Fresh off the Strictly Balti tour, we catch up with Saikat to talk about why #CultureMatters to him
Saikat Ahamed is a Travelling Light regular and favourite face amongst our audiences. Saikat has just finished the national tour of his one man show Strictly Balti with Travelling Light, so as part of our #CultureMatters stories we caught up with him to talk about his experiences with Travelling Light.
Hi Saikat – let’s start with, what was your first experience of Travelling Light?
I first came across Travelling Light when I was in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, a co-production between TFT and Travelling Light. It was my first show in Bristol after I moved to the city in 2009 and so was instrumental in making Bristol properly feel like home. Travelling Light will always be tied up with those early feelings of settling into a new city.
What part has Travelling Light played in your career?
Travelling Light has played a major role in my recent career, partly because of the number of times I have been part of their productions, Ali Baba, Cinderella, Sinbad, 101 Dalmatians but most recently through their commissioning and producing of Strictly Balti. For a while, I have felt like part of the extended TL family but their faith in the show and me has been perhaps the single most important decision in my recent career. It has made the relationship between myself, as an individual artist, and Travelling Light much much closer.
Let’s talk about your most recent project with Travelling Light: Strictly Balti. You’ve just finished a national tour, visiting venues and schools across the country, and before that, Edinburgh Fringe – what was your experience of this very personal show like?
Touring Strictly Balti has been the absolute professional joy of my life. After years of performing other people’s scripted stories, followed by devising shows, writing my own work was a natural progression. Strictly Balti is exceptionally personal (one of the reviews mentioned that it had an air of a confessional) so touring the show has felt less like presenting a show and more like inviting people right into my psyche. Because of this, touring the work was pretty emotionally exposing however the response from audiences has been so overwhelmingly positive that it has all been worthwhile. Also, touring a solo piece of work can be incredibly isolating as I found out with my first solo show, The Tiger and the Moustache. Because Strictly Balti was supported by Travelling Light, I never felt alone. Before the tour, I was surrounded by a wonderful team and then during the tour support was always just a phone call away.
Travelling Light commissioned and supported this piece, how has that affected your professional development?
The effect of Travelling Light commissioning and producing Strictly Balti on my professional development is still being felt. Aside from the enormous boost in confidence the commission gave me as a writer, it also allowed me to experience my first Edinburgh Festival and make numerous connections within the industry. Strictly Balti has opened (and is still opening) various doors and for that, I have Travelling Light to thank. In an industry where self-belief is constantly shaky, having a company such as Travelling Light put their faith in you is both humbling and empowering!
In your time with Travelling Light you’ve played Lucky in 101 Dalmatians, the Stepbrother in Cinderella: A Fairytale, Ali Baba and even yourself (to name a few)! Do you have a favourite character or favourite Travelling Light memory?
I have been lucky enough to play lots of wonderful parts in Travelling Light shows, I particularly enjoyed my ridiculously silly thief in Ali Baba. However, my favourite part is ‘my Dad’ in Strictly Balti. I guess because I have such a strong sense of the character (I grew up with him), I feel the inner life of the character is strong and vibrant. Playing my Dad is ‘no effort’.
We’re looking at the Arts Council campaign, #CultureMatters, what does that mean to you?
#CultureMatters is a central belief for me, it fuels what I do and who I am. I think aside from the enjoyment that cultural activities give, both to audiences and participants, there is a deeper, more profound aspect to culture. I believe that through watching a play or reading a book or looking at a painting we get a better understanding of who we are as people, what we are capable of, both good and bad and ultimately culture can provide a blueprint as to ‘how to live better’. Culture is a diet of vitamins and minerals for your ‘soul’ and feeding on it keeps us healthy and alive.
For more information on the Arts Council #CultureMatters campaign, click here.