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Artists From Theatre Peckham's YOUNG, GIFTED & BLACK Introduce Their Shows: Part One

Artists chat about this year's YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK season at Theatre Peckham, a celebration of people from the African Diaspora.

Artists From Theatre Peckham's YOUNG, GIFTED & BLACK Introduce Their Shows: Part One

For the fourth year, Theatre Peckham presents its Young, Gifted and Black season, an annual event which celebrates people from the African diaspora over five weeks.

Curated by Associate Director Phillippe Cato, ten shows across numerous artforms explore themes of identity, friendship, loss, self-discovery and black Womanhood. Performer Naomi Matsvai says that being a part of Young Gifted and Black is so special because of 'the polyphony of young black voices' included. India Wilson attributes the supportive atmosphere to the 'unwavering support of Phillippe Cato, Suzann McLean and the entire team at Theatre Peckham', adding that 'it's nothing short of a privilege to be considered for this season amongst such brave, necessary and powerful work'.

In this three-part series, BroadwayWorld speaks to artists from each of the performances to get a taste of what to expect from the season, taking a deep dive into the inspiration behind the stories told within it.

NO ID, written and performed by Tatenda Shamiso

3 - 5 October, 7.30PM

Tell us about the show!

In No I.D., I'm sharing my experience as a black transgender immigrant in the UK. It's a tender, wacky, surreal show about the silly and absurd nature of our bureaucratic systems. I tell this story in my own words, alongside letters, reports, signatures, and the songs I wrote during my first year on testosterone. From colossal tasks in the healthcare sector to tiny troubles at the post office, I'm searching for valid proof of the joyful life I live - which is hard to find in our current system!

It's a story about a guy stalking himself, tracking his gender transition to prove he's real, sifting through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood to form a narrative that will please the many arms of our beloved government. Follow me down a red-tape rabbit hole to find out what it takes to validate black and queer identities in the eyes of the law...

What is it like to make and perform a show that is so personal?

Sometimes it's daunting to think about explaining what my junk looks like to 200 people at a time, three nights in a row, but I've found this process so liberating and joyful. I've gotten to revel in the actual comedy of our oppressive systems, explore my existence as a marginalized person without traumatising myself, and give voice to parts of the trans existence that I feel are often misrepresented. It's equal parts scary and fulfilling.

What were some of the audience responses to the piece in its first run at the Peckham Fringe?

Many people thanked us for sharing such an intimate story, said they learned something from the show, laughed a lot, and a few even cried! It felt like I had really created the kind of experience any solo artist would hope for their audience to walk away with. Generating empathy; making spiritual connections. I'm crossing my fingers and toes that we can achieve something similar, and even bigger, with this upcoming run of the show.

Dark Matter by Tatenda Naomi Matsvai

7 - 9 October, 7.30 PM

Artists From Theatre Peckham's YOUNG, GIFTED & BLACK Introduce Their Shows: Part One Tell us about the show!

Dark Matter is a lyrically playful piece that explores the power of reclaiming and remixing traditions. Told through spoken word, movement and music, the show explores themes of Afrofuturism, grief, queerness and tradition through concepts of quantum physics.

Takura Mapafunga, a Zimbabwean immigrant raised in south London, loses her last remaining grandparent, which spirals her into questioning what happens after death and how little she knows of her cultural inheritance. Takura voyages to reconnect with her ancestors through constructing a makeshift burial rite for her grandmother's spirit. Despite the disapproval of her family, Takura voyages through Google in an attempt to connect with the ancestral plane.

Dark Matter creates an origin story that challenges the colonial histories of demonising African cultural knowledge. Takura blends western ideas of quantum physics and astrology with Zimbabwean myth to reconnect with the spirit of her dead grandmother.

There are so many BIG themes in Dark Matter... what was it like crafting a performance with such big thematic ambitions?

Crafting this show was such a playful and exciting process, I learned so much about the quantum world and subsequently myself. Quantum physics and cosmology open the door for new myths to be made around our origins in the cosmos. As Takura grieves, she finds new ways of making sense of her world, which made these abstract concepts of cosmology and quantum physics accessible, and human.

How has the piece developed since its work-in-progress in 2021?

The show is longer than it was. It's an hour packed with more poetry, some live looping and new collaborations with exciting artists. The movement direction from Tinovimbanashe Sibanda, animations from Gisela Mulindwa, set design from Phyllys Egharevba and cosmic sound design from Joseph Browning propel this show into the cosmos.

Aesthetically it feels more cohesive like the audience will really feel what it's like in Takura's mind.

Ellipsis by Tambo Silavwe

10 - 12 October, 7.30 PM

Tell us about the show!Artists From Theatre Peckham's YOUNG, GIFTED & BLACK Introduce Their Shows: Part One

Ellipsis is a vulnerable, authentic and honest one-woman show of a woman's experience of child loss and stillbirth. This show takes the audience on an emotional journey, shedding light on a topic that pockets of society experience but often don't openly speak about. With such a topic, most would assume that they are in for an emotionally draining play... but, actually, it does have its moments of levity and fun.

It infuses elements of music, spoken word and storying to draw audiences in, so they feel safe to go on this journey with our lead actress. In essence, what I want the audience to see is a love story unfold - with a tragedy at the centre - and this brave black woman trying to "snatch her life back".

Is the performance in some way responding to the way that stillbirth and child loss are talked about (or not talked about) in society?

I wouldn't say the show is a direct response but more of an acknowledgement, a nod to a situation that happens more often than we think, especially when you look at the statistics for black and brown women. It's such a sensitive topic that we don't talk about enough. The performance opens up the conversation, creating and adding to existing dialogues and through one woman's journey, we want the audience to see it and then start talking.

What part might theatre play in helping people to handle their grief?

Theatre is a shared experience lived out in real time. There is something extremely comforting and cathartic about sharing each other's joys, pains and griefs through the lens of someone else, almost living vicariously through them.

I believe this play says to those who are grieving or have experienced child loss and stillbirth: "you are seen, you are not alone, and we feel your pain". I'm not going to pretend that this production has all the answers, but if every night one person comes and shares in that experience, then Cerise Davis (the lead), myself and the rest of the production team can walk away knowing we've done our job.

Innocent Means Not Guilty by India Wilson

14 - 16 October, 7.30 PM

Tell us about the show!

Innocent Means Not Guilty is a comedic drama about four black women who are in their final year of a top law school in the UK. It is set on their last night of studying before their final criminal law exam. What should have been an ordinary Thursday night study session quickly derails into a dinner date with chaos. In the midst of the madness, they begin to test one another, question the unquestioned and challenge the unopposed.

Apart from unpacking the deeply rooted intersectional issues of society and the system, the play is jokes. It intends to activate and incite socio-political conversation, but it also entirely intends to bring the big belly laughs. For anyone who has ever been "the other", whether in the room or in the world, you will find a little piece of you inside this story.

What is the show investigating in its exploration of the British higher education system?

The story is set in a predominantly white institution which, through my studies in the UK, I realised is a topic that can often go unspoken about in academia and art. My intention is to explore the unity in difference, but also recognise there is also distance in that existence.

Experiences of black women in this system are being unapologetically exposed and unpacked with respect and emphasis on these experiences as varied, at times contrasting and distinct.

Has having a comedic element to the show made it fun to rehearse and create?

I'm a firm believer that a good laugh can bring light to even the darkest of moments. This play lends itself to painful realities and a truth that can be hard to even think about, let alone say out loud. Therefore, comedy was not only essential in the writing process but also for the rehearsal room as it is a constant reminder to see the light. I also love to laugh.

Young Gifted and Black season at Theatre Peckham 3 October - 2 November

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