For A Black Girl got to talk to Nikki, the artist behind For A Black Girl about her show, race and how great Charlie Brooker is. The most important thing to us at Silent Faces is to know why we make our work, Follow Suit and A Clown Show About Rain both come from a desire to scream and shout about the world around us. This is why we love talking to artists about why they make their work, and what drives them. Here we have a really great intro as to why For A Black Girl exists, and the importance of work like this. Read on for a fab interview.
What drove you to make For A Black Girl?
The more I answer this question, the more complicated I realise the answer is. There was no "one incident" that propelled me to write the play. I've been subject to a wide array of sexist and racist comments my entire life, so when I was writing the play I had years of experiences to draw upon. I suppose the "catalyst" would have been the fact that I'd spent 3 years at university where, for the first time, I actually had a lot of black friends! A lot of our conversations made me think about diversity, particularly within the arts industry. I also performed in a production of For Colored Girls in my final year, which was my first time I had spoken such beautiful poetic writing aloud. It was the first time in which I'd been in a play about race and, at 20 years old, the first time being black and attending an audition was a plus, and not a hindrance. The entire show was put together in a couple of weeks, so it was a really intense rehearsal process; being in a room entirely filled with women reading Ntozake Shange's beautifully emotive choreopoems, speaking unapologetically about race, dancing and 100% percent feeling ourselves -- yeah, that was a changing moment for me. I realised the true difference between making art because I enjoyed it, and performing in something I so strongly identified with.
Who is For A Black Girl for?
First and foremost it has to be, like the title suggests, for black women, right? And in general it's for women of colour who feel like their stories haven't been listened to. It's for the woman who, like me, wished she'd discovered authors, poets and playwrights like Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange and Angie Thomas much, much earlier; who needed to know that she didn't need to be the 'strong (and yet so silenced!) black girl' just because she grew up in a super white environment.
It's for all my white brothers and sisters who are genuinely interested in being allies; and it's for everyone who's open to hearing more about what it sometimes feels like to be a person of colour.
It's also genuinely for everyone who has an issue with listening to the experiences of others, because hopefully the play will give you an insight as to why microaggressions suck. (It's never expressly said in the play, but I think if you pay attention, you'll pick up on what microaggressions are and the role they play in society).
For a Black Girl is ultimately for everyone but the play will mean different things for different people!
What’s the most important thing that theatre should be/do/have?
Hmm, I was thinking today about how art has to have a point. When I was much younger, I would make art simply for the sake of making art. Which is great. But as I'm getting older, I strongly believe that art (theatre, poetry, whatever) needs to have a point. Other than that, I can't give a stringent list - it's all subjective, isn't it? I can't even say it should be 'engaging' because what engages one person might not engage another. I think theatre should have an internal logic -- you've got to know why you're making it.
What CURRENT news story would you like to make a show about?
If I was going to create something "Black Mirror esque", I'd make a show about the end of the world being brought about by a single 280 character tweet, thanks to Donald Trump.
Scratch that; I'd like to see that on the actual Black Mirror because I love Charlie Brooker.
Personally I'd rather make something a little bit more cheerful, but all the news stories are so depressing. Keeping on the theme of social media though, I'd be interested in exploring how certain companies profit from 'black rage'. By this I mean companies who make controversial statement or racist products who then profit from trending on social media. There's a whole cycle of justified rage leading to free advertising for the company, leading to, eventually, a halfhearted apology. And you know it's not genuine because the cycle keeps on going. It could be fun to explore just how much of these 'oversights' are actual strategic marketing campaigns...
What was the last show that moved you to action?
Honestly - Hillsong Christmas Carols at the 02 was the last show I saw that truly moved and inspired me. If you've never been - go, seriously! It's a mix between a carol concert and theatre. It combines dance, text, rap, animation, music and special effects to tell the nativity story in a unique way. It's epic and I remember loving it because I saw so many talented artists using their talents and all for Jesus. It made me truly consider my own art and what I want to do with it.
What shows at VAULT are you looking forward to?
Too many to list. Off the top of my head:
The Thing that Came to Dinner
Internet the Play
WHITE by Koko Brown
I have a mouth and I will scream
All the things that do not c(o)unt
For A Black Girl is on at VAULT Festival from 24-28 Jan at 18.00!