When Rashidi Edward was a little boy growing up in Tanzania he stole soap from his father and sold it to raise money for movie tickets. “I shouldn’t tell you this but I’d come back and get my arse whipped for stealing. I just loved to go to the cinema.”
At 24, Rashidi’s on-stage presence belies his age. The maturity he exudes may have something to do with a childhood spent in a refugee camp. Back then, acting wasn’t on his mind… agriculture was.
“I’ve always been the kind of person who didn’t know what to do with my life. I never thought about acting, I just loved stories,” he says. “At night when the moon was out we’d gather and the old people would tell us stories. We loved it. On the radio there were comedy plays on every Tuesday and we’d always look forward to that.”
Rashidi was 17 when he moved to Australia with his parents and siblings.
“Everyone in the refugee camp was looking forward to going to America, Australia or England and when we got the opportunity I was like, ‘Yes!’ but at the same time I knew I’d miss my friends. I was excited. Who wouldn’t be?” It wasn’t straightforward. Leaving friends and family behind was hard. “My uncle and I were on the same case and were meant to come together but he didn’t get the chance and he’s still back there. I feel guilty because we were meant to be together.”
“You constantly feel guilt. I sit in my dressing room and think about home a lot.”
The family settled in South Australia’s south east and Rashidi studied English as a second language at Mount Gambier High. “When I came here, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d been in Australia for six months or so when we went to watch a year 12 performance. After seeing the show, I told my English teacher, ‘I want to do that’.” He smiles. “I didn’t even know how to say ‘acting’ in English, I just knew I wanted to do it.”
The enthused newcomer studied acting at Adelaide College of the Arts and landed a role in the State Theatre Company Ensemble, a group of resident actors and creatives taking part in productions during 2017 and 2018. It was a dream come true. “I’m very blessed, lucky – whatever word you can think of – to be in this position right now.”
Rashidi works alongside actors Anna Steen, Nathan O’Keefe, Rachel Burke, Dale March, and NIDA graduate Miranda Daughtry. “Seeing what they were doing during the first week of rehearsals made me realise I need to step up. I literally went home and did some serious homework.”
Director Geordie Brookman is there to make sure the fledgling actors learn as much as possible from their more experienced peers. “He’s a genius,” Rashidi says. “He lets you do your thing, but at the same time pushes bit by bit. You have to reach for it. He blows my mind.”
“I hope my parents are proud. Most African parents want their kids to be doctors or lawyers.”
State Theatre Company’s 2017 shows A Doll’s House and Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth were dialogue-heavy and demanded hard work. “It can be really scary stepping on stage, anything can happen.”
Next year holds big things including productions In The Club and Sense and Sensibility. Rashidi also has a role in web series Runaway Moon and ABC iView series F*cking Adelaide. The six-part comedy drama series by director Sophie Hyde kicks off on 20 October. “I had to tell my father I was in this TV show but I couldn’t say the name of the show.” He laughs. “I hope my parents are proud. Most African parents want their kids to be doctors or lawyers. Pops has always been an open-minded dude who tells us to do whatever we’re good at.”
Rashidi eventually plans to pursue film in Sydney and looks up to actors Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx. “I’m really curious – I just want to know everything. I feel like I don’t know anything at all.”
Loved ones left behind in east Africa are always in his thoughts. “You constantly feel guilt. I sit in my dressing room and think about home a lot.”
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