Episode 1 - Keep It Simple
In which we learn from Dr Nike Imoru how differently Brits and Americans approach Shakespeare; how her studio – The Actor’s Way – incorporates the psychotherapeutic principles of Wilhelm Reich; and we receive a hallowed visit from a Shakespearean ghost.
Dr. Nike Imoru
Nike Imoru, PhD, CSA, is a British-Nigerian actress, and teacher. casting director, producer, She owns and directs The Actor’s Way, a studio for actor training and performance based on breathing, being, connecting, and the psychotherapeutic principles of Wilhelm Reich.
Dr. Imoru is a classically-trained actress. In the US she has garnered awards for her performances with Upstart Crow Collective including Henry VI (Bring Down The House), and Titus Andronicus, as well as for the titular role of Coriolanus with Rebel Kat Productions, directed by Emily Penick.
Her solo performance of Medea in Delphi, Greece (2000), was received to international critical acclaim. She is currently developing the role of Jocasta in Oedipus with artistic director emerita of American Conservatory Theatre, Carey Perloff, and award-winning classical actor John Douglas Thompson.
Dr. Imoru has cast numerous feature films in the Pacific Northwest and was the executive casting director for Syfy’s show Z Nation. With Rebel Kat Productions, she produced and financed All Those Small Things (dir. Andrew Hyatt), whose world premiere was at the Seattle International Film Festival (March 2021).
Dr. Imoru’s academic work covers African-American theatre history, gender, and critical theory. Her PhD is from the University of Warwick, UK.
Lamar Legend (00:00):
You are listening to Under This Light – A Revelation of Shakespeare and Self with Lamar legend. I am your host. And today we have Dr. Nike Imoru PhD, CSA…. She is a British Nigerian classically trained actress, teacher, casting, director, and producer. She owns and directs The Actors Way, a studio for actor training and performance based on breathing, being connecting, and the psychotherapeutic principles of Wilhelm Reich in the U S she has gone at awards for her performances with upstart Crow collective, including Henry VI. That’s Bring Down the House and Titus Andronicus as well as for the titular role of Coriolanus with Rebel Cat Productions directed by Emily Penick. Her solo performance of Medea was in Delphi. Greece in 2000 was received to international critical acclaim. She is currently developing the role of Jocasta in Oedipus with the artistic director of Marita of American Conservatory Theater, Carey Perloff, and the award-winning classical actor, John Douglas Thompson. As a casting director, Dr. Imoru has worked on numerous feature films in the Pacific Northwest and was the executive casting director for the scifi channels, Z nation with Rebel Cat Productions, she produced the film, All Those Small Things, which had its world premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival this past March and under her PhD from the University of Warwick in the UK, her academic work covers African-American theater history, gender and critical theory. And is a current finalist for the Artist Trust’s Arts Innovator Award. Oh my goodness. I am so proud, grateful, and honored to have as my guest today Dr. Nike Imoru. Hi Nike.
Nike Imoru (01:52):
Hi, Lamar. So good to be here. So good to be in conversation with you. Thank you for having me
Lamar Legend (01:59):
The joy. It’s a joy and a pleasure all mine. So to kick things off let’s just start with, how did your relationship to theater began?
Nike Imoru (02:08):
You know, it began in England. We had just…the family…my family had just moved from Nigeria back to London and we, I was taken with a group of you know, the classmates to see Peter Pan and I hadn’t seen Western theater at that point. I seen theater performance in Nigeria informally, but it was my first time sitting in a, in a theater in the west. And I just remember being utterly transfixed when you know, to bring Tinkerbell alive, the audience was asked to applaud and to clap harder. And then you just think about come alive. And I was, I was absolutely mesmerized really? That was it. I couldn’t believe life giving properties of theater stuck with me forever. Yeah. Wow.
