Q&A: Munotida Chinyanga, Director

Munotida Chinyanga is a director and sound designer based in London. This year she is part of the ArtsLab: Catalyst residency as a young director, working on plays by Nina Berry and Pasha Tong.

How did you get into directing?

This is actually my favourite party story! For a long time I wanted to be a cardiologist, for several reasons – one of them being I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to ‘save lives’ and the function of the heart was truly fascinating. Also growing up, and having both of my parents die fairly early in their lives, meant a lot of growing up and maturing as well as the expected; grief and pain and anger, I thought it was unfair and had this idea that if I became a doctor I could save other parents, so that their children wouldn’t have to feel the way I did.

But around the age of 16 that all changed unexpectedly. There had been a mix up with my chosen A Levels – one of my chosen subjects was supposed to be Further Maths but by some error, I was timetabled into Drama and Theatre Studies. I remember my form tutor telling me that I would just need to attend the first lesson and explain the mix up to the Drama teacher but I couldn’t find the words, days passed and weeks then months and all of a sudden nothing else seemed to matter. It was as if my whole existence revolved around theatre.

Now here’s where directing comes into the scene – there were two classes for my years intake for Drama and Theatre Studies, after attending my class, obsessively, I would also attend the class after even though it was repeating the same learning material. My tutor invited me to assist her in facilitating creation of work of those in my year and the year below. I enjoyed organising and choreographing and playing with imagery as well as form which turns out to be the responsibilities of a Director. I then went to Middlesex University to study Theatre Arts, specialising in Directing and Sound Design.

Who inspires you?

In terms of drive and commitment, personal motivation, the reason why I push myself to the extremes, it has to be my eldest sister Tatenda. She is an incredibly powerful being, I am jealous of her ability to exercise extreme patience whilst enduring the weight of the world crushing her to her knees. She’s a problem solver but she has also taught me that sometimes problems can solve themselves.“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there…”

Artistically, my inspiration ranges and changes by the hour, so I am just going to throw some names/concepts that mean something to me at this moment. WWE (the world of professional wrestling), I’m a third generation wrestling fan. Max Richter, Damien Rice, K-POP (their visual and cinematography is of another mastery), Karl Lagerfield (his runway staging/ stage designs), Nonotak, Gabriel Prokofiev, Jen Mann, the world of advertisement, Alan Yau, silences, spaces, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra (his live monologues between songs), perspex (the material), charcoal, earth (as in soil), Grime, Trap, Avenged Sevenfold, Gordon Ramsey, Kendrick Lamar, the concept of time, London underground, airport fashion, sparkling water… Somewhere, somehow all of the above is critical to my practice as a Director.

Are there things you don’t like about the theatre industry?

Of course, there are things I dislike and we need to change sooner rather than later like…How elitist it is: this is changing, but too slowly – how long will it take? How hard it is for someone like me to put on a show unless it’s about a black boys in hoodies with knifes and girls in tracksuits on a council estate. How hard it is to get into the industry itself especially if you did not study at a Drama School. Women in theatre. Black women in theatre. Lack of opportunities for emerging designers. How hard it is to just be a theatre maker/ performer without having to work 37 other jobs in order to survive. Hopefully these aren’t just conversations that need to be had but actions that need to be taken.

What are your favourite things about being a director?

I get to witness the sciences and miracles of theatre-making! There is something about being in a room that is highly charged with creative energy and what that does to you spiritually and the relationships in the room. Theatre creates families, and just like in a family, you argue and there are tensions, not everyone agrees but in the end we have to come together. I get to work with so many different people and as a director I am somehow the one facilitating this collaboration.

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