We finished our final show on Saturday and I just cannot believe our luck. That was our 4th sold out show and we had another full-house standing ovation. The feedback that we got from the audience was just incredible. People felt moved, inspired, provoked, enraged, they could relate to so many of the topics we touched upon during our hour long performance and lots said they would love to watch it again with friends and family who missed the show.
I am so grateful that we were able to affect our audience, show after show, by unapolegetically sharing our truth and our story.
From day 1 of rehearsals with Talawa Theatre Company I knew I was in a great space. Our director, Miranda Cromwell, was so open and very accepting of who we were were as individuals, and so the rehearsal space become a place of no boundaries; we could say, do or share whatever idea came to mind because it was a creative environment meant for exploration and discovery.
We had our wonderful assistant director, Rachel Clarke, and our fearless producer, Gail Gabb, with us throughout the 4 week period too, and they further encouraged our growth and creativity.
I remember during the first two weeks laughing so hard because the company were absolutely hilarious and entertaining. Everyday we would openly share our experiences and stories, helping us to develop a strong bond and sense of ensemble.
Because Talawa is a black theatre company, the entire cast and crew were black – aside from a few mediterranean crew members. The company champion diversity by providing opportunities for Black creatives. Because it was a black space, we mostly spoke about issues that have directly effect on our race such as what it means to be black in the UK, identity, language, white supremacy, black love, political correctness, racism, colourism, afro hair, being “the other”, culture and so much more; and these conversations had a direct impact on the content of our play.
After lengthy group discussions, Miranda would often set us an improvisation task. For example, on three small strips of paper would we each write a clear provocative instructions that would engender creative work. After a discussion on culture and identity, valid instructions could be: “You are a politician. Write a speech that is politically correct but yet very racist at the same time.’ Another example could be: “Create a movement or dance piece about black hair” or perhaps: “Write a song or poem about your mother tongue”.
Once we came up with our suggestions they were all placed into a box. We would next pick at least 2 instructions from the box and create responses to them. After about 20 minutes we would share our improvisations with the group and this method of creating would last a few hours.
For the sharing we sat in a circle on the floor. Miranda wanted the individual improvisations to flow seamlessly, and in order to imbue a sense of an ensemble improvisations could be performed at the same time, e.g. a poem being read out during someone’s movement piece, or they could simply overlap at the start or finish. Those on sitting in the circle could add sounds, voices, etc. if that complimented the piece being performed in the centre of the circle.
If you were in the performance space you had to keep performing your piece until someone else started theirs. This meant that we had to be courageous and considerate of the person performing before us.
Some of the work shared was truly magical, raw, visceral and honest. It was absolutely beautiful when a piece was able to encapsulate an experience or emotion that we all knew very well.
At the end of each rehearsal we were given a writing task and, once again, there were no boundaries. We could write about whatever came to mind. We would share our writing back to the group and keep the work we really enjoyed and felt most connected to.
The first two weeks were about devising and creating content. Towards the end of the 2nd week we began to create narratives by identifying clear characters, that had developed during the improvisations, and finding already existing scenes that would suit these characters. Though the devised work that we created was very good, we had to be willing to let go of some work for the sake of making a play that was coherent and interesting. By the 3rd week we were doing more gluing together and finessing scenes and characters.
Throughout the entire rehearsal period we were blessed to work with musical director Mike Henry (Barber Shop Chronicles (National Theatre), They Drink It in The Congo (Almeida Theatre)), movement director Yami Lofvenberg (award-winning artist and choreographer) and Voice coach Hazel Holder (Angels in America (National Theatre), Les Blancs (National Theatre)). Working with these amazing professionals meant that vocally we were strong as hell, the singing was on point and the movement was slick, impactful and powerful.
Although we have come to the end of this very fantastic project, I really don’t feel like it is the end of the road. I’ve met some incredibly talented people and I have a new life-long relationship with everyone at Talawa Theatre Company. I feel empowered, strong and talented. I know that my voice matters because so many others have gone through similar experiences and our story needs to be told. Most importantly, I know that I am an amazing black woman and unapologetically so.