Lamar Legend (03:05):
That’s amazing. One of my favorite stories of all time speaking of the, you know, life changing life bringing properties of theater you said to me once that Shakespeare saved your life will you tell us more about that please? And in what way and how, and how did your relationship to Shakespeare begin?
Nike Imoru (03:27):
Know, it, it yeah, it did. It did save me, saved my life in a way I hope that’s, doesn’t sound too dramatic. You know, growing up in England, you know, with immigrant parents, you know we didn’t have a lot of contact or involvement with a Western culture, certainly when we first arrived and I was born in England by the way. Then we went to Nigeria and went back to England. And I remember my parents being very driven towards us getting an education, a good education, but, you know, God bless them at, I think eight, I had a book sort of, you know, A level standard or O level standards. So high school on algebra and I had a copy of Shakespeare or I think it was also All’s Well That End’s Well, which I couldn’t decipher at all, but I was quite an advanced reader.
Nike Imoru (04:25):
So I was reading extensively you know, by the time I was nine, but this book I couldn’t decipher. And then at 14, studying Shakespeare in high school, we came across, we started studying Macbeth and my brain flowered at a time when I needed it to when school was challenging, home life was profoundly challenging. A sense of self was in a state of struggle and survival. And here was this space, this language, this depth of emotion. And I found myself in and through it, for some reason, I, the way it was taught or just being in the country of what the, but, you know, revered Shakespeare, Shakespeare birthplace, for some reasons, some parts of me had a profound emotional and psychic awakening. As it connected with tragedy. I had no idea it was a classical form or it was difficult or should be challenging. I was just gripped by the story. And then we watched the black and white version with Ian McKellen and Judie Dench. And again, same thing as when I watched Peter Pan, I couldn’t believe this thing was possible.. This event. And then I had this capacity for memorizing it and understanding it. And by the time I was 18 and this all girls school, we did, what was it? We did an all female production of Hamlet and I played Hamlet. And somewhere in there, I knew I was going to become a classical actress.
Lamar Legend (06:18):
Somewhere in there. It was Hamlet that did it. Yeah. Talk about how, you know, you took to, it saved your life and I’m connected with you on a deeply emotional level and your identity. Is there anything in particular, a moment that stands out a memory that brings that, that really struck you as other than you know, you, you said you were pouring over Macbeth and was there a particular, a particular scene or, or something that connected in this epic tragedy and you’re connecting to other, I mean, in your career and what I have in your credits. I mean, you’ve played some titular characters and tragedy, you know yeah. Was a part of it too. What’s in, it’s specifically, you know, in tragedy or in it that for you as a teenager really, really got you, or you felt like, ah, I feel seen that’s me or this, this, he gets it. I get it.
Nike Imoru (07:34):
It’s such a wonderful counselor. It was, and still is the epic propensity of tragedy. And I think having a home life that felt so emotionally precarious, it’s very difficult to explain when you’re living in cross-cultural contexts. So west African context and say, it’s just a Western context or any context where different cultures are intersecting. And I’m a given again, you know, black culture, it’s very difficult to explain to the outside world what it’s like on the inside. And for the young people for children, it can be so deeply complex, but the parental norm becomes the child norm. And so as you’re moving through this, you know, time of life with its own stuff, you know, one is also dealing with, and I was dealing with cultural norms that were one thing at home. Another thing outside trying to balance that and here was a story, that in some ways had the same breadth and depth that African spiritual life has and story, and community has right?
Nike Imoru (09:15):
Spiritually. so it had that same breadth, but there was also a space where tragedy, it just didn’t feel like a big deal. I just thought, oh yeah, there’s a, there’s a, there’s an intense relationship between this married couple. I know what that’s like, you know there’s ambition here. There is rage here, anger, there are witches it’s as though the epic propensity of tragedy matched what I felt I was experiencing at 14 in some way in London. And they mirrored and I was able to, in a way, either escape from one into the other or understand and hold both things in place in my head.
Lamar Legend (10:12):
Yes. And that continued, I mean, cause then when you were cast as Hamlet um that must’ve deepened in some way.
