British Caribbean actor and emerging filmmaker Elishah St. Juste is on a mission to normalize conversations about social issues that negatively impact young people. She believes these issues can be addressed through the arts. "Film and theatre are outlets that allow us to acknowledge pain, stress, and emotion," she told Unstoppable Yes You.
Elishah facilitates drama workshops to help adolescents learn valuable skills while addressing a range of topics including mental health, bullying, colorism, peer pressure, and much more. She also produces short films and theater productions to stimulate discussions and to challenge unhealthy thinking and behaviors.
Drama As a Teaching and Learning Tool
Growing up Elishah St. Juste felt she had to mask her feelings instead of talking about them. St. Juste said, “I have always been told, ‘You are too sensitive, Why are you always crying, Be strong’.” Elishah knows all too well that these misguided views should not be part of raising children. When pain festers it can implode into anger, depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness.
After attending a community-based youth group as a teen, she was inspired to help tackle this issue head-on. Through the program, she participated in activities that she otherwise could not afford including drama workshops. Using role-playing techniques, youth leaders also advised Elishah and her peers on academics, career options, sexual health, and interviewing skills.
Elishah experienced first-hand the power of drama as a teaching and learning tool and the positive effects it had on her and her peers' educational, social, and emotional development. “I would shadow the youth worker, and eventually, he allowed me to lead some of the sessions. Twenty years later and I’m still doing drama workshops in schools, communities, and sometimes, prisons.”
Through her workshops, she provides young people with a means to confront personal issues that shape who they are as individuals and as a community.
Tackling Social Issues through Short Films
In 2004, Elishah secured her first acting gig in a theater production called Mr. and Mrs. Tragedy, which was an urban spin on the life of King Henry the VIII. While most of her acting career has been spent in theater, in the last few years, she began writing, producing, directing, and often acting in her own short films. This allows St. Juste to hone her craft.
In her first short film, Something About Soraya, which was shot in St. Kitts, Elishah exposed some of her personal experiences with colorism. She created the film to bring conversations about colorism and its impact on mental health to the forefront. “If a guy watched it and he was the kind of person that would say to a girl, ‘Oh, you are pretty for a dark-skin girl,’ after watching the film, I hope he would recognize that this isn’t really a compliment,” she notes.
TruCapo Film crew on the set of Something About Soraya in St. Kitts.
In 2018, Elishah partnered with the St. Kitts Mental Health Association on a project called 'Speak Your Mind.' The program sought to ignite conversations about stress and depression in young people on the island. Roughy 20 students from Basseterre High School participated in the six-week session which included drama activities, acting techniques, and the production of a short film that bore the name of the project.
The students walked away more informed on the signs and symptoms of stress and depression and the steps they can take to manage these issues. They were also made aware of the services offered by the St. Kitts Mental Health Association.
St. Juste has since gone on to create other youth projects including SheRise, a program that taught young girls in Birmingham various life skills including online safety, and My Truth Monologues, an initiative that provides guidance, support, and encouragement to young creatives in St. Kitts.
Create Your Own Opportunities
Although Elishah St. Juste is still relatively new to the film industry, she continues to take advantage of opportunities to gain more experience, and in some cases, she creates her own. Landing a role with a major film studio is one of her goals but St. Juste knows all too well the challenges faced by Black actors in the British film industry. “I wanted to be on screen, but they did not give me chance, so I decided to create my stuff to show them what I could do," she explained.
In early 2021, she participated in a project called ‘Back In,’ which provided black emerging filmmakers in the West Midlands region in England a budget to create a short film. The creative used the funding to direct and produce a film she titled When I for which she won Best Dramatic Short Film and Best Dramatic Director in August 2021 by the Pure Magic International Film Festival. The film was also nominated by the Birmingham Film Festival for the Audience Award and the Bull Award for the best film of the festival. Although she did not win, she felt good to be recognized by her hometown.
Elishah St Juste sits down with the team of the Birmingham Film Festival to discuss the film When I and its nomination in the 2021 festival.
When asked what advice she would give to young creatives and aspiring filmmakers St. Juste replied, “Be resourceful, collaborate with other creatives, and continue to hone your craft.”
Check out more of Elishah St. Juste's films on her YouTube channel.