We caught up with Naima Idrissi, who at just sixteen, is a young actress, poet and singer.
Iuliana: Hey Naima! How are you? Delighted to interview you today. Let’s start by introducing yourself.
Naima: Hi Iuliana! I hope you’re well! I am doing very great as of recently! My name is Naima Idrissi, I’m a 16 year old actress and poet. I currently major in Drama at my high school, using my passion as an outlet to stand for what I believe in and show others that they are not alone. Growing up in two different cultures learning about my religion and even where I come from was always very difficult for me. I was never “arab enough” when it came to my moroccan roots, or even “french enough” although I was raised up under both cultures almost simultaneously. In hopes to guide others to self love and knowing you ARE enough no matter what you go through, I create poetry to display as such. Acting has always been a part of me. From fake crying in order to get my sister in trouble as a toddler in my terrible twos, to becoming a completely different person on camera or on stage. It has and always will be a passion of mine.
Iuliana: How have you been coping with quarantine lately? What’s an average day like for you?
Naima: Quarantine was one of the best things that has happened to me, personally. I was able to do a lot of self reflection and come to learn so much about myself. At the time of the beginning of this quarantine, I was really overwhelmed. Carrying schoolwork along with a job on weekends I couldn’t catch my breath. Using that time to destress and work on my mental health and spend time with my family had just been a silver lining in our troubling times. At first I had a terrible sleep schedule, now I’ve learned to stay on task and keep some time in there to do some self care. I don’t wake up really early, but once I do I usually wash my face and brush my teeth. I make myself breakfast (sometimes) and start doing some work whether that’s cleaning or summer homework. After I try to relax a little and then do a workout, which is another pro to this quarantine, I have been A LOT healthier. and I carry on through my day and wash my face before I go to bed.
Iuliana: When did you realize your inclination towards drama really kicked off? How did that happen?
Naima: When I was in Middle School we had an acting competition group called forensics (which had small acting categories of reading a dramatic piece or a story etc.,) where I became captain of the varsity team my 8th grade year. I started in fourth grade and for two years switching between the categories I had lost in two competitions. Until the 6th grade, I settled into Oral Interpretation, reading a memorized poem and story. That year I won first place and got casted as Penny Pingleton in my school’s Musical. I was so incredibly proud of myself. I realized that I was so capable. I knew that if I trusted in what I loved, like story telling or finding a character that intrigues me, I could do it. Stepping into the black box theater in my high school, I knew the possibilities were endless. My sophomore year I was casted in a short film “Blue Iris” by Samiksha Thakur, and that turned my world into something so much bigger than I thought, feeling capable and proud again.
Iuliana: Tell us about your favourite performance stage so far. What was it like?
Naima: My favorite performance on stage was my freshman year of high school. It was my first play in high school and I played Tom Snout who is also the Wall in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” it wasn’t a big role, but it never mattered to me. I learned so much as an actress and I built a character out of a few lines. All of the shows were sold out and everyone fell in love with it. To this day, the production impacted me. I understand the breakdown of how to get into character even if it’s by walking around the room or listening to a certain song.
Iuliana: I noticed you also write poems besides acting. When did you become interested in writing poetry? Do you recall the first poem written by you?
Naima: Poetry was introduced to me as a 6th grader by one of my coaches/school librarian Ms. Reed. I never started out writing poetry. Ms. Reed showed me a poem by Sarah Kay entitled “If I Ever Had a Daughter”. I had competed with that poem and got first place for the first time. I continued reading poetry and listening to my inspiration Sarah Kay for the longest time and got introduced to Rudy Francisco, and a plethora of others. Memorizing, reciting, listening, breaking it down, I fell in love with poetry and how metaphors emphasized smells of reality under a perfume. When I applied to high school I knew there was a slam poetry club, and the moment we could sign up I took my chance. I had never written a poem before, but my first day, we read a poem about a Muslim girl, and realized how much I could relate with her struggle. I started writing “Terrorist” a persona poem which brought to light the prejudice against Muslims after 9/11. A day before I performed it in front of a huge crowd, it was Halloween, and a couple of kids dressed up in Arab clothing and told people they were dressed up as terrorists. I added a line, recommended to me by my friend Jade to emphasize that we must not be silenced. After pouring my heart out in front of so many people there wasn’t a moment of silence. I felt heard, we were heard. It was such an empowering moment and it being my first poem was so reassuring.