Nike Imoru (10:22):
Absolutely life-changing because that language never leaves you that language, the possible, you know, the ability to remember those soliloquies, it’s still with me. I mean, I can still, you know, many, many years later…
Lamar Legend (10:44):
Did you find parallels in your own life? Again?
Nike Imoru (10:47):
I did. I did. And I’m sure every actor will tell you there are parallels in their life between Hamlet and them. It really, it brought about a maturity that I needed to have domestically, but there was no choice in terms of care being, being a caregiver at a very young age and what Hamlet allowed was internal reflection. And it, it, it allowed deep thought. And, and also it helped me to understand why I might not act in the moment and fear and why one doesn’t act in the face of fear and my decision-making process can stall action. And then also that sense that not to trust anyone or anything around one in the environment that, that, that was that, that made sense to me. I mean, I just thought, I didn’t think Hamlet was mad. I thought, oh yeah, that’s an environment where there’s a lot of juggling to be done. And it’s probably best if he doesn’t actually trust anyone.
Lamar Legend (12:03):
So since you have since you are one of our first or no, you are our first Brit on the show, there are a couple of questions I feel I have to ask. So please bear with me, but I know that some of our listeners are probably expecting me to ask these so one I’ll I’ll ask is there a difference from your point of view, is there a difference between the way Shakespeare is taught and performed here in the states versus in the UK?
Nike Imoru (12:37):
Absolutely. 100%. Yes. There’s a radical difference that I think the most significant one to me is that in, in England it’s not as elevated. We don’t come to it in such an elevated way. There isn’t a hallowedness around it. Now that’s not to say that isn’t culturally a hallowedness around Shakespeare, the icon, but actually at the, at the level of studying, engaging, performing in the ideas or the plays there, isn’t this hallowed space that one was tread lightly around. It doesn’t come with yeah, it’s not because it’s not a cultural export. Right. And I think in America, it’s, it’s, it’s hallowed ground sometimes, which is, makes it difficult to reach in a very grounded way. So, yeah.
Lamar Legend (13:40):
Oh, absolutely. I know. I mean, speaking of my own community many people feel like they can’t touch him and why should they, that it doesn’t belong to them in any way, shape or form or he, the Bard in and of himself to that end. The next question I have to ask is do you feel that Shakespeare belongs to the Brits?
Nike Imoru (14:05):
No, I don’t. But then, you know I laugh because I’ve seen, you know, Shakespeare and the classics done in so many different cultures and when we were learning or teaching in England, that’s what we’re teaching. I mean, I, I think one of the few times I saw Shakespeare in doublet and hose was when I came to America and I thought, what in heaven’s name are they doing? No one does Shakespeare like that anymore. I was at a high school when, I mean, not even Judy Dench and Ian McKellen, but I’ve seen Shakespeare exquisitely magnificently in other cultures in Japan by Suzuki in Africa, in West Africa, in India. And so I think that perhaps outside of America, there’s a greater sense of reclaiming, taking a story, reclaiming, reworking, reframing the classics, to meet the culture where it is. And, and, and also it’s not necessarily spoken in English in this cultures. So how can it belong to the English?
Lamar Legend (15:25):
Going back to the difference between how Shakespeare is taught and performed here in the states versus the UK. How do you specifically as an actor net navigate that here in the States? I mean, you talk about that. We elevate it, you know, that it’s a bit hallowed once you’re in the rehearsal room though, does that still exist? And, and if so, I’m sure it’s different from room to room, but how do you navigate that?
