Thanks to support from Away to Africa, we launched our second micro grant giveaway of $500 USD. In September, we opened applications to Caribbean & African women around the world whose businesses or projects are positively impacting culture + community. Here’s a profile of the woman we’ve selected as our second micro grant recipient. Read about her work and how she’s making a positive impact on her community.
We are happy to announce the recipient of our second micro grant, Emelia Pinamang Asiedu!
Emelia leads a theater company in Accra, Ghana called Accra Theatre Workshop (ATW).
Founded in 2013, ATW uses theater to tell Ghanaian stories in new and interesting ways. ATW serves as a platform to showcase Ghanaian artists, while collaborating with international arts organizations to exhibit Ghanaian content to a wider audience. ATW also offers services that include theater production, training and workshops for both adults and children.
In this interview with Emelia, we learn more about her and the amazing work she’s doing at ATW.
How did you get into theater, and why did you start ATW?
Emelia: I have always loved the arts and would always join the drama club or cultural dancing club for my extra-curricular activities in school. It wasn’t until college where there was the opportunity to major in theater that the possibility of pursuing the arts as a career became real to me. I graduated with a BA in Theatre from Pomona College (USA). ATW started as a result of not having many avenues to work in the arts in Ghana after my undergraduate education, and the desire to be in control of the kind of artistic work I was involved in. I subsequently pursued an MFA in Acting from the University of Iowa, because I wanted to hone my craft and learn techniques that would help me achieve longevity in my career.
What is a challenge you faced along your journey, and how did you overcome it?
Emelia: I am still overcoming this challenge, and that is finding ways to make a theater company sustainable in Ghana. Collaboration with various artists and organizations has been one major way of overcoming this challenge. Additionally, commissions, grants, sponsorships and audience patronage have been beneficial in enabling us to continue doing the work we love.
How does ATW positively impact culture + community?
Emelia: By telling Ghanaian stories through theatrical forms, we garner national and cultural pride in an era where aspects of our history are being forgotten. Rote learning in many schools has shown that students study just to pass exams and forget the material afterwards. By enlivening Ghanaian culture and traditions through theater, viewers engage with the information deeply and make lasting connections. This project specifically serves as an avenue for preserving oral folktale traditions while celebrating contemporary Ghanaian authors through the use of digital media. Early engagement will enable children to grow up appreciating their own culture and local offerings in art and literature among others. Increased patronage will enable writers and artists to continue producing work and grow Ghana’s artistic landscape. This will also help to gain more interest in Ghanaian stories for cultural export and international exposure.
Do you think your African upbringing has impacted your work?
Emelia: My parents are both Ghanaian, and I was born and raised in Ghana. My father is from Bekwai in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, and my mother is from Peki in the Volta Region of Ghana.
My African upbringing has shaped my form of expression. I seek to tell stories that specifically represent me and where I am from because I did not see much of that representation growing up. This lack of representation was evident in my American college where people would ask questions such as how I speak English so well and whether we live in trees. In my work, I aim to dispel those negative stereotypes and present a more dynamic picture of Africa. For instance, in a recent international children’s storybook I co-produced, it was important for me to show an accurate and balanced portrayal of a young Ghanaian girl in a loving, thriving home environment like the one I grew up in. This kind of ambassadorship and deep pride for my African roots is at the core of my work and daily interactions.
What is your vision for the future of ATW?
Emelia: My dream for ATW is to become a platform for arts education and for Ghanaian theater with high production value to be showcased on international stages.
How will you use this micro grant?
Emelia: This grant will be used to complete post-production on a children’s television series. The show will showcase Ghanaian culture through books that were written by Ghanaian authors, and will feature storytelling traditions through stories like the folktales of “Ananse” the spider. The aim of the series is to get children excited about reading to help improve child literacy in Ghana and beyond. The series has been filmed and is now at the post-production stage. This requires editing, motion graphics and sound design. It is important to execute this final section to the highest of standards to attract viewership and compete with international children’s programming.
Are you seeking to make business connections with like-minded women around the world?
Emelia: Yes. I am interested in learning about how to present African art/theater to an international audience, as well as learning about avenues of business support and sustainable growth for an arts organization like Accra Theatre Workshop. I am also interested in artistic collaborations across different fields.
If there’s a piece of advice you’d give other African women who are pursuing their dreams, what would that be?
Emelia: Gain as much knowledge in your field as you can, be it through further education, hands on experience, or both! Become an expert and keep working, it will pay off.