Octavia Nyombi finally celebrated her graduation, after finishing her Drama degree in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has seen her career in the arts go from strength to strength.
De Montfort University’s (DMU) graduation ceremonies were held last week at Leicester’s Curve theatre, and Octavia is no stranger to performing on its stage and working behind the scenes.
While studying at DMU, Octavia completed a placement at Curve working as an assistant director to Nikolai Foster for the world-premiere of Dougal Irvine’s adaptation of Riaz Khan’s Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual.
The experience helped her secure a position as an assistant practitioner at Curve and she now helps to run acting workshops for children and young adults through the Curve Youth and Community Companies (CYCC).
“It’s really exciting for me because I was part of Curve Young Company while I was at DMU, so it’s really nice to be behind the scenes and leading the young actors through the experience of putting on a play in such a big theatre,” said the 23 year-old from Leicester.
The support Octavia received from her lecturers at DMU helped her to develop her art and to also be true to herself when she came out as transgender in the final year of her course.
She said: “In my dissertation one of my aims was to challenge and deconstruct the binary model of gender.
“Through doing that work I came out to my lecturers and they were really supportive. They would check in on how I was doing and made sure I had access to DMU’s support services.
“I was studying at home due to Covid-19 and wasn’t out to my family yet, so they helped me talk about my work in my supervisions without outing myself. For a verbal exam they gave me extra time so I could type in the chat when I needed to or use code words, which meant a lot to me.”
At the beginning of last year, Octavia sought out more arts opportunities and joined the youth board at Nottingham Playhouse. She has since been voted to chair the board.
“As part of the youth board I have helped to set up the Nottingham Queer Arts Collective. I’ve facilitated free monthly sessions for queer artists and those interested in the arts to have a space at the Nottingham Playhouse to build that community and share skills, work opportunities and connections,” she said.
“It felt really needed and we’ve already got such a loyal group. We also showcase one queer artist a month to perform for us and hold a Q&A. It’s been really nice to be in the position to start helping people in my local LGBTQ+ community.”
The thriving queer and performance communities in the East Midlands are one of the reasons Octavia decided to stay in her home city, as well as opportunities in London being just an hour’s train journey away.
Using social media to expand her performance network has earned Octavia a lot of support and has led to a number of exciting opportunities, including an invitation to perform in London from award winning writer, performer and theatre maker, Travis Alabanza.
She said: “I performed at the Royal Court in an event called Queer Upstairs. I’ve never had so many people praise me and say my work affected them. I later found out there was lots of industry people there too, so I felt really happy I took the opportunity.
“If you’re honest about who you are and the work you want to make it reaches the right sort of people. It’s really exciting because everyone keeps expressing that they want to work with me again.”
Octavia is using her experience of supporting the LGBTQ+ community by working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). She is part of a group in Nottingham working to inform international policy regarding the future of LGBTQ+ safe spaces. They are taking their own research to a conference in Paris to show the UN what the community needs.
“My main piece of advice is to be yourself and don’t be what other people want you to be. It will make you better in your work and help you connect with others who have similar goals and work to you,” she said.
"Also, make sure you read your emails. There’s lots of opportunities out there and you can get involved in so much at DMU like placements, international travel and societies. Getting involved in these experiences and being a student ambassador definitely gave me a lot of confidence before graduating.
“Most people in the LGBTQ+ community are really brave and bold for living their true selves and it’s something to be really proud of. I love Pride month because it’s a great opportunity to discover queer art and communities and meet other queer people.”
You can find out more about Octavia’s work on her Instagram and Twitter. You can also find out more about her theatre company, Category: Peach, and their latest short film, Pol-Spiracy, which is streaming on Saturday 29 January as part of Slung Low festival.
Posted on Friday 28th January 2022