I was blown away. These women were the pioneers, they were the ones who opened the pathway for the rest of us to even be able to do what we do. They were bold, ahead of their time, changing the game in a time where this was unthinkable. Not only were they women, but women of color, who at the time were not even allowed to share a bathroom with the very people they were fighting to protect, for a country where they weren’t even seen as relevant. Their resilience, strength and hard work during such a difficult time was is inspiring to me. The work they did must be remembered and revered. They remind me of the incredible women I know today. Especially now, as we are in a new time of renaissance, artistically speaking! Times are changing, women’s voices have a platform, these female writers, directors, and film-makers are breaking new ground and demanding their voice to be heard. It is the perfect time to share this story with the world.
4. You also wrote this… was it harder to write the play or act within it?
I think it was definitely harder to write the play. There is such a huge responsibility that comes along with telling a true story. Especially one of this magnitude and importance. I just wanted to tell their stories in a way that would honor them and their work. There were days where I had writer’s block, my minds way of saying go get some fresh air and let these women speak to you through nature, through signs the universe sends. Then, I would be on the A train and an idea would pop into my head, or walking along Washington Square park and envision an interaction between the characters, just like that. With acting it is easier because it is a collective and the ensemble cast really helps to ground me in the moment and time period.
5. How was it working with director Amen Igbinosun?
Amazing. He is an incredibly talented and visionary director. He is so in tune with the story and from the get-go he was all-hands-on-deck. He really knows how to work with actors and guide them in the process so it is a collaboration where we create as a unit. The most important thing as a writer in your relationship with the director is trust, and I wholeheartedly trust Amen. His passion is contagious and he has such innovative ideas. It was truly a wonderful experience.
6. On the personal side of things: You were born in Angola, and now split your time between Los Angeles and London… what about living in the three countries has helped you in perfecting your craft?
It has truly been a blessing to be able to experience all aspects of culture and tradition from three different continents. As an actor, we portray real-life people, who are gloriously different and having the opportunity to learn and experience different cultures and traditions adds so much to that. The depth and history that I know go into a character which is incredible because roots are so important and that is something I get to constantly explore.
7. Do you ever get to come to New York? If so, where are some of your favorite spots to go?
I try to go back to New York as often as possible. It is definitely one of my favorite cities. I mean there’s really nothing like it. I love walking in Central Park during the summer, just before it gets unbearably hot. Favorite place, well for a movie buff like myself, I would have to say AMC (Empire 25), yes, that is where you are most likely to find me. Either there or Uptown Swirl which does the best frozen yogurt.
8. Who were your role models growing up and why?
David Attenborough!! I grew up watching a lot of wildlife documentaries, actually before I wanted to be an actress I thought I was going to be a wildlife veterinarian. But there was really something about watching Attenborough that sparked something in me, this idea that there is a bigger world out there. Then there was writer Malorie Blackman, whose work was a tremendous inspiration to me. Her words are so bold and honest, that is the map I use within my work, maintaining integrity and telling truthful stories. I think I have seen every film Angela Bassett and Sandra Bullock have both been in. These women are not only incredibly talented, graceful and successful and still give back to their community, they never forget their roots.
9. When you aren’t writing/acting, what else do you enjoy doing?
Definitely reading. It is so refreshing to just switch off my phone, disconnect and read a good book. I recently just finished ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi, fantastic read! It’s absolutely amazing, the journey Tomi takes the reader on is remarkable. I definitely recommend it. Plus, if you prefer to watch it on the big screen the film adaption should be coming soon, so I am really excited to catch that.
10. How did you get involved with the Hollywood Fringe Festival?
I was lucky enough to be a part of a show during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival a while back, that is what put the fringe festivals on my radar. It was such a wonderful experience that I wanted to look up what other locations and festivals they had going on. The Hollywood location called out to me because of how lovely the weather is here in LA and also the array of creatives that it attracts. It makes for a great combination in my eyes.
11. What would your advice be to others wanting to get into the entertainment industry?
It takes hard work, persistence and an unwavering belief in yourself! You have to be your own biggest cheerleader. Do not compare I repeat do not compare yourself to others it is a waste of time, own your uniqueness and remember to be present and enjoy the journey. Trust your struggle, if you really want it, then go for it!
12. And final question: What do you personally want to be remembered for?
For being bold enough to share truthful stories that will inspire people for many years to come.