Meet Tatenda Shamiso: the young actor amplifying trans voices on stage

 (ES magazine)
(ES magazine)

Tatenda Shamiso’s 24th birthday weekend ended emotionally on Sunday as the actor took home the award for Emerging Talent at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards for his play, No ID, at the Royal Court.

The accolade is not only an achievement for him personally but for what it represents. ‘Not just from the perspective of a trans person, as a person of colour, as a person who is new to this country, everything that I am, is not something that is necessarily anticipated in this industry,’ he told me, prior to finding out he’d won. ‘To have been nominated is already the biggest blessing, to win would be proof that my voice, and voices like mine, are worth hearing. It would be a wonderful opportunity for me to prove to my community that our voices are valued. And for this industry to prove that our voices are valued.’

A brave and deeply personal play, No ID is based on Shamiso’s own experience as a Black transgender immigrant living in the UK. Raised in a small, suburban town in California before moving to Switzerland and eventually to London to study theatre at Goldsmiths, Shamiso has spent a large part of his life on the road — but found his true path at university. ‘Goldsmiths was the real beacon of light in my journey. I discovered writing and directing and found my way back to stage,’ he says, having first found theatre as a child at summer camps in the US.

No ID has been cooking, evolving and gaining critical acclaim for over a year. In its earliest iteration, it was a show intended ‘for an audience of young, broke, queer people who’d had a couple of pints,’ says Shamiso, but soon reached larger, broader audiences. After making its debut at Peckham Fringe in 2022, it was picked up by Vault Festival earlier this year, and then the Royal Court. ‘It felt like we’d be grabbed by the scruff of our necks and thrown into Sloane Square. It was a different experience presenting this story to that audience.’

The story was born from Shamiso’s frustration with the UK’s long and arduous healthcare system for trans people. ‘I was filling out a tonne of paperwork and sitting on a hold line for bureaucratic systems, whether it was the London Transgender Clinic or my GP, just trying to get my transition formalised medically and on paper,’ he says. ‘I was losing my mind, and in that time I was trying to find as much joy in the process as I could. I would make up dance moves to the hold music. I needed to add an element of whimsy to this hostile experience.’

There’s nothing civilised or human about the way that trans people are being treated in this country

This experience, unfortunately, is something trans people in this country have to face on a regular basis. ‘The United Kingdom is a country that likes to pride itself as being the height of civilisation, but there’s nothing civilised or human about the way that trans people are being treated in this country,’ says Shamiso, ‘I refused to be scared but I’m certainly disappointed.’

He sees hope in the new wave of trans and non-binary actors on our screens. The likes of Yasmin Finney, Emma D’Arcy and Bella Ramsey provide ‘a beautiful counteract to the rise in transphobia and hate crimes we’ve seen,’ says Shamiso, who has become a part of this wave himself. Looking to the future, he doesn’t have one goal in mind, but moves with a multi-hyphenate mind frame: ‘If there’s any career I would like to emulate I would be a tiny, trans Donald Glover. However that manifests itself I guess we’ll see.’