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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Mojisola Elufowoju

Mojisola Elufowoju is a British-born Nigerian artistic director and founder of Utopia Theatre, a company based at Sheffield Theatres. With extensive awards under her belt, Mojisola began her career at York Theatre Royal and has worked on numerous plays, including Sheffield's well-loved production Far Gone and Shadows in Different Shades. Mojisola is passionate about working with those underrepresented in the arts and works to raise awareness of African culture in the arts – celebrating its culture, language, and traditions.

This June, Mojisola launched the Creative Hub, an online platform in partnership with Sheffield Theatres, bringing together leading African artists to share their knowledge and experience through various courses, workshops, and events. The National Lottery funds the project through Arts Council England, and it's spread across six months through to December 2020. I attended the launch of the Creative Hub and it was such a delight to see the mass of Black faces on the screen talking about who they were and what they have done in the arts – inspiring present and future artists, and highlighting that the talent of Black people is undeniable and spreads across continents.

I spoke to Mojisola to find out more about her work and living in Sheffield as a newcomer to the city.

What are you currently working on?
I just finished a one-week virtual rehearsal for Utopia Theatre's next production, Here's What She Said To Me, a play based around my life story, written by Oladipo Agboluaje. In the play, the audience meets Agbeke, Omotola, and Aramide, three generations of proud Nigerian women connecting across two continents, time and space. Together they share their struggles, their joys, tragedies, and broken dreams to find healing in the present.

Here's What She Said to Me combines drama with music, poetry and movement to tell a moving story of daughters and mothers in the world of migrations and shifting identities, braving life with undying hope, optimism and resilience. I'm so excited about this new piece of theatre. I believe it's going to be great!

This production has multiple meanings for us and the theatre world today. Not only is it an opening of a new piece of African theatre work – but it is also a trailblazer of Sheffield Theatres' Together Season. It represents a theatre vanguard lighting the way for the theatre industry in these difficult times of the global pandemic.

What inspires you?
More than anything else, I want to make the most of my life as life is too short, and you only get one crack at it. In a way, that is my ultimate life inspiration. It's the reason I wake up every morning looking for ways to make a difference in other people's lives. It's why I'm working hours on end trying to grow my theatre company – hearing how some of the work that we do impacts the lives of others is invigorating. Just the opportunity to wake up each morning is treasured, and I guess my other inspiration in life is related to fear. I'm scared of being on my deathbed one day and not leaving a legacy of my existence here on earth. Life is one enormous opportunity; the thought of squandering it is what inspires me to do everything I do.

What do you love about Sheffield?
I've lived in Sheffield for about two years now but commuted from Leeds to Sheffield to work for a further two. I feel a sense of serenity in Sheffield. I love running, and there are just so many beautiful places to see. People are friendly here in Sheffield, and it is straightforward to break into the community and form strong alliances. Everyone tries their hardest to help you. People are accommodating and open-minded. The artistic community is strong, and there is a lot to inspire you, even just walking around the city centre. Overall, I find Sheffield to be one of the most pleasant cities to live in the UK: work is walkable, the cost of living is low. For an artist, you couldn't ask for more.

What would you change about the city?
The transport system needs to be improved to allow the city to benefit from its central location. There is no airport, and even somewhere as close by as Leeds could take over an hour on the train.

Here's What She Said To Me will be previewing on 30–31 October at the Crucible theatre and will run until 14 November 2020. All evening performances start at 7.30 pm, while there'll be matinees at 2:30pm on Thursdays.

Those at risk or unable to attend the live shows can join via digital means – with the live broadcast by Pilot Theatre available on 3 November, including a BSL interpreter, and the recording from there available on via Youtube until 14 December.

Find out more about Here's What She Said To Me and book your tickets for the live show or stream.

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