What Hope had to say – A review of my Artist-in-Residency for the FemFest, Canada, 2011

Here are a few words from Hope McIntyre, the Artistic Director of Femfest, who took a risk and invited me to come to Winnipeg, Canada, and be artist in residence for FemFest.
It was an honour.

“It was an absolute pleasure having Zena Edwards in Winnipeg for FemFest 2011. Our theme was ‘Staging Inspiration’ and she certainly inspiredaudiences and emerging artists who had the pleasure of coming into contact with her.

Over 100 students at the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film attended a lecture she presented on her work. The students were engaged throughout the lecture and found it valuable in relation to their future career paths. Hearing about Zena’s journey, they realized that there are other forms of artistic practice besides traditional theatre and
they also learned the importance of experiencing the world they live in. Zena also facilitated Continue reading “What Hope had to say – A review of my Artist-in-Residency for the FemFest, Canada, 2011”

Writing for England – a Young Black British perspective

Last month I was privileged to work wth Talawa theatre company on a new Young Peoples Theatre production called “I am England” directed by  Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh.

My role was to engage the `Young People (or YPs) with writing, with the narrative of a new young and black british government being elected when the country finds itself in  complete in govenmental, economic and social crisis. Interestingly enough, the UK riots kicked off in the week leading up to my second session with them. It was a timely piece.

The process was incredible. On day one, many expressed an apprehension around their knowledge of politics, of even feeling like politics wasn’t something that was ‘for’ them, yet they were about to write a piece for performance solely about it. We needed to work fast and intensively. So with a series of strategically placed questions about what they knew to be happening in current affairs that very day, a few newspaper articles and writing exercises, the group were empowered, very vocal and ready to make this production fighting fit to tackle the themes of identity, belonging, power and change with a unique young, Black British experience. I was inspired myself at the energy with which they invested, how committed to finding themselves in the process.

Talawa’s YP theatre is making leaps and bounds in theatre for young voices. Adults, we need to listen up.

A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)

Well, it was 14. The last friend who could not bear the loss of so many friends and took his own life.

On Sunday January 18 1981,  a devastating house fire killed 13 young Afri-Caribbeans, during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London. “Some were shocked by what they perceived as the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity. Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire.” – Wiki-pedia.

When asked by Rex Obano to perform for this event( Commemorations of the New Cross Fire, The Albany, Jan 14th 2011), the request alone sent chills from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. There is something  about a tragedy of this  sort that stirs the psyche, even without having to know about the colour of the skins of those  who died.  But there comes a strange anger that rises when the colour of skin becomes an issue for blocking the deserved expression of sympathy for the loss of such young life and the grief of the parent who lost their babies in a treacherous fire. Continue reading “A BROTHERS KEEPER – WE MUST STEP BACK IN (in tribute to 13 Young Lives Lost in the New Cross Fire 1981)”

FESTIVAL, SHAKESPEARE AND CO – and my lost voice

Shakepeare & Company Book on Paris Left Bank

I’ve been gutted about missing performance, trains, planes, friends gigs and birthday parties before, but I have never been so disappointed at being denied to perform at a gig because of illness. I had been Scheduled to read/perform between, Hanif Kureshi and Yusuf Kumonyakaa and my voice had deserted me, left me with what sounded lke sandpaper being dragged across the back of a miserable toad. Gutted. I was in Paris, it was the coming into Autumn, the air was fresh, the festival buzzing and my voice was gone. The festival organisers were really cool and told me to take it easy, “take the pressure off”,  relax. they realized before I did that I had been working to hard. My voice folded half way though a performance of my one woman show “Security” at the Shizoka Theatre Festival in Japan. I attempted to sing. Toad croaked instead.

But I had a great interview that got me tracking my career path, investigating why  had reached a point of exhaustion that my voice packed and went on vacation without me.

