Tonight I’m very excited, because something I have been thinking about and planning in my little brain for months is about to finally launch into the big wide world. Today I bring to you the first part in my new series called She Rocks, a celebration of every day women doing extraordinary things in the modern world. For a while now I have felt that What She Did could be so much more than just a place for beauty and so after months of racking my brain, I am really excited to share with you the first part of my new series.
This week I’m talking to Laila Woozer, a 27 year old writer and musician based in London. Blogging at tapeparade Laila documents her adventures and tries to make sense of the world one post at a time. Today I’m talking to her about life and navigating work in musical theatre as a female in the modern world.
So Laila, first of all before we get into the nitty gritty, I suppose we should have an introduction. Give us a glimpse into who you are and what you do?
Hello! I’m a musician and performer based in North London. My career has been very varied- I’ve written for theatre and film, performed in shows, and co-ordinated events. Recently I’ve been focusing on trying to write more and seeking out performance opportunities that allow for more creative expression.
What first brought you into music and theatre?
I was about 5 years old when I started dance and music lessons at my local community centre and I think it just fostered a love of performance at a young age! I’ve continued to focus on both aspects during my career. A lot of my peers either went down a straight musical theatre route or a straight classical music route and I’ve always been kind of chipping away in the middle.Have you faced any struggles whilst following your passion?
Tonnes! It can be hard to make a living from either music or theatre and I’ve been lucky to always fall back on stuff like teaching and coaching. I also think both musical theatre and classical music can get a bit whitewashed. I’ve often been the only non-white person on stage in an otherwise white cast. I’ve also run my own groups and that was quite hard to be taken seriously as a woman and a leader – especially when I was in my early twenties. I won my first solo grant application when I was 21 and that helped me a lot in terms of giving a certain credibility to what I was trying to do.
What’s the most frustrating thing you find about being a woman in music?
I actually think a lot of other women aren’t aware of how much engendered patriarchal bullsh*t they face. I’ve met a lot of women who just refuse to acknowledge how male-dominated the industry is and that can be hard. Classical music has historically been a bit of a boys club and if you’re wasting valuable time and energy trying to convince people to take a female MD or composer seriously or something it can get exhausting. Also, there are still so many areas of the entertainment industry in which women have to be a very specific mould or you can’t do it. It’s still very tits, tan and teeth still in a lot of fields. I literally got told by an agency once that I couldn’t front anything because I was too fat (I’m a 10-12) and my hair was too dark. They wrote down “lose 2 stone and get highlights” on my feedback. And I was like f**k that, I’ll just start my own thing and front that instead! If you’re not a certain size, colour and shape that’s it. And if you’re over 30 and a woman, forget it.And the most liberating thing?
When you get to a place where you meet other women or you can choose to work with other women, it is SO gratifying. When I run my own projects I try to recruit other women of a similar age and focus on PoC. My dream is to get to the age of 40 and put on some kind of band revue with only WoC over 26 and just bloody SMASH IT. Like cast, creatives, crew. It’s often hard to find people though! I’m often doing shout outs amongst my colleagues and still ending up with mostly white male line-ups. It’s like come on girls! where are you? I’ve yet to meet another Desi female classical contemporary bassoonist but I’m sure she’s out there. The day I sit down with her for a coffee is going to be so glorious. Reeds and rotis, bring on the chats.What’s one thing you’d change about the world of music and theatre if you had the chance?
More roles for women over 30 and more explicit roles for WoC. I’m all for diverse casting but if there was musical theatre heroine who was specifically written as a Desi woman or something that provides a whole other source of representation and sends a message. In the music world I would love less white male groups, but it would literally close the industry down by about 80% if you removed them all!If you had the opportunity to go back to one moment within your career and tell yourself something, what would it be and why?
I’d go back to when I was just starting out and part of dozens of random projects. And I’d say… start promoting yourself more because everything is an opportunity. My “audience” now is a random mix of people I’ve met, blog readers, people who have seen me through music. When I was younger, unless I was doing a very Laila-specific project I didn’t think people were interested and I think I probably missed the opportunity for a lot of connections that way.
Before we go, tell us one interesting fact about yourself that not many people know?
I once spilled a drink over Jay-Z. Also, that one sentence was my entire Tinder bio for about two years. Two facts for the price of one!
And there you have it, part one of my She Rocks series. Who would you like to see me catch up with next?
Until Next Time