Guest Blog: Playwright Chinonyerem Odimba On THE SEVEN AGES OF PATIENCE at the Kiln Theatre
We asked 100 people...
I never thought that one of the highlights of my career would be writing a community play. The word "community", like many others in modern usage, has become so over-used, mis-used and co-opted by the lazy (politicians) to lump people together in a way that neither honours their experience, nor recognises their individual brilliance. It has almost become a dirty word.
It's a hard word, but I persevere...
What if... what you are trying to do is not 'for' the community, 'to' the community, 'about' the community, but 'because' of the community. I am writing this play because Brent exists. Because without Brent, this play would not be possible.
I'm not sure where the 100 cast number came from, but soon into our discussions about what the play could be, we are all very excited about having 100 people from the local area being on stage and backstage for most of the show. Reader - I am absolutely bricking it, and worst still, almost finding joy in this feeling.
We start with the research. Local researchers are recruited. I meet them in an upstairs room of a very hot pub on a very hot day in July 2018. I am sweating profusely in my hot pink dress. Their enthusiasm is infectious. We talk about the stories we already know of the area, the stories we want to know. We talk about what makes a good story...
After months of emails, pictures, newspaper clippings, the most beautiful recordings of oral history from the most astonishing voices, meetings with local people, outreach...there is no doubt that this play needs to be written.
But I am still bricking it, and now with all the research burning a hole in a nicely neat folder on my desktop, the fear is no longer cute. I am a North Londoner who grew very near Brent. I love the Kiln Theatre. I am safe. I am loved...becomes a morning mantra throughout writing the first draft.
I send it in.
I'm not happy with it. It's not where I want it to be. I still can't hear the voices of all these wonderful people and stories that have so kindly been shared. I am now not just failing myself or failing to impress an Artistic Director, I have failed a whole community of people.
The first notes meeting is only bearable because I am surrounded by the kindest of people. One note comes from Indhu Rubasingham: "Be of service to this community". It's a game-changer. Something suddenly makes sense.
Of course it's true. Just as we are taught that we must centre everything around that main protagonist in a 'good' story, in this story, the community must be whole reason why anything happens.
The second good thing that happens in this project is that Katie Posner is directing. Now I can feel the armour of good theatre women holding me steady.
I go back to the writing.
So, the call goes out from the theatre - we are looking for 100 people to become the cast for our new play at the Kiln Theatre. Within a day, I get a phone call from the theatre to tell me that almost 80 people have already applied.
Forward to September 2019, I am bricking myself again. The full production of the play is only a couple of weeks away. I walk into rehearsal one evening. The room is full of music and buzzing with the cast dancing across the room, led by our brilliant movement director Vicki Igbokwe. There is a whole army of people working tirelessly on the show.
And there is the community cast. People from across Brent who are giving their time and energy to tell a story that reflects generations of that area. Reflects stories of lives no longer here to tell the story for themselves. Reflects the moments that have changed not only Brent, but the whole country. Of all ages, and truly representing Brent, they are taking charge of the room.
They are telling their own stories.
This is not a marketing strapline.
Yes, I wrote it. And yes, I fictionalised many of the real histories that make up the world of the play, but this is not my story.
I hold back the tears.
Whatever the show is...we asked a 100 people and they said YES!
Photo credit: Rio