Directing “Substance” – A Hip Hop Theatre Dance performance

I was invited by Jonzi D,  creator of Sadlers Wells’ Breakin’ Convention  join a collaboration with Redbridge Drama Centre.  The commission was to devise and develop  a spoken word and dance piece to tour schools and community centres in the Redbridge area to raise awareness around substance abuse and sexual exploitation in youth culture. The two more often than not come hand-in-hand  leaving many young people vulnerable and disoriented. Education is always the key in order to empower young people to make sensible decisions about drug and alcohol consumption and the vibrant youth cultural today.
I initially met with Redbridge Young people Theatre company to discuss what was most important to them when it came to youth culture and tackling social issues such as sex and mind altering substances, and friendship figured as a high priority.
Support networks, loyalty, allegiances and informally adopted “Fam” seemed to be the key element of well-being for young people who knew which risks were rife in their spheres of social engagement. They combat hyper sexualisation, hyper masculinity, cyber bullying and ‘drag culture’ (insistent body and intellect shaming often through social media). In combination with education or employment pressures, family responsibility  clashing with personal freedom and development, young people in their teens through to early twenties often fall prey to addictive substances whose potencies are intensified through dangerous concoctions and mixing in order to ‘fit in’ and/or appear cool and current.
I also met with Fusion NELFT – drugs and alcohol service for young people to get a clearer idea  of the impact of these substances on the mental health and well-being of young bodies, minds and relationships in many other settings outside of the  youth groups. Employment success was low and familiy tensions ran high as the substance drove rifts between users and their family members.
I was also surprised by some of the cultural sub-divisions in the  demographics of substance used among young people.Focused on the Redbridge area, stats revealed problematic alcohol consumption was high amongst mainly white males and Asian females. Amongst white females, MDMA and Ketamine were the drug of preference, where as cocaine was of high usage amongst Asian males. All partook of marijuana but it was a predominant amongst African and African-Caribbean groups.
Criminalisation of youth presents very serious issues for young people who often find themselves misrepresented in the media. The negative stigma of drug possession and/or consumption is compounded by gender and race. The sexualisation of young women intensifies with drug use, and with mainstream narratives on rape culture the increased chances of sexual exploitation in exchange for drugs or risky encounters leave them open to sexual disease or molestation. The story was going to be a hard but an interesting challenging one to tell.

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Perception, Power and Race in UK Arts – Trailer

What does it mean to be an Artist of colour, an artist on African descent in the UK?

Late 2014, I wrote a blog post in response to the South African theatre-maker Brett Bailey at the height of the UK controversy over his piece, ‘Exhibit B’.

A year later, wanting so much to create something around how black and brown artists are censored in many spaces and at many levels in the process of a piece’s inception to its full production,  I made an explorative film about the  discrepancies and damage being done to the arts in programming an artist like this.

‘Diversity’ and representation are just the tip of the iceberg in the ongoing and stuttering discourse about race and the arts in the UK.

Writer, performance artist, project developer and educator Zena Edwards scratches below the surface to speak about *perception* and its role in the “diversity” conversation in UK arts.
Full video exploration – Wednesday 18th November 2015

Dear Anger and the Three Furies

In March, of this year I faced a challenged I never expected. My own anger. I was asked to describe it, to critique it to make a creative pieces of spoken word theatre about it in collaboration with Dutch female MC Clara Opoku and South African Poet Mbali Vilakazi. The Three Furies project is commissioned in partnership byAfrovibes and MC Theatre, Netherlands.

We used the myth of the Three Furies as inspiration for our writing but the dialogue that arose between us and then with the audiences we shared our work with brought to light that women’s anger is almost a taboo subject – words like hysterical, time-of-the-month and b*tch come to mind as starters. How do women process thier anger when its not considered “nice” or “lady-like” to let rip? Where does it go? What do we do with the ensuing frustration if we do not channel it healthily? I explore these questions more on the Travelling Light blog and Clara, Mbali and I share our work on the THREE FURIES BLOG.
Sharon Jane D. is a dutch visual artist who took our poems and interpreted them for film. Here warehouse studio space was enormous and full of nooks crannies and open spaces ripe for filming moody pieces and as locations for photography.

Here is a poem from the show. Hosted by the Albany in Deptford, South East London

My Time at LISPA

During a course at the London International School of Performance Arts, I had taken a module called The Dramatic Space. Students were asked to explore the energies in the a space and how with full body extension and contraction in movement, eyeline and wordless sound, the size and energy of a space can be changed by the illusion of the action of the performers on stage. I took the course because I felt a little rusty and remembered the stamina needed for Security, my first one woman show, and how performance classes influenced my approach to my writing.

Watch Mahmoud, a 47 Palestinian man, self-exiled to London.

I was able to edit, analyze the concepts of movement, song and character expression replacing text. I became less precious about text and as a writer, that was a huge step. What was also really most interesting was how the language and natural rhythms innate in all our personality traits, quirks and natural expressiveness is written into character mono or dialogue if the characters are explored well. Their back story is crucial.

What I loved about The Lispa courses also was because, of their intense nature, (I love to work in short, compact bursts) the immediacy of making working, the spontaneity and quick team collaborations  generating raw, moving and very funny scenes pulled  an uncensored creativity from me – no time to judge, only to respond with fearless authenticity to some of the difficult tasks set.

LISPA is a very interesting world of drama exploration and has helped me with what is means to perform with and without text. The course helped me look deeper into my writing styles, techniques, patterns and flow.

**CLICK HERE FOR THE LISPA WEBSITE**

Poet Storytellers to conquer Theatre? My take…

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

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?

Image Credit: Rob Sloetry

‘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 Continue reading

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.