Saida has an infectious personality, a beautiful openness and ability to self-deprecate in the best of ways. This girl knows who she is and what she wants, and although I learned that it's not always been easy, she is someone that continues to push boundaries and inspire those around her. She taught me that challenging experiences help you grow, they make you stronger, they show you what is possible, and they shape the person you will be in the future. Watch out West End, this girl is coming for you.
“You’re constantly thinking ‘Why me? Why me? Why me?’. If you go to a place like Chickenshed, they show you that anything is possible if you work hard and push yourself in a way that feels comfortable to you.”
Headshots by Yinka Idowu (@yinkatheartist)
Act 1: Courage
I’m Saida Ahmed, you can call me Sai, I’m 25 years old, and I’m a Chickenshed BA graduate. Now, I have an agent and I’ve done three professional shows so far: My Favourite, My Story and Little Miss Burden. My confidence in this industry is hugely to do with the fact that I studied at Chickenshed, I think I owe them a lot for that. I was very sheltered in myself to start with, but they showed me that having to adapt and use what I have is the best thing I can do.
My experiences growing up were pretty bad. When I was younger, I was very timid, I didn’t speak to a lot of people, I was really insecure about my Cerebral Palsy, my spasms, and the fact that I couldn’t walk like the people around me. In fact, the show I’ve just done explains it a bit in terms of the voices you hear. It expresses how your inner self, your disability, talks to you in your head. First of all, you’re not friends with it, you’re constantly at battle. It tells you that you’re shit, that you’re bad at doing things, 24/7. I was just like that when I was a kid. That’s why I found it easier to relate to that show; it felt like my story; what I went through.
Image by Kofi Bwaah
Growing up, I could walk on a walking frame; but the funny thing is, I used to get bullied by people with hearing impairments. The hierarchy of disabilities is quite strange if you look at it. They used to bully me because they could walk, and I used to look down on wheelchair users at the time thinking ‘Oh you know I’m sure they could walk if they tried’; it became a toxic circle. I used to feel ‘I can’t walk but I’m not disabled’; and other people used to tell me ‘You’re not disabled, there’s just something wrong with your legs’. Family members used to tell me that as well, so I took that, ran with it- that whole mentality, that whole way of thinking. I had thought like that my whole life.
When I reached Chickenshed I realised that being disabled isn’t that bad. It’s not that bad, because, yes, you have obstacles but it’s about how you go around them. I realised the more you feel sorry for yourself, the more you can’t persevere in life, the more you just get stuck in this cycle of pity where nothing positive provokes you; you’re constantly thinking ‘Why me? Why me? Why me?’. If you go to a place like Chickenshed, they show you that anything is possible if you work hard and push yourself in a way that feels comfortable to you.
It’s more or less the people at Chickenshed that changed how I thought, particularly the TA’s. I was constantly with them and they used to really embed positivity within me. The fact that they used to choose me to be a part of it all, it made me want to inspire others like me. I feel like, sorry I’m going to get emotional; I feel like if they didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be the person that I am now.
I’ve done two voice recording jobs so far, one of which I mentioned earlier. I remember they took me to the studio, and because I played two characters; Little Miss Burden and her ‘thoughts’, I had to continually change my voice range and everything. Having to do that was quite insightful because of my experiences as a kid. I used to have my thoughts tell me how terrible I was, how terrible I’m doing, and when I was doing it on the mic it brought back flashbacks of how I actually was. I feel like that recording in itself added more empathy, more depth to my stage character. I connected with that character even more because that was like my childhood on stage. I remember during rehearsals my mum cried every single time I did the emotional scenes. She actually had to be escorted out of the actual show because she was the one crying the loudest!
I remember though, afterwards, she gave me a bit of feedback. She said ‘I’m really proud of you because that must have been what it felt like for you as a kid. The reason why I cry at that scene all the time is because it must have been hard for you at school, but I wasn’t there’. Thank god she wasn’t though because I feel like if she had been there, she would have babied me out of it, but that experience made me grow, it made me strong and it made me the person I am now.
Image by Kofi Bwaah
Another bit of really amazing advice, that quite shaped the way I think, was from the dance director on the same show. I had never really experienced singing before but in a section of that show I had to sing, and I was afraid of that to start with. But, every day, without fail, the dance director would help me with breathing exercises because she knew that when I was nervous on stage, my voice tended to drop quite a lot due to a breathing issue that I have. I used to say ‘Ah I can’t do it! I can’t do it!’, and she used to say something really important to me, she said ‘Well you can, but you need to believe that you can’, and I think that goes for anything in life, if you believe you can do anything you aspire to do, it will happen, you just need to have courage. And, indeed, I got on stage, didn’t look down, took a deep breath and I sang.
Written by Holly for Saida (@saisai_saida)
Little Miss Burden (Written by Matilda Ibini and Directed by Debbie Hannan) was a stage production performed at The Bunker in 2019.
Saida Ahmed is represented by Global 7 Women Agency (@g7women)
For Enquires head over to https://www.spotlight.com/interactive/cv/4816-3425-8500 or https://www.mandy.com/actor/profile/saida-ahmed