Chantelle Alle and Melissa Saint grew tired of not seeing stories that reflected their lives as young, black women. So they decided to create one. Here, they write about the dire need for such plays as PYNEAPPLE. P
The SPYCE Collective is made up of five female creatives from London and PYNEAPPLE is our debut play. It is set in a London-based hair-salon, Crowns, and follows four black women on their journeys of growth. The women discuss many issues such as: colourism, racism, depression, the pressure of coming-out and self-love. They occupy this safe space, though the surrounding area is being gentrified; as a result of this, Crowns is under threat of closing.
We first came up with the idea to write PYNEAPPLE after meeting at drama school. We would travel home together and discuss our experiences and the types of stories that we wanted to see in the industry. Many of those conversations were about our experiences with hair, men, beauty ideals and more taboo subjects within our community such as same-sex relationships and mental health. We wanted to put honest stories on stage that people could relate to and that didn’t focus on black trauma and suffering. Essentially, we wanted to see ourselves.
It’s obvious that we are underrepresented in the theatre industry and we have been yearning for a piece of work that accurately depicted our lives as young, black women. It’s quite tricky to navigate passion around your craft whilst recognising that there is a lack of space for you, and this was something that we had to swallow as well as think about dismantling. It’s one thing to diversify the creative industry by casting people of colour, but it’s more important to explore their stories and backgrounds, and showcase this accurately and honestly to best reflect a diverse society. This act is fundamental because it is how we learn about ourselves and others. As black women, we exist at the bottom of a social hierarchy built on an undeniable combination of systemic racism and sexism. The Arts teach a young black girl what she is, or rather what the world thinks she is, before she even knows how to comprehend her existence, and the messages that we receive via these methods of learning are extremely damaging.
Writing PYNEAPPLE was kind of a necessity for us, as we felt that only we could write this story. The piece is somewhat autobiographical as it is inspired by our lives, and the women are extensions of ourselves. The feelings and events within the play are either personal to the collective or are those of close friends and family. For us, it was clear that although the characters were different, we could see ourselves in each one of them, and we knew the words would speak to so many people. We believe that PYNEAPPLE needs to be seen, heard, and absorbed by everyone – even those who feel as though they may not relate.
In the Autumn of 2018, we applied to be a part of BlacktressUK’s work-in-progress season (as part of the John Thaw Initiative). It was the perfect opportunity for us to explore an idea, and so we are very grateful to Cherrelle Skeete and Shiloh Coke for programming us. Though the piece itself has changed, one thing remains the same: we want our audience to take away understanding. PYNEAPPLE is about learning and growth; growth within our community and for those that exist outside of that community. Sometimes when we as black women speak about our experiences, we are accused of being too loud. People need to recognise that when we talk about our experiences, it’s not to upset others, but more about taking a message from them. It’s our time to share our stories so that we can all grow as people.
We knew instantly that the work would serve to empower ourselves, our sisters, nieces, cousins and mothers. Being a black woman in this world can sometimes make it incredibly difficult to recognise our light and beauty, and so the words serve women that look like us; those alive today, those who have come before us and those that will come after us. We hope that all marginalised groups of people will feel empowered, knowing that they’re not alone in their experiences and feelings of frustration. This is part of the reason why we named ourselves The SPYCE Collective. It stands for ‘Stay Proud, You’ll Crush Expectation’, as we aim to inspire those who may feel disregarded in society.
PYNEAPPLE will feature as part of the curated festival ‘This is Black’, promoting new Black writing until August 25. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Bunker’s website.