Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Dramaturgy Out!: Rachael Young @ Edfringe 2017

Am I black enough? Straight enough? Jamaican enough?Defiant and powerful, Rachael Young’s bittersweet new performance work comes to Edinburgh Festival Fringe, offering a space for self reflection

reated and performed with Dwayne Antony

8 to 13 August 2017 at 10.40pm
Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh       

Created and performed by performance artist Rachael Young and dance artist/choreographer Dwayne Antony, OUT is a defiant act of self-expression – a live art dance piece examining the stigmas associated with queerness and gender conformity within Caribbean communities.

Young says: “To be part of the community one must, toe the line, act right and remember not to bring shame to the family door. When you are queer and black this becomes a balancing act. We grow up identifying with Dancehall but are alienated because of the homophobic content.”

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The performance was inspired by a strong desire to shine a light on black British queer experiences and break the air of silence around something, which is perhaps surprisingly, still a taboo subject.  We wanted to create a space to reflect on our own experiences and that of others, particularly focusing on the challenges of embracing your identity and your culture at the same time, when those two things can feel in opposition to each other. 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
One of the primary reason for creating this work, was to create a space to talk about the themes we’re exploring.  We’ve found with this work that it definitely has sparked important conversations and many audience members have commented how the work has stayed with them long after the show.  

The lack of spoken text in the show itself also helps to inspire conversation around the significance of the various elements within it, there’s an openness, which invites personal reflection and interpretation, which we’ve found to be a great starting point for discussion and self-expression for audiences after seeing the work. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve always been interested in performance, since graduating from drama school, but I think my perceptions of what performance could be, were challenged after working at and Art gallery in Nottingham (New Art Exchange).  

I was interested in the division between live art and theatre and wanted to explore the intersections between these two
worlds.  I think this is largely what OUT is trying to do.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
With this show, my process was very different to the way I’ve made work in the past, because I knew that I wanted to explore movement as the primary performance language rather than text.  

At first, all I knew was that I wanted to explore the black British queer experience; I had a very strong image in my mind of two black bodies in a space; it’s from there that we began.  The process was very organic, with myself and Dwayne Antony, who unlike me is a trained dancer, generating physical material through discussion around our own experiences and in response to research we were doing around wider struggles for LGBTQ+ rights both in the UK and abroad.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
OUT is definitely a departure from my usual work, which is more text heavy and narrative driven.  The visual design for the piece is also far simpler and more stripped back than my previous aesthetic.  With this particular piece, I wanted to really experiment with form and try to move away from more theatrical traditions in order to find a greater level of honesty.  

More so than ever before, I was also challenging myself to talk about a subject, which is both a culturally and personally challenging, at the same time I am pushing my body to its physical limits and to work in a way it never has before.  I think it’s in this physical and emotional striving that the power of the work is expressed. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope that audience will find themselves highly engaged in the work and its themes.  I hope that it offers people a space to reflect on their own cultural histories and the significance of those histories in relation to their personal identity.  I hope that they emerge fired up, energised by the intensity of the music and the movement that they witness so close up.  I hope it gives them a sense of empowerment, as it does us and inspires them to discuss the work in relation to their own lives and talk about it with others.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We wanted to give a sense of some of the spaces that the show inhabits, as the audience walk in, they are met with an environment, which feels like a Dancehall rave; the loudness of the bassy music, the thickness of smoke in the air, the urge to dance.  From then on it's really about creating an intimate space with the audience; at times we (the performers) are very vulnerable and this enables us to create an open and safe space, which puts the show themes under a microscope and allows us to share that scrutiny with our audiences, with kindness and without holding back. 

In a departure for Young whose previous work has been predominantly narrative driven, this piece leaves words behind. Instead, it embraces Vogue and Dancehall-inspired movement and striking visual imagery, set to a layered bass-heavy soundtrack. It excavates and celebrates the lives  of Afro-Caribbean LGBTQ+ people, who walk a daily tightrope, surrounded by repressions and constant pressures to hold up a family’s social standing.
Identically but barely dressed, Young and Antony push their bodies and their closeness to the limit, inviting audiences to reflect on their own identity, heritage and personal politics. They reclaim Dancehall for themselves and celebrate queerness as they are drenched in the juices and bittersweet scent of oranges. Embracing personal, political and cultural dissonance, OUT summons up voices and re-enacts movements in a chaotic mash-up of remembrance and reinvention.

OUT is created with kind support from The Yard, The Marlborough Theatre, In Between Time, Arts Council England, Leicester Curve, South East Dance and Greenwich University.  It is part of Rachael Young’s extended research project: The Freedom Project.

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