Click for Festival details

Zena E’s Festival Interview by Adam Biles

“I fell into poetry when I was training to do stage management. I did the lighting and designing for a group of dynamic, young, black writers. I went to the group for a while and started re-exploring my writing, which was something I had always done as a child. But there wasn’t much of a scene in London at the time, and it wasn’t until I was in South Africa eight years later, working with a musician friend of mine, that I started writing some poetry again. I went along to a night called Monday Blues and got up and read this rough little poem I had in my notebook, and I really enjoyed it. So when I got back to London I checked out the spoken word scene and found myself falling back into it again, and it escalated from there. I never believed it would get me to the point when I could come to a festival like this. I was just having fun, but people kept inviting me back.

“The scene in London has exploded over the last seven years. There are so many circles that occasionally overlap. I’m lucky enough that I can pretty much move through all of them. There’s a spoken word cabaret scene, a spoken word comedy scene, another very literary scene, a black scene, a music and spoken word scene, which is huge in London now.

“London is a great place. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with it, but I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t endured the tensions and joys of that city. It’s a place of Continue reading “FESTIVAL, SHAKESPEARE AND CO – and my lost voice”

MOHAMMED ALI’s – WRITING ON THE WALL

Com – passion,
latin, com – together, passion – suffering
together we suffer, we suffer together
endeavour to weather
the breadth and the depth of the storm
For long are the nights for the lost, forlorn,
the broken, the tired,  the quietly enraged
lashed by the warring that keeps us engaged
with  anger and misplaced hate, bated by false truths,
Baked to break truce with all that is love, all that is compassion

Unity could drown in oil slick politic rhetoric
quick to commit Unity to the ghetto of gimmick
cuff link it to anarchy for kicks to profit from the sale of
battleship, bombshells, bullets more heavy artillery

An ocean of hands can move a mountain
and rock the cradle of the future for a child unborn, spiritually sworn
we spray prayer on resplendent edifices sprung from the earth
birthed by the song of a billion tongues speaking, singing as one.” – Written by Zena Edwards copyright

I can remember the day that Jonzi D got in touch with me and asked if I was interested in a project that involved a graffiti artist in the warehouse space of the Birmingham Rep. It was going to be  a gritty, guerilla style, performance installation piece hailing the craft of  graffiti with a Muslim perspective. My diary said I was available and I was up for it. I had to see how this idea of live graffiti art, light display with spoken word was going to work. Plus I wanted know  how a Muslim graffiti artist reconciled his faith and his unorthodox craft. Mohamed Ali blew my mind with the sheer scale of this undertaking,  how was he  going to turn a cold, grubby theatre production workshop space into a work of art.

To be working with the power houses of poetry Dreadlock Alien(B’ham) and Amir Suliman (US), along with the strong, distinct direction of  Hip Hop pioneer Jonzi D (London),  was an opportunity for myself, as a female poet toplace the resonance  of feminine energy into the  realm of war, religion and terrorism – political debates of  too usually dominated by men. What also struck me was the plain overt positivity of this event was a going to be.

There will soon be a screening of the film showing the writing/rehearsal process and the performance itself but Mohammed sent me the link to the website taster. I’m looking forward to revisiting the many  moments that were monumental  for many reasons, but notably for what is possible for poetry in unique and fresh contemporary cross art form collaborations.

The feedback on the impact of  the final performance on the audience was moving. The show evidently tackled crucial issues  about society and the perceptions about Muslim faith. As we thought, my presence was particularly appreciated. Women AND men commented on my contribution, not just because of what I did as an artist but purely because I was a woman doing what I do as an artist..

A  young girl in  a full  hijab  showing only her  expressive, bespectacled eyes, came over to me with her mother, who kissed me and hugged me and spoke with a gentle defiance. Her daughter translated. “My mother is so happy for you, so proud that you sang tonight.” It meant a lot.