Nike Imoru (15:54):
Yeah, I think when I, when I go in I, I, I, I make sure that I don’t show up holier than thou and more hallowed about it, you know what I mean? I keep it very grounded. And so I speak it. I always say, I think most American actors, classical actors know more about Shakespeare, the structure, the literary stuff, that’s going on more than I do because I just speak it as I was taught it. And that was, you know and how I’ve worked with it in the UK and coming from a very working class background, the most important thing whenever we took it to schools or to communities or to prisons was always to make it accessible and understandable to make, to keep the poetry beautiful because it is, but it doesn’t have to be with that sort of accent sort of BBC received pronunciation accent that some of us were reading that use our own regional accents. And so I keep it very simple and I don’t try to play verse or anything like that. What I do is I adhere to the rules of Shakespeare, obviously in speaking Shakespeare, but I don’t try to over elevate it, I just triedtry to tell the story.
Lamar Legend (17:33):
Right, which Is your job. Which is every actor’s job.
Nike Imoru (17:36):
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And I think it’s hard if, if, if the belief is the ruling belief is prevailing belief is it has to sound so beautiful. The problem there, I always say is, but I can’t understand what you’re saying. Just say it so I can understand it.
Lamar Legend (18:17):
In your life. I mean, has there been, is there a, or was there a mentor or a teacher that had a particular impact on you
Nike Imoru (18:26):
In terms of acting/
Lamar Legend (18:28):
In terms of your career, in terms of they made an impact on your career as a whole?
Nike Imoru (18:33):
Oh, yes. Yes. And, and in fact, my main mentor who took me under his wing when I was 19 during my undergraduate is still, I’m still in contact with him, every performance I do. I did a performance reading recently with Carey Perloff and he attended on zoom, you know, eight hours ahead. And so George, Savona, yeah, George Savona has had a significant impact on my work as an actor, as a thinker. For sure.
Lamar Legend (19:09):
So did he also make you a… Or fan the spark of wanting to teach?
Nike Imoru (19:17):
Oh, you know, I do so many things I’ve done. I didn’t necessarily want to do outside of acting. He, he and a woman called Gabrielle Griffin, who was a fundamental in teaching me, bringing me to theory, critical theory, gender theories. They, they told me that I had a capacity for it at a time when I didn’t realize like that. So around 21, they sort of gave me my first jobs as a theater, academic, but all wrote my references, but I, I didn’t realize I had that capacity till I started doing it. And it really was more about the capacity for communication, which I was always passionate about. Yeah.
Lamar Legend (20:06):
And speaking of, will you tell us about your studio about the Actor’s Way.
Nike Imoru (20:11):
Thank you. Yeah, The Actor’s Way is a studio for film actors and theater actors that I’ve been developing over over a few years. And that came about when I started casting for film, when I realized that a lot of actors in the Pacific Northwest were very conversant with theater and had a lot of experience, but not so much experience coming to the camera in terms of casting, the films that were coming from LA. And so I began to use that word again, translate acting for the stage to acting for the camera and to find languages and ways of doing that for, for theater actors predominantly and then just people who identified as actors. And so the actors way is based on how we come to the camera, how we come to the frame and how and why it’s different than the stage. And yeah, that’s primarily what I do. And, and instead of using practitioners of acting, acting teachers whether its Stanislavski or so on, I started to create a system based on breathing, being, and connecting with with the film.
Lamar Legend (21:38):
Please unpack that. So you’ve talked a little bit about you know to me before the healing modalities and, and delving into trauma within the body and how it sits in the body and how that comes out. So in your practice with this, this, you know, I would say moves a little away from, you know, traditional Western conservatory theater training. Yes. There is, you know, Viola Spolin and the Alexander technique and, and the Viewpoints and, and Suzuki work and more conservatories here in the U S are bringing in and incorporating those techniques. But you’re talking about techniques that I think come from maybe even a different, more different place, is that true? And we will, we, will you tell us more about that?
