Ameena Hamid’s reputation precedes her: at just 20 years old, she is already the director and creative producer of her own theatrical production company. I first heard of her at the beginning of last year and it was a full term before we became properly acquainted. She and I were destined to meet, both being active members of LSE’s Drama Society, I had decided that she would probably be too busy and important to concern herself much with being social at uni. I thought Ameena would be too cool for me.
Of course, I wouldn’t have written that if it were true. Even with her mind-bogglingly full schedule, Ameena seems to always have time for her friends — and is rarely one to miss a drama Spoons trip. This came as a surprise even to her: “It’s really funny, because I came down to uni thinking, ‘I’m just gonna get my degree and I’m gonna go, just here for the degree… it’s not going to be a normal uni experience, I probably won’t make a lot of friends.’ And that was just not true. At all.”
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself, so let’s backtrack. Ameena is a second-year social anthropology student, a Black woman who comes from a Muslim family, she was born with one hand, and is a Gemini. Mind you, in our two-hour chat, we only arrived at her degree in the last 20 minutes. It would be safe to say that uni is a secondary or even tertiary part of her bio. The headline is Ameena Hamid Productions, the production company she started sort of by accident during her gap year. (Check out the video on our Instagram to hear her talk about how she got to where she is)
She mainly focuses on new work, she said, “I think there’s a lot of people who do Shakespeare really well, and I don’t need to add to that discussion. So yes, I work with new work, particularly with underrepresented voices. Mainly because that’s who I am.”
In my opinion, one that Ameena shares, producers are vastly underappreciated. “I mean, you’re the driving force behind the big practicalities of getting a show from page to stage. If it wasn’t for you … nothing would happen. But at the same time, nobody seems to notice. ”
Theatre producers are not in the spotlight as much as actors or directors are, making their roles hard to define, according to Ameena. “Nobody knows [what a producer is]… It’s kind of an everything job.” While there’s a list of things that she will usually do, such as budgets and invoices, Ameena’s role varies widely depending on the demands of the show at hand and the people involved. “My favourite shows are the ones where I get to do a lot of things because I get a bit bored, just kind of paying everyone’s invoices. And yeah, people say that the higher up you go, the less you do.” She doesn’t see herself becoming that person.
Through her production company, Ameena strives to “[make] sure that backstage is just as diverse as onstage is.” It’s work she does for everyone, but especially for her younger self, “so that she could say, ‘That person looks like me, and that story is like mine, or flicking through a program and seeing that that name is a Muslim name.’” I get it. I remember going through programmes desperately hoping that someone like me had made it. Ameena isn’t alone in this goal, but there have to be some “trailblazers… there have to be people who want to be the first person to do that, and I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m cocky, but I’m like, yeah, that’s me. I want to do that.”
Earlier this summer, Ameena turned to Instagram to express something about the reality of being a creative woman of colour: the felt need to prove that you are more than the last project you did. The ideal is to do work that you want to do, that is not necessarily “about being Black, or about being one handed, or about being a woman, I just want to do work that’s about life.” She reminisced about going to the theatre when she was younger to watch musicals and she would connect to the characters, no matter who they were because of the “human story behind it.” “There’s this ridiculous idea that diverse theatre can’t be commercial. And it’s just wrong, I know that it’s wrong. Because it’s not about that, it’s about people relating to the story.”
Ameena’s very existence is political, she doesn’t mind it: “when you grow up in it, you kind of have to be.” At the same time, she doesn’t want political statements at the centre of every show. “I am a producer to tell stories… Whether I am a Black woman or not, it doesn’t affect why I do something. Maybe that sounds super naive: I’m still an activist, I still want to increase diversity in theatre. But I don’t want all of my work to be used as the voice for all Black people, to be honest, the voice for all people of colour, because that happens all the time.”
The summer’s racial justice protests stirred many emotions in Ameena, as they have in all of us. Ameen told me there was a level of “because you’re a Black woman” she felt she had to speak about what’s happening all the time. It comes back to the difficulty of taking time away from a political movement that concerns “your right to be”. She went on:
I can’t watch the video of George Floyd, I can’t. And it was everywhere. It was on every social media platform, on everything. I have my own problems with the police and personal reasons that I just can’t engage with it. It’s too hard for me. And one of the things that is really difficult to do as a Black person in times like this is to let go. I don’t have to be the person fighting the fight, somebody else can. There are times where I absolutely do want to be that person… I do want to be that person pushing to make that next step. But there are some fights I don’t have the energy for because it’s so emotionally draining. And it’s so easy, I think, to go ‘We’ll just let the Black people speak on Black Lives Matter.’ But there’s an emotional attachment that isn’t there for some other people. So when you’re having that discussion, it’s a lot easier for some people to have that conversation.
Towards the end of our chat, I switched the conversation over to the struggle and opportunities of doing art, particularly the performing arts, in the middle of a pandemic. In March, many people collectively switched to survival mode and the arts weren’t a clear priority, which makes sense. It didn’t stop many of us from missing the theatre desperately. Thankfully, creative people find creative solutions, and the industry is slowly opening up at all levels. Although Ameena had planned for a fairly quiet summer, things didn’t turn out that way.
COVID-19 is no match for her. Ameena has been working on projects all summer, kicking off with her desire to help 2020 drama graduates whose final showcases had been cancelled, through her 2020 Graduate Spotlight initiative. She teamed up with some current and graduated LSE Drama Society members to work on the podcast play Right Ho, Jeeves!, written by the very talented LSE alum Delmar Terblanche. She’s also started a podcast to give a platform for international womxn writers and directors called Fizzy Sherbert. Her work extends beyond audio: she’s producing a number of exciting real life projects, most of which are off the record. Stay tuned on her website: https://www.ameenahamidproductions.co.uk/, and her social media: @ameenahamidproductions on Instagram and @ahamidprods on Twitter. One project we can discuss is her latest play, Eating Myself, due to hit the Golden Goose stage in November. Use the offer code PERU10 for a discount!
Speaking to Ameena felt like speaking to Superwoman: she’s everywhere, all the time. She works her dream job, loves her degree, has a social life, and to top it all off, somehow still manages to get seven or eight hours of zzz’s a night. It’s hard to believe she’s real. But she is, and oh so inspiring. Ameena made the system, the cycle, the list of things you feel like you have to do, work for her. She makes me feel like I can too.
Photography by Angie Abdalla