During the pandemic and lockdown, Tats Nyazika has been involved in a number of projects which has seen him film two commercials – Movember Peer Support (COVID-19) and Hands, Face, Space for the NHS – and he was part of Southwold via Zoom and A Black Story, both directed by Sabrina Richmond. Most recently, Tats played Greg in the filmed theatrical production of Romeo & Juliet which was screened online earlier this year. Tats’ first stage job after graduating was a workshop in 2019 of The Comedy of Errors and he’s also worked with National Film & TV School on short film Irreversible. Answering our questions, Tats talks about playing Greg in Romeo & Juliet, working on A Black Story and filming the Hands, Face, Space commercial for the NHS.
What was it like being cast as Greg in the recent filmed production of Romeo & Juliet?
I’ll never forget the way I called my older sister as soon as I found out! At the time I was out walking the dog, and I got the message from my agent, JBR, and I couldn’t believe it! Just seeing the description of the piece being “a filmed theatrical production” and to have the opportunity to be involved in something so unorthodox in the middle of a pandemic was a massive, was insane. Fast forward an audition and a recall later; I was just so, so grateful to have got the role and couldn’t wait to get started with rehearsals!
How did you find the experience working on the show and can you tell us what Greg was like to play?
It was completely different to anything I had ever done in my life. Rehearsals were suddenly a completely different experience. No touching, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks through the group read-through! I think it’s the first production I’ve ever done where we have never been together as a whole cast! Even despite all this though, it was so much fun. Our director, Nick Evans, is absolutely brilliant and Metcalfe Gordon Productions did an unbelievable job of making us appear like we were all together, even though we shot all our scenes by ourselves, with nothing but a green screen! My perception of Greg was that he just wanted to be like his idol, Tybalt. So I tried adding that sense of “wanting to prove yourself” and being always ready in the mood to fight, hence his attachment to the baseball bat.
Was there anything that drew you to the production and what was it like reading the script for the first time?
Immediately when I saw “filmed production” in the audition brief, alongside the fact that nothing like this had ever been done before, I knew this would be something special to be a part of. The script had not changed much when we got round to reading it, and I was already familiar with Romeo and Juliet. It was reading it through the lens of it being in today’s world that made it interesting. Our outfits and setting were both modernised, yet the script was still the original text, so merging the two I thought would be cool for the audience, watching what feels normal and familiar, but having to work out what was being said. Unless, of course, you are an avid Shakespeare fan!
What did you enjoy most about working with the company and your time playing Greg?
Working alongside Timmy Driscoll, my scene and dance partner, was awesome! He’s one of the most talented dancers I’ve ever seen, and working with him through our rehearsal process just made the experience even more enjoyable, I’ve definitely gained a friend for life there! It was also my first time working with a green screen, and it was amazing. Nick’s fantastic direction on set made it easy to smash the scenes out, even though we were filming by ourselves, and everyone on set always had a smile on their face. I feel so lucky to have been part of such a production alongside some of the most passionate and dedicated crew, and Greg will definitely live with me forever!
Can you tell us about A Black Story (directed by Sabrina Richmond) that you were cast as Moses in at the end of last year?
A Black Story was a very personal piece to me, probably the most that I’ve done to date. With an all-black cast of just six of us, it told the story of three families through three duologues. Moses was a father with a new-born daughter, in which the birth unfortunately took the life of his wife, who was welcoming his grandma into his home to see her for the first time in his life, after being abandoned by both his parents. Both of those themes surrounding Moses are themes that are very close to myself personally, so it was really quite emotional working with Sabrina and working out how to channel those thoughts and feelings into the character. Sabrina was absolutely fantastic and gave me some tasks which really helped unearth a few things about both myself and Moses. The fact we actually performed the piece on my birthday has got to be a sign that it was definitely meant to be, surely?! No, but in all seriousness, I’ll forever be so grateful to Sabrina for giving me the chance to be a part of a performance which was so much more than just that to me.
You previously worked with Sabrina Richmond playing Ryan in Southwold, can you say more about this?
My first experience of Zoom rehearsals and a Zoom performance! Wow, it feels like so much longer than seven months ago! Southwold was such a surreal experience, as it was the 2.0 Fest with Space Arts, but it was all done through Zoom! The audition process, the rehearsals; everything! I had previously done one other project through Zoom, but it wasn’t on the scale of a whole performance and I just remember being quite nervous on the day of the show, because I was thinking what if my internet goes, or what if my battery dies, even though the laptop was plugged in! Ryan was a challenging character to fully take on. A seventeen-year-old in juvie, forming a really powerful friendship with an elderly lady through the medium of Zoom calls. Ryan had a lot of rage inside him and combining that with the sense of naivety that comes from being quite young and inside, it wasn’t easy. But again, Sabrina has tasks to overcome any obstacles in rehearsals, and in the work we did in our one-to-one rehearsals, she managed to release a lot of the shackles that were holding me back!