The event itself was empowering because we as artists were  stripped down to the bare essential of our beliefs around  Love, Peace, Unity. To do that, we had to explore war, hate and prejudice. Even to the degree of fully engaging in the battles that go on within ourselves. (There was no room for ego and fortunately there was none of that amongst us.) We had four days to make this work. We knew it was going to be massive. It couldn’t flop. It had to be brilliant. More than brilliant.

From the film  trailer, I sense  that inner story is told too. We had agreed  to be a part of Mohamed Ali’s gargantuan,  heartfelt vision with a message – chosen because of what and how we do what we do. He had dug deep into his emotions, his memory, using  the stamina of his mental and spiritual willpower to make this project happen – not seeing his family, unable to grieve properly for his father’s recent passing. The physical toll on his body, only he knows – painting 13 – 16  hours in a day to finish in time. His passion and dedication is to be admired and respected.  So our agreement meant complete surrender  for us too. Surrender  to our roles  as modern day storytellers and as artists, and most significantly, to the real meanings of these archaic themes , Love, Peace  and Unity, and what they really mean in this day and age.

ALL ABOARD THE ALBANY!!

8759a7144f14bbb57a624684055506b1Now I gotta tell you, there is a multitude of reasons I love the Albany in Deptford. I’d go there just for the food. But what I love about the place is that as a community venue, I feel it is used BY THE COMMUNITY!

There’s theatre, live (really live) music, performance poetry, evening courses, childrens ballet, an OAP choirs, Heads for Business advice service if your just starting out as a new business, a special needs disco… I mean I could go on.

caf373fb0eb5afcbe72019ef264811e1Young, old, disabled, every culture and creed that I believe makes up the area of Deptford, thus representing the city of London, uses this space. It feels like a family home with the same tensions and bubble Love you get in any family home. It’s real. No pretences or pretensions. I put that down to the staff and the programming of events that go on there. I find that too many venues lose their way in how they provide art for their local community because of funding. It’s all about ticket sales –  “bums on seats.”

a21d29abd03e7b4f6e7a7763f535925cIt’s a kind of tyranny when a venue is at the mercy of fulfilling the criteria set by funding bodies. But I get it. I’m not mad at anyone. The Olympics are coming to town and everyone is feeling the pinch as cuts are made to budgets of community venues, charities and arts project a like. I myself know a couple of people personally who have seriously felt the slash of the blade and their organisations are “not waving but drowning” or have well and truly sunk. It ain’t fair.

cd5acf66030d716ab6d68f930f3d2f02But what amazes me – and it really is a testament to the spirit of creativity – there are artists who just keep on keeping on. Broke as broke can get; they’ll build a bridge when there’s a ravine, they’ll build a raft if there’s rushing water, they’ll spit on a fire if they thought it would hold back the flames from consumming an arts project, a gig, event , screening or exhibition. They find a way out of “know” way. Aside from this being very Hip Hop, it is also a testament to those who believe in filling that gap in the spirit of society where the heart of survival exists. Make art. Everybody make art. And The Albany is a place where they hail this motto.

BREAKIN’ CONVENTION

m_7b928e1b48b00a3777efceab358ee452Yesterday it was all about the power moves and the sweat pants and hairspray. I have never seen so many mad hair do’s stuck to foreheads, flying off every which-a-way. Then there was the ants-in-yer-pants massive, jiggling bodies in tank tops or heavy cotton sweats. So many budding young dancers itching in their seats to up rock, body wave, head spin, you name it they’ve contorted their bodies to do it. Bass bin speakers in Sadlers wells were working hard, Makes me feel old. Not that told but old enough. Ken Swift’s 7 Gems made me relax. Old skool moves by b-boys and b-girls who just had hip hop in their bones and it flowed out of them effortless. Loved them. The highlight was a rendition of Korean military dictatorship history, told with humour, sensitivity, and some badass body popping and break dance. They made the big finale with the girls screaming and the boy woofing. If you haven’t been to Jonzi D’s Breakin’ Convention then you need to get there. Website address FYI – http://www.breakinconvention.com/

Peace and Jollof

*~Z~*

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