Nike Imoru (22:32):
I’ve always read two things psychoanalysis alongside the body, and it started off as with black bodies in African-American history, always been a fascination. Our bodies in history, obviously in slavery and how the body has been owned, who owns this body, how it’s been circumscribed inscribed. So I’ve always had a fascination of the body in space and in culture. And one of the things I noticed on with on-camera training was how the body is and Wilhelm Reich is a practitioner, the psychoanalyst that I’m currently studying. He talks about the body being armored, and he talks about the act of being really an organism in a particular environment. That’s always reacting to that environment. One of the things that it does in an environment that it perceives as hostile, the body become segmented and armored, and in that armoring, the breath is impacted.
Nike Imoru (23:53):
And so I began to weigh, Reich looked under the microscope, I’m looking through the camera lens. And I started to notice that actors, when they were nervous, that breathing would be located in perhaps one place as opposed to moving through their body. And this became fascinating to me about how the breath can literally be cauterized, cut off at certain points in the body and how that impacted performance. And I began to become interested in moving the breath and therefore energy level, the emotions through the body, supporting the actor to be able to do that effectively in order to enhance their performance and Wilhelm Reich’s work. It’s, it’s, it’s really quite complicated. I’m studying with a group. So I’m certainly not an expert, but I began to see that, that allowing simply giving an actor permission to breathe and to learn how to breathe would free them would begin to free them up to learn how to be with themselves and their emotions, right? Because what’s happening. What Reich says is that the reason the breath is held and the body is armored is not so, is not just because of the trauma, it is because of that, but because we’re, we’re afraid of the feelings overwhelming us. And so it is the feelings that we’re seeking to control…the emotions.
Nike Imoru (25:31):
And so emotions are energy in motion, and if they do not move, if they become stuck, then we have a situation of re-emotion where the emotions are doing, playing back inside the body, which is problematic. And so, yeah, so working with actors, that’s what I’m working with is bringing that breath, making the breath unified so that the individual can come into contact with themselves and their emotions and find connection with scene partners in that way. Yeah.
Lamar Legend (26:07):
Yeah. It’s amazing how for performers, when you tap into your breath and you, at least at the very least are aware of it when you are in different, various emotional states, how, if you recreate the same thing it can trigger those emotional states. And it sounds like you are talking about exactly that.
Nike Imoru (26:34):
Yes, yes. What’s wonderful about it as well, is that this is for human beings. I mean, the Reichian is not just for actors or just for…it’s for people who are growing in the craft, developing in the craft and perhaps wanting to explore, you know, their own blocks, our own blocks as we come to the frame, or we come to the stage as we come to the camera.
Lamar Legend (27:02):
So speaking of the camera what brought you to being a casting director.
Nike Imoru (27:07):
An accident I was, I was directing a devised piece on Shakespeare called Shakespeare in Love, and I was taking three scenes or four scenes that was performed by all women. And then those same scenes performed by all men. Just, you know, I was sharing that with the community that that I was in. And one of the actresses said that she had to drop out in order to work on a movie. And I was horrified for two reasons. One that she would drop out, secondly, for a movie, I didn’t, I wasn’t watching that stage. So I was horrified, but she also asked me because of my work with actors, if I would keep her seat warm and cast a film for her and I did under duress, I did. And that began a 15 year journey as a casting director.
Lamar Legend (28:10):
Amazing. Do what does it give you that other your, I mean, your other gifts do not.
Nike Imoru (28:21):
The only reason I do anything I think is so that I can have a deeper understanding of the actor. And so what casting does, is it deepens. Every time I encounter an actor, I encounter a different world. I encountered different emotional being that’s organized perhaps differently, emotionally from the other actor. And so what it gives me is an up close and even closer relationship to the actor. I just love, love the vessel, the being, the symphony that is the actor.
Lamar Legend (29:04):
I would love for you to tell us whatever it is that you’re working on now, or that’s on the horizon that you’re excited about.
