Theatre maker Nicole Acquah brings For A Black Girl to VAULT Festival 2018. She muses about how difficult it still is to talk about race:

Sometimes I still find it difficult to talk about race. Yes, I know that’s a strange way to begin a post that will, inevitably, end up discussing race and gender. A lot. And it’s even stranger coming from someone who wrote For a Black Girl, a play which, as the title suggests, never shies away from these topics.

For a Black Girl was born out of many things – it was a response to a world in which I couldn’t turn on the news without witnessing vile racist attacks, or rapists getting away scott free for their crimes. Of course, it was also written as a response to a conversation I had with someone who was convinced neither racism nor sexism could possibly affect contemporary Britain.

All that anger quelled the fear surrounding speaking out about such things – the fear of being stereotyped, shut down or generally disbelieved. As a result, For a Black Girl is scathingly honest, direct and seeks to leave no stones unturned in the exploration of the BAME female experience.

But it wasn’t just written in anger. It was also written from a place of peace, hope and confidence

I’d never felt more confident as a black woman, having just learnt a lot more about female friendships and sexuality. So of course, there’s a lot of tension. Before attempting to unravel the threads that hold the play together, we have to first understand that the threads are engaged in a violent Tug of War – on one side is the anger I felt so keenly and on the other is the complete joy of being both black and a woman.

Theatre For A Black Girl VAULT Festival 2018

Jinsook Kim, Chusi Amoros & Carly McCann

And it’s not only about being black or about being a woman. There are a range of stories in For a Black Girl and as a company, we want to do all of them justice. They are stories that wonderful people have allowed us to present onstage. I say ‘present’ because I don’t feel that This Is It Theatre are here to ‘tell’ these peoples’ stories.

We’re here to listen. I pray that we do these beautiful, soul-baring stories their due

I remember finishing the play and being filled with this burning certainty that these stories had to be told. And being told they are! For a Black Girl is not an ‘easy’ play by any means. It’s probably good to mention that there are multiple, agonizingly painful, tales in the show (in case anyone was expecting a light, fluffy approach to BAME experiences – don’t say I didn’t warn you!). But the play is also satirical and we also want to allow space for the audience to breathe.

Despite the serious topic matters, the process itself has been fun. I’m blessed to work with people who are happy to tackle, rather than run from, the challenge of presenting these painful narratives. Especially as I am 100% guilty of wanting to run away from these things! Thank goodness I have people who are honest about how a heavy scene affects them and who want to discuss the difficult things.

Honesty furthers the process

It’s a process of constantly learning, unlearning and, dare I say it, relearning. As a company, we find things in the text that I didn’t even realise were there. Sometimes someone will point out something that reminds me of my intention for that particular moment or line in the first place. PJ Stanley, who I’ve had the pleasure of performing with throughout the entire process, pointed out that this is probably because I’m a different person now from who I was when I wrote the play. And that makes total sense.

Theatre For A Black Girl VAULT Festival 2018

PJ Stanley & Nicole Acquah

Playwrights, actors and people from all creative walks of life are changing, and it’s okay to let the process reflect that. We’ve run through the script so many times that it can become easy to assume that we know exactly how it works.

But that’s dangerous

The script is a varying one; there are moments of direct address, interviews, movement and poetry. As such, there are a million and one different ways of looking at it. I guess the real challenge is to approach each day with a fresh attitude and to think:

How can we improve this scene? What can be added or taken away? What leaves us with the purest version of these stories?

I’ve also reached one conclusion throughout this process:

When we speak honestly about our experiences, we can never be a stereotype. We are individuals who must define our narratives.

 

For A Black Girl plays as part of VAULT Festival 2018 from 24 – 28 January 2018. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.