(Photography by Alfred Williams)
It was October 2012, I had spent numerous after school sessions with my English teacher, Ms Clarke, helping me write my personal statement and answer the four questions to the best of my ability. Ms Clarke was the first person that knew I was applying to BRIT. I didn’t want to tell anyone else, I thought it was best to tell one person than tell the entire school. In the application form, it said to write your application by hand, I decided this was not a good idea, at that age my handwriting was awful and I knew whilst writing it, my hands would shake because I was so nervous about the idea that I was actually applying to BRIT. I cheekily asked Ms Clarke if she could write it for me and she kindly did. She went above and beyond for me. She finished writing the application form and she gazed at me with pride and astonishment… “STAMP! You need a stamp.” She went into her cupboard where she had a collection of 1st Class stamps. I don’t know why she had a collection of 1st Class stamps and I didn’t really want to ask why I was just glad I didn’t have to spend my money on buying one. I said thank you, left the class, rushed down the stairs, paused and I decided to go back and say thank you again, this wasn’t any kind of thank you, this was one of the most honest and sincere thank you I had said in my life at that age. I really meant it.
I sent off the application form and felt a huge relief for about 10 minutes and then the anxiety kicked in and then the nerves, and the suspense of them not getting back to me ASAP killed me. Literally killed me. Every day after school I would rush home hoping the letter would be there and weeks passed by I would still be waiting, then finally that letter came. My mum gave it to me and I stood there with it like Charlie from the chocolate factory holding the chocolate bar hoping the golden ticket would be inside. My hands were shaking, my eyes were watering and wondering as I was searching for that one word, “Congratulations” but it wasn’t there, my golden ticket was there. Tears were now creeping down and I felt a real low. I’d spend every day thinking they must have got the wrong Steven Kavuma and made a huge mistake. I wouldn’t accept it. I wouldn’t accept this rejection because I didn’t want to.
I told Ms Clarke and she was just as sad as me but told me if this is what I really wanted to do then I must find other ways of doing it. I then applied for a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Performing Arts at City and Islington College. I did my audition in front of a Welsh lady with red hair called Caroline Griffiths, she told me I was a strong performer with great stage presence and offered me a place to study at City and Islington College. Happiness. Joy. Excitement. Relief. Someone believed in me.
I remember when St Mary’s University rejected me…
(St Mary's University, Twickenham)
It was December 2014, I decided that I didn’t want to be an actor anymore. The first reason was that I wasn’t going to make a lot of money from it but the other reason was that I had looked at the chain of power in theatre and the actor was at the bottom, this didn’t make sense to me but actors were at the bottom of this chain of power and at that age my radicalness was just beginning. I knew if I wanted to make change, I had to be near the power and the power was either writing or directing. I wanted to write and direct stories that had meaning, stories that could change or provoke something and most importantly, I wanted to write and direct stories where “my people” whoever they are, could see themselves reflected in those stories. My tutor, Tim had presented me with this course called Applied Theatre, he said I would be very interested in this and so I was. I did a lot of research to what this applied theatre thingamajig was all about (Tbh I still have no clue what it really is). I applied to the University of East London, St Mary’s University and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I applied to Central knowing that I wasn’t going to get in and my only chances were the University of East London or St Mary’s University, I really liked St Mary’s. It was different, it had this cool vibe about it and there was a church on campus, I thought that was fucking cool!
I did my interview in one of the lecturer's offices. We chatted about race, South Africa, theatre and community… Then he said “I want you to come here” and I replied, “I want me to come here too!” I left the university happy and excited. Really excited. I would go back to college walking around like the animated character Arthur. I was so fucking happy. Days would pass and I would still be walking around college like Arthur. I remember one Wednesday afternoon, I was in class and my phone vibrated and I got the email from UCAS saying something had changed, I was ready and so calm, I opened the email so casually, clicked on the UCAS link and only to find out that St Mary’s are not offering me a place to study there. My heart dropped. My eyes were watering but I was in college, in class and I couldn’t really react. I decided to just keep smiling and act casual but knowing me, my acting casual is not acting casual. Let’s just say I wasn’t walking around college like Arthur anymore…
I went home and told mum and dad and they were as shocked as I was, really fucking shocked, they couldn’t believe it. I told mum if St Mary’s rejected me then how the fuck is Central even going to offer me a place. I was sobbing around the house. Carrying my negativity everywhere I turned. Then finally my mum had enough of it and said “You don’t know yet. You haven’t had your interview yet. Do your research! Go speak to that Haringey Shed director and ask him about the course.” and so I did all the above. I did my group interview, thought it went alright and I just forgot about Central, it wasn’t on my radar anymore. At that age, I told myself never invest so much in things that are not guaranteed so I just forgot about Central and then I got the email from UCAS saying something had changed and I was calm but I was nervous at the same time. I clicked the link to read that Royal Central School of Speech and Drama had offered me a place to study their Drama, Applied theatre and Education: Writing for Performance course. What a fucking long title but nonetheless happiness. Joy. Excitement. Relief. Someone believed in me.
This week (3rd April - 8th April 2017) has been a weird one. For the first time, a good friend of mine sent a short play of hers for submission only to get rejected and I had been observing Central’s BA (Hons) Acting auditions and sat through a lot of hopeful and talented young actors do their songs and speeches. The first audition I was observing was BA (Hons) Musical Theatre, all the applicants walked in the room and I thought “Wonderful, they’re all white! Yay, this should be fun!” They sat down in a line and one by one were doing their song and speech, everything was going so well, until this girl in the corner started coughing, the panel and I thought nothing more of it at the time and we just carried on, then she coughed again and again and again, until her face was red. The panel told her to drink water and she did, she stopped coughing for 5 minutes and then started coughing again. Then the panel asked her to go outside and let the other applicants carry on in peace and she went outside and started coughing louder than before and she was coughing non-stop. I decided to go outside and see what the problem was, I asked her “What’s wrong?” she replied with “Nothing, I’ve just got a bad cough”, I knew she was lying. We started talking, she told me about her life and what she’s doing and then she just broke down right in front of me, tears coming down and said “This is it. This is my only shot” to which I replied with “No. It’s not. It doesn’t start and end here. It really doesn't.”...
As I’m getting older I’m understanding rejection more and more and understanding that everything happens for a reason; sometimes, I do think to myself if I had been accepted to St Mary’s I wouldn't have done the things I’m now doing at Central and if BRIT accepted me then my career would be different. Taking that advice Ms Clarke gave me, I’ve learnt to find "alternatives" of getting where I want to be, to accept it, to keep going and to keep growing. Also, I’ve realised it’s not that you’re not right for them, sometimes, it’s they’re not right for you… Mum's favourite film is Pretty Woman (I've probably watched it 500 times with her) and I remember this scene where Julia Roberts’ character (Vivian) was shopping around to find new clothes and one shop rejected her because of the way she spoke, how she dressed and how she presented herself and I remember the shop owners telling her “You’re obviously in the wrong place, please leave.” and she went to another shop where they accepted her for who she was. The next day in the film she came back to the shop that rejected her all nicely dressed up with her big bags of shopping and confronted the shop owners and said “I was in here yesterday, you wouldn't wait on me... Big mistake. Big. Huge.”