Iuliana: What about your last poem? What was the inspiration behind it?
Naima: My last poem posted on my account entitled “Flower Girl” I was asked by Gaby Diaz who is a part of an organization 40 Years Since, she had asked me to perform for a virtual pride event. “Flower Girl” is about being a flower girl at my Uncle’s wedding. When asked to perform I knew I should write about the time my Uncle Damon let me be a part of such a remarkable and beautiful ceremony as he wedded his husband. This moment was so beautiful, just seeing how joyous they were, made my nine year old heart melt. My uncle and I are very close and I’m so grateful he had shared this moment by letting little Muslim me be his flower girl.
Iuliana: Give us a picture of your creative process.
Naima: When it comes to acting, and auditions, I take the script and read over the lines as many times as I need to in order to get a flow and understanding of what’s happening in the scene. Getting into character is very tedious to me, I think about their habits, what animal they would be, what their zodiac sign would be, their background, and what they want within this scene. It is a lot to think about but it gives me insight as to how this character behaves, acts, and responds. I then start to memorize my lines and I’ll do a voice recording of me reading the other character’s lines to help me get in cues. I start to write down actions this character is doing to the person they are talking to allowing me to read the line in a whole different tone. Finally, I record myself saying the lines to give myself further criticism. Poetry is completely different. Most of the time I don’t use prompts to help me write unless I have writer’s block, but whatever it may be that I’m feeling or going through an idea pops into my head, whether it’s a metaphor (most of the time) or just a line that comes to me I usually build off from there. It usually builds tone through how I’m feeling and the topic of the overall poem. Poetry comes to me sporadically. Sometimes (especially during quarantine) I have sleepless nights where thoughts are nonstop and lines for poems just keep popping into my head.
Iuliana: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received so far?
Naima: Since poetry is an outlet for me to express my emotions the best advice I have been given is that your feelings are valid. We live in a time where we are exposing the rights and wrongs in this world and consistently reevaluating ourselves. We need to start accepting feelings of confusion, depression, anxiety, and even joy and knowing you have people who will listen and guide you. Writing gave me the opportunity to accept how I’m feeling, and learn how not to talk myself down and shame myself for simply being human.
Iuliana: You are also involved with music. Tell us about this and the ways it connects to your poetry.
Naima: I haven’t written many songs, but singing has helped me through anxiety attacks, and surprisingly with acting when learning how to project your voice. Songs and poetry are very similar and are beautiful ways to convey a message. Music has surrounded me growing up, I played the piano, the violin, the ukulele, and a little bit of guitar. I want to dive into music a lot more this year. A sound is a thousand words.
Iuliana: What is it like to perform in different settings? How do you find the different audiences?
Naima: I’ve performed in front of strangers, family members, my pets, and the ghosts in my room. Some don’t give the best feedback, but just performing in general is exhilarating. The different moods from different audiences can throw you off, but you must remind yourself, you are being heard, no matter what it is you’re doing, someone is listening. Performing in front of my family is more nerve wrecking, other than myself they push me and are one of my biggest critics, but it makes me do the very best that I can, and becomes one of my strongest performances.
Iuliana: What advice would you give to young actors who want to pursue their passion?
Naima: Don’t stop. Study and get training, you are never too young to conquer the world. Learn about different people and explore. If you want something, stop at nothing, not even minor inconveniences. Have friends to guide you and boost you up. Overall just trust in yourself and feel proud because you’ve made it so far. Keep creating and spreading love, you don’t begin to understand the impact you have on others. Go for it. You got this!
Follow Naima on Instagram here.