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

Mojisola Kareem-Elufowoju

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

Through projects in theatres, online and in community spaces, Mojisola constantly inspires, engages and empowers present and future artists, highlighting that the talent of Black people is undeniable and spreads across continents.

I spoke to Mojisola to find out more about her work at Utopia Theatre and being part of the creative community in Sheffield.

What are you currently working on?
Utopia Theatre launched its Youth Academy in February 2023, which runs performing arts classes and workshops for 9- to 19-year-olds alongside a programme of mentoring and training. It’s the first of its kind in Sheffield, breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for young people of African and Caribbean descent, as well as those from other minority groups.

Our community performance All Our Goals kickstarted the year for us at the Crucible. It told the story of Emma Clarke, thought to be Britain’s first black female footballer, brought to life by Sheffield women of today, many of whom had not been on stage before.

We’re preparing to stage a new theatrical retelling of the storybook of Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke in August 2023 at the Playhouse, as well as in communities and schools across South Yorkshire. This is a piece of theatre uniting the best of African and western live performance practices, where audiences are enveloped and engaged in the storytelling at every point. It’ll be a celebration of culture, heritage and the diverse makeup of modern families, encouraging young children (and their grown-ups too!) to recognise the beauty in difference, the connection in the things that we share and to find magic and joy in the world every day.

All Our Goals. Photo by Dean Stead

What inspires you?
Everything we do at Utopia Theatre is about utilising African theatre and storytelling to widen participation and create inclusive opportunities for all. We purposefully highlight important themes to both entertain and inform audiences, providing a voice and platform for people who may otherwise not get the opportunity.

I’m inspired by the fact that involvement in theatre can have such a positive influence on lives. It’s a way of raising aspirations through connectivity and expression in a fun and supportive environment. Participation in arts and culture can open so many doors, both personally and professionally, and that’s why we put time and energy into taking performances into communities. Organising a programme of events outside of a city centre, where a formal theatre can feel a barrier for some people, is so important to me.

Linking theatre and arts to more formally recognised support programmes is also a central part of my vision for Utopia Theatre. Some of the most disengaged community members have found their feet after being on one of our mentoring and training programmes. I live and breathe theatre, it’s my first love, and so any way in which this powerful mechanism can ‘do good’ is something we’ll always strive for.

What do you love about Sheffield?
It’s fantastic being able to work and live in Sheffield, a city with such close proximity to nature and a real sense of community. The artistic community is supportive and close knit too, and being here makes me feel part of something much bigger. People are friendly, with a great sense of humour.

Utopia Theatre has been a resident theatre company of the Crucible for several years. It’s a privilege to be part of such a well respected institution and we love being part of this iconic Sheffield cultural space. We’ve been working in partnership to make theatre much more inclusive.

We have an exciting year ahead, thanks to gaining our NPO (Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation) status. We’ll be expanding our team – we’re on the lookout for fabulous creatives with a passion for our city and our vision. Getting Utopia Theatre to the stage it is now wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible backing of Sheffield’s fantastic community and I’d like to say thanks for their overwhelming support. I can’t wait to welcome even more people to the Utopia Theatre family!

Visit the Utopia Theatre website to find out more about its Youth Academy, current projects, and upcoming vacancies.

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