Nike Imoru (29:12):
I am let’s see, what can I talk about, I’m actually really excited about developing Jocosta in the world of in, in Oedipus with Carey Perloff and John Douglas Thompson, because it really gives me a chance to go back to my classical roots. I don’t get much chance to go on stage and I come fully alive on stage. Really. It’s, there’s a frequency, there’s a different strata that I enter into on stage. And so one of the things we had a couple of readings, and one of the things I enjoyed was when we did the reading for the San Francisco museum was reading Jocasta and then reading Oedipus and being, and having John Douglas Thompson read your Jocasta to my Oedipus. That work really allows. I find very exciting. And also when you have such a powerhouse of a director at the helm, it’s …one can go deeper into the work and really explore the breadth of possibilities.
Lamar Legend (30:37):
Before we close. I have a couple of magic questions here.
Nike Imoru (30:40):
Yes. Magic question.
Lamar Legend (30:44):
Ready? Sure. First one, if you could master one skill that you don’t already have, what would it be?
Nike Imoru (30:55):
Oh, wow. That’s a good one. I want to say patience I mean really authentic patience without yeah. Unbridled patience. That’s one thing I would love to master. And that for me is a spiritual calling. I think
Lamar Legend (31:21):
I share your, your, your, your wish for patience. I mean, boy, I wish we all, I wish that for all of us, but that is something I struggled with myself. The next thing is all right, this one’s, this one’s a little out there. So go with me on this imagination-wise. So we find out that Shakespeare’s characters are real, that they are based on real people down to everything they said and what they wore to the last detail. They’re of course not with us anymore, because that was several years ago now on Halloween of this year, the veil between the real world and the spirit world will be lifted and you are visited by the ghost of three of Shakespeare’s characters. Who do you want to be haunted by?
Nike Imoru (32:19):
Wow, fantastic. Wow. Definitely lady M.
Lamar Legend (32:34):
What would you have to say to her? Or what would you…why???
Nike Imoru (32:39):
Because I want to experience and know that level of that descent into, into pure madness and unraveling, you know, unleashed just the mind completely unhinged. I know about those crazy with, I would know of course.
Lamar Legend (33:05):
I mean, it’s, it’s for one night, you’ll be, you’ll be fine tomorrow. What about the other two characters? If you have them,
Nike Imoru (33:14):
Coriolanus fearless, you know, don’t give a shit, bring the worst, that kind of power and fearlessness rage, passion, certainty. I would love to know that. And then the other one would be a romantic probably Rosalind in As You Like It.
Lamar Legend (33:44):
What a great way to end the evening. I mean, You’d probably have until dawn before she expires, just chatting away. Would you describe for us in your own opinion, your perfect day?
Nike Imoru (34:01):
Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yes. It comes pretty close as an introvert. My perfect day would be a desert island, overcast, gray, but warm, surrounded by the ocean, a record player and sitting in a hammock, just listening to the waves, lapping against the shore. It’s not very exciting but that’s what it would be.
Lamar Legend (34:33):
Well, you’re talking to a fellow introvert, so that sounds perfect to me. You’re also hearkening to one of my favorite podcasts that desert island discs. So
Nike Imoru (34:43):
Yeah. Know that. Yeah.
Lamar Legend (34:45):
They’re so good. My goodness. And lastly when you die, because we all will. Yes. If people forget everything about you, what’s the one thing you want them to remember,
Nike Imoru (34:57):
That I giggle, but I, I I’ve in amongst it all. I giggle a lot and I find things very funny. And I giggle mischievously. I giggle a lot more than people realize.
Lamar Legend (35:13):
I think that’s an important one to note because when you meet and or see Nike on site she has this amazing aura, but it is, and I’m not that that dis-similar it’s a bit of an, you can be intimidated. You can be intimidated. And I, and I feel that a lot of people probably are correct me if I’m wrong are when they meet you. And I think it’s important. I’m so glad to hear you say that that while you may not be approachable, you are not without humor.
Nike Imoru (35:50):
One reason I wanted this session would be because I knew that lightness would come to me, I just love any, any moments to connect with you because you come with a lot of joy.
Lamar Legend (36:00):
Thank you so much, Nike. Thank you so much.