Mahsa Hammat Bahary has been appointed an Associate Artist for Damn Cheek. Here she describes her path to becoming an actor.
I remember clearly the first time I realised that acting was for me. My parents, sibling and I had arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in December 2002, leaving the rest of my extended family still living back in Iran. I didn’t speak any English and my sibling and I were the first foreigners in our school. You can imagine how that felt.
Then a Theatre in Education company came to perform in school, and I got involved. We were each given one line to speak – mine was “2 carrots and a turnip” – and as I spoke, and as I experienced the audience reaction, it was as if a switch was flipped in my brain and I felt amazing. I thought “This is it”. I was just 9 years old.
All the same, I didn’t leap into becoming an actor. Yes, I did a GCSE and a BTEC in Drama, and spent a gap year trying to gain acting experience. But it wasn’t until my early twenties that I applied for a one-year course in drama at the Theatre Royal Newcastle and got a place. I opened the acceptance email and started crying with joy. I knew by then that acting was absolutely what I wanted to do.
My first acting job after graduating was the best 2 weeks of my life up to then. It was a short film called Falling which was filmed in outdoor locations in South Shields. The work was wonderful, the people were great, and all the time I kept thinking “I’m an actor now!”. It was the best feeling.
I first worked with Damn Cheek in 2021, in Passion for the Planet. The work was absolutely bonkers at times, but such fun. And it involved many different forms of theatre – storytelling, shadow puppets, magic tricks – I even got to teach the audience a line-dance.
I loved the way the production covered so many religious faiths, engaged with environmental issues, was performed as a promenade production within and outside an amazing church. And all this while everything was shifting around us as we endured a global pandemic!
I’ve just finished another Damn Cheek production, Monday’s Child, which explores cognitive decline in older people. Damn Cheek Director Karen (Spicer) plays a woman who has dementia. I play a girl who, unlike many adults, doesn’t push back against the older woman’s shifting memories but absolutely steps into her version of the world.
We played to 11 primary schools in Gateshead, in each school giving a performance and then a workshop where pupils could share and explore their thoughts and feeling. The children loved everything and the feedback was wonderful.
Becoming an Associate Artist with Damn Cheek has added an extra dimension to the involvement I have with them. I do feel there is a real fit between Damn Cheek’s core values, their ethics, their artistic vision and mine. I am working with and acting alongside like-minded people.
One particular memory from Monday’s Child will always stay with me. It’s of a little Asian girl whose eyes lit up when, at the climax of the play, fairy lights switch on and the whole set seems to glow.
This child so reminded me of how I felt that first time a performance impacted on me. I look back to that first moment at school when I thought “This is it…” and I see how right I was. I realise just how important it is to be an actor, how important it is for me to do this work.