Tatenda Shamiso On Wanting To Make People Laugh

No I.D is a show about a Black trans immigrant’s transition and their journey to getting legal recognition in the UK. The stage is piled high with boxes, each box containing parts of his life and identity. As we move through the play he unpacks these boxes and guides us through his transition.  It opens with Tatenda Shamiso on stage trying to get through to a helpline to get assistance with updating his legal documents.  But it is a fruitless attempt as when he finally gets through to someone they explain they don’t exist, which makes the audience burst into laughter. 

‘I wanted to make a show to make people laugh’ says Tatenda and the show does just that. 

The play is hilarious in parts which contrasts with the sometimes shocking, painful story Tatenda shares. But laughter was the key to Tatenda getting through his transition and why he included so much comedy in the show. ‘I think that the key to getting through some of the harder bits of the journey  was having a sense of humour about it’ Tatenda explains. People from marginalised communities will recognise trying to find joy, even in the hardest of times. Tatenda didn’t really want to do ‘a trauma show’ about how hard it is because that’s all ‘you ever hear about’.

No I.D is a solo show but it heavily features Tatenda’s family and friends who help paint the beautiful picture of his transition. Particularly in a section of the play where Tatenda talks about who he was before he transitioned. Tatenda found it ‘really uncomfortable and really emotionally jarring’ to write and so turned to his family and friends who could help tell that part of the story. 

‘I didn’t know how to talk about her. I found it just an absolute nightmare talking about myself’ he explains ‘It feels like I needed to, but I don’t know how to talk about her. So instead his family and friends’ voices are cut with video and images of Tatenda pre-transition, painting a picture of who he was.  

Photographer: Marc Brenner

The show is very personal because of this and might have made some uncomfortable to share but for Tatenda the positives outweigh the negatives. Tatenda is inspired by artists like Travis Alabanza and Tabby Lamb whose work explores transness in such an open way and wanted his work to do the same. ‘Their work was such a massive inspiration to me’ he explains ‘and I was also thinking about what a difference in my life those pieces made’. So Tatenda felt brave enough to be open with his journey. 

A big part of the play looks at Tatenda’s relationship to his voice. He describes in detail how one of his biggest fears was losing his voice and he felt a need to document it. ‘I think half of my personality was my voice when I was a girl’ Tatenda explains ‘I used songwriting as a journal and so the idea of not having access to my voice or like having a voice that didn’t sound good or having a voice I didn’t feel comfortable presenting to the world was really scary for me because I didn’t know, like, what my personality was.’ 

His relationship to his voice is ever changing but is in a much better place now. A beautiful part of the show features Tatenda singing with himself before his transition. ‘I feel like I can use my voice for things again and I’m learning like what genres my voice likes to sing now’ he explains ‘It sounds different, it works differently, and I’m growing alongside it now. I feel like it’s caught up and now we get to work together again.’ 

Tatenda hopes his play creates a space where cis people experience joy with trans people.

He hopes to ‘give people space to have joy’ because there is so much room for joy when we talk about gender diversity. Tatenda wants to make ‘sure that everybody feels that they’ve got access to trans joy because it doesn’t have to be a thing that’s only for trans people to experience and only for trans people to talk about’ 

And for trans people, Tatenda hopes that it can be representation that ‘isn’t just based on trauma’ because transitioning is ‘chaos, but it can be hilarious.’

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