In 2019, you were part of a workshop for The Comedy of Errors, what was this like to do?
It was interesting! This was my first stage job since graduating from St Mary’s, and I really wish we had got to develop more of the piece because rehearsals was one of the best weeks of my life. It was a cast of just three of us, and we had SO much fun just playing, with accents, with character swapping and scene changes on stage. Honestly, I really wish we had found a way to film our rehearsals because it was so much fun exploring just how much you can do with a Shakespeare piece.
You appeared in short film Irreversible with National Film & Television School, how was this?
Irreversible, oh man, this was my first job! I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of getting the news from J that I’d got it! I was scared, excited, nervous, but yet I felt I was ready. The two actors I did the piece with were both older and more experienced than me, and when I first got there, I realised maybe I wasn’t as ready as I thought. But Lizzie, my scene partner, and Marcus Chapman, the director, looked after me so well and helped giving me tips on my performance (where I was playing Lizzie’s friend from work who comes to help her out after she kills her abusive boyfriend out of self-defence) as well as always making sure I knew what I was doing!
How was it filming the Hands, Face, Space NHS commercial?
This was so surreal! To have managed to find myself being a part of the fight against the virus, and ensuring all nans are being protected, it was unbelievable. It was a few hours of filming, as well as shots for the bus stops and newspapers. Seeing my face on a billboard in London on the motorway as you’re driving in, was one of the craziest experiences of my life. I’m so thankful for that opportunity, and even now I sometimes pinch myself like, was that really real?
What was the experience like filming your first commercial, Movember Peer Support (COVID-19)?
This was right in the beginning of the first lockdown, in the beginning of April, and I was real appreciative that I’d managed to land a job, despite the pandemic. Filming it through Zoom in other sides of the country felt a bit mad, but it ended up working so well. The message of the commercial is really powerful too and to be a part of something that advocates the need to have people to talk to, and to look out for your friends and family; it was a real honour.
Where does your love of performing come from and how did you start?
I’ve been performing in some way or form ever since I was five. I joined Stagecoach Theatre Arts in Oxfordshire, and from there I haven’t stopped! However, it’s a bit of a strange one, as I never really realised I wanted to do it as a profession until I was about thirteen, and it was my school show where we did We Will Rock You and afterwards my friends, who had never seen me perform before, were pleasantly surprised with what they had seen me do. And I loved being up on that stage and that feeling of being able to let people lose themselves from reality, be it in film or theatre. From that day, I thought to myself; yes. This is what I want to do. And from then I joined another theatre group in MYCO (Musical Youth Company Oxfordshire), did a show with Abingdon & Witney College as a guest because I didn’t actually go there, and then went on to train at Drama St Mary’s!
How do you like to spend your free time?
Footbaaaall! I’m a massive Manchester United fan, so I love to both play and watch football. FIFA is my favourite game in the world, I’ll beat anyone! I really love dancing, watching films and listening to music, mainly rap. When I’m not working, be that acting work or landscaping which I also do, I just try to get out as much as possible and see my friends, see the world; I just love being out and about.
We understand you have experience in dance and music, can you say more about this?
I’ve also been dancing since I was five, through Stagecoach! We formed a dance troupe which was every Saturday, and we had the amazing opportunity of being part of a cabaret at Her Majesty’s Theatre, where we did a dance that involved Darth Vader and a lightsaber duel! With music, I mainly just like to write raps. Anything that comes into my head, I’ll always write in my notes section and just try to piece them together. I haven’t got round to actually recording any and putting them out there, but I’ve been working on something for quite a while now and trying to perfect it, after being inspired by a couple of my friends posting their videos, so there’s definitely something cooking in the kitchen, that I’ll be posting real soon.
Do you have any favourite TV or theatre shows to watch and what are you looking forward to most for when the industry can come back fully?
My favourite TV shows of all time are Game of Thrones, Power, Peaky Blinders and Ozark. More recently, I’ve just finished Bridgerton which I think is awesome and something I would love to be in! The Vampire Diaries also holds a real special place in my heart. With regards to theatre: Parade, In the Heights, 42nd Street and Fame are all shows that I could watch over and over again. When the industry is open again, I can’t wait to be in an actual audition room again! But most of all, just to sit down in that auditorium and watch some live theatre! It’s been far too long, and there are few things in the world that beat the magic of the theatre.
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