Stargazing is both an art and a science, a pursuit with a broad enough appeal for the dreamer and the realist. Accompany this with the pain of losing a sibling and the joy of reminiscing on happy family memories to the velvety vocals of Billie Holiday and then ask yourself the question, ‘Who wants to live forever?’
Cheryl Martin’s new one woman show, titled by this question explores her personal experiences alongside her pastimes and interests; it is an open suitcase of the things that she loves. What started as a show about ‘falling stars – human or celestial’, soon developed into a more in depth of look at Cheryl’s journey through childhood to adulthood, in relation to her siblings. Cheryl recalls how she has long been intrigued by the idea of ‘why people enjoy watching other people crack up on stage’, whether that’s ‘Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston’ and, how people remember the tragic elements of someone’s life, such as Billie Holiday.
Listening to Billie taught Cheryl to sing and so, it makes perfect sense that her music could be a soundtrack to the elements of Cheryl’s life that the show explores. Given that her brother passed away six years ago and that this event plays a huge role in Cheryl’s life and within her show, she describes Who Wants to Live Forever as ‘a love letter to her baby brother… a lullaby’.
Cheryl made the decision to use a mixture of sad and happy songs to accompany us on our theatrical journey. She hopes the songs will chart a range of emotions that will change and grow within us, as we witness this powerful story unfold before us. When asked about her decision to craft the show in this way – deliver us a song-filled show as opposed to a one-person storytelling session or a hearty musical, she posed the question “did I pick the format or, did the format pick me?”. In the early stages of the creative process it became clear to Cheryl that a non-linear journey could create an impressionistic and elevated experience, when accompanied by the thread of Billie’s music.
Who Wants to Live Forever is part of Black Gold Arts Festival, a weekend festival celebrating and showcasing the work of Northern BAME artists. Cheryl founded the festival in 2015 alongside dancer, Darren Pritchard. Thus far, it has given a platform to the likes of Chanje Kunda, Keisha Thompson, Seni Seneviratne and Ria Hartley. This year’s festival brings a new group of artists to Contact’s stage in Nuclear, a series of monologues by young writers who have been mentored by Cheryl. She believes it is incredibly important to develop young artists, but also to encourage them to broaden their artistic horizons and see as much work as possible. ‘Going to see work made by (their) generation’ can be a great catalyst to prompting young people (particularly young people of colour) to leave the theatre thinking ‘what can I do?’
A firm believer that theatre created by people of colour is an essential and vital component of the arts world, Cheryl advocates that our stories are important and that they can give way to bringing a different audience make up into the theatre. She then spoke of her and Darren’s upcoming winter show, Rent Party – becoming more frequently referred to as the ‘alternative Christmas show’. This immersive piece of theatre exploring what it is to be Black, gay and broke in modern Britain offers something a little different to audiences this festive season and will certainly be an interesting evening without the usual December prominence of “oh no, he isn’t!”.
We currently have the opportunity to experience Cheryl’s artistic finesse at work across a multitude of theatrical roles: singer, performer, director, mentor… the list goes on. Her influence in the Northern arts scene is prominent and, her motivations to push the scene and its creatives into the limelight are infectious. As one of the key players in the black arts world, she is working hard at the weaving loom of theatre to ensure a Black artistic legacy – Black gold living forever.
Who Wants to Live Forever? Is playing at Contact from 17 – 18 November, for more information and to book tickets, visit https://contactmcr.com/shows/cheryl-martin-who-wants-to-live-forever/
Rent Party is playing at Sheffield Theatres from 13 – 23 December, for more information and to book tickets, visit https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/rent-party/dates