IN 2009 I performed “Security“, my first one woman show in Amsterdam’s prestigious venue Podium Mozaiek. In march 2012, I shall be returning again to perform “Travelling Light”. Both shows have challenged me to stretch my appreciation of Spoken Word and Poetry in the world of theatre and how extended works such as these are ‘cultural vehicles’ exploring poetic language in performance, or literature made ‘live’.
Interview: Performance poet Zena Edwards in Amsterdam
With a fusion of poetry, the spoken word and rhythm, Zena Edwards’ new performance piece ‘Security’ straddles the gap between generations as she takes storytelling into the twenty-first century. Amsterdam, Podium Mozaiek, 20 February (English language).
How would you describe your own performances?
‘As a performance poet, I focus on both crafts individually and then fuse them. The craft of performance and the craft of poetry. I feel poetry has all the drama, pace and power right there in the text and it is there to be discovered and brought to life through performance. Over the years I have developed a performance style that pays homage to the musicality and emotion in the language. I try to keep my style conversational as this type of language is dynamic, rhythmic, with so many shades, colours and tones. So I work hard to find these. I enjoy singing so I include this too.
For the solo show though, it is another experience. There are four characters, each with their own rhythms and voices, body language. When I perform them it’s like a child’s adventure playground for me because I play in each of their worlds, changing quickly between them.
Are you a modern storyteller?
‘I think so. Storytellers take many shapes and need to be recognised as such. But first we must redefine what we think storytelling is. It’s not just for children or sitting around a campfire. Storytellers are in clubs, in church, in theatres, on the streets rapping, young storytellers in school playgrounds, in the local corner shop talking about the community. They are members of our own family. Also, film, live art, and photography, sculptors and painters are all examples of storytelling as they document our time in history. And what an amazing time we are in now. We must learn to recognise who these people are and acknowledge them as the valuable members of the community that they are’.
Current events play an important role in your performances. Why do you deliberately choose this way of working? ‘That is also the role of the storyteller and the Griot – to be the chronicler of the time. I write work that references certain issues of the day to make a universal and timeless point. For example, In my one-woman show, I have written about a self-exiled middle-aged Palestinian man making friends with a 16-year-old Caribbean girl from the inner city of London. This would seem like an impossible or unlikely friendship but both have lost a brother to war – his in the Palestine Israeli conflict, hers in street gang warfare. Somewhere in all the rush and bustle of living in London they meet and connect. It is a comment on the troubled times the whole planet is experiencing and still people can find a place of unity and connection through human compassion’.
The text is the central element in your performances. How did you write the texts for ‘Security’? Could you describe the writing process?
‘Writing Security was quite and eerie experience for me because as a poet I have control of the flow of a poem. I know what I want to say and will sit and listen to the poem while it comes to me. But it was still me and my voice. With Security, I felt my characters took on a life of their own and were determined to be written the way they wanted to be written, the way they wanted to interact with one another. I have never experienced being inhabited by other people like this before. I had to do a lot of surrendering to them. As the writer, I had to back off. The only thing I had control over was the shape of the narrative. Even then, I had to ask their permission (laughs).
But the whole process was organic. It took two years of rewriting and reshaping before I got the final draft.
Your shows seem to be accessible to a wide range of people (young and old). Is that correct? And, if that is correct, why do you feel that is important?
‘I wrote the show because I felt there was a need to be filled. There is such a lack of communication between the generations now. I wrote the piece because young people and the older generation need something they can do and enjoy together. In the history of storytelling everybody in a commune would come together and listen to a story. Even today in the most ancient indigenous societies such as the Khoisan in the Namibia can find the most aged members of the community to babe in arms in these poetic storytelling sessions because the folklore within these stories is part of the glue, the fabric that holds
these communities together. I have attempted to do this with “Security” – use poetic language of ‘everyday’ as the driving force behind the dramatic storytelling to firmly plant it back to community.
The theatre can be elitist, expensive, can separates class. It’s like there’s an appointed body of omnipotent powers that induce a division, based mainly in opinion and that can be dangerous. However, these powers are also gatekeepers determining what is put and pushed on in mainstream theatre and, in consequence, contributes to the divide between the generations, cultures, races and gender (along with rampant technology, the media hype and government law) when it comes to making and promoting art.
But poetry/spoken word is a bridge between because of its accessibility and its inherent impartiality. Every one can and should own it. I also believe it is up to active members of the community and those in direct contact with the community, artists included, to evoke change and give theatre and dramatic storytelling back to the people where incredible stories of humanity come from’.
This comical and moving tale of unexpected friendship confronts the issues of security and identity through a fusion of performance poetry, theatre, movement and song. Set within the beating heart of London, the chaotic stories of five characters in crisis are exposed through the eye of a camera. What happens when one generation collides with another and cultural expectations clash?