As someone who belongs to many socially constructed identities, my work as a theatre maker is inherently intersectional – I can only understand the world through these interconnected parts of me. In my show, Everything I Am, I explore being a Queer, Black woman – all identities that are marginalised. However, I take it one step further and explore what happens when these groups marginalise each other; Queer spaces that are racist, Black spaces that are homophobic and, White Feminism, for example.
My character is pursuit of belonging and that is made all the more tragic because she sits in between these groups – seeking solace, shared understanding and a companionship that she can never seem to access. However, the show isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s a funny, coming-of-age tale as old as time; a young woman growing up and trying to assert her place in the world. She’s youthful and excitable, even optimistic, despite her experiences.
This doesn’t mean that she isn’t without her own flaws. She is someone who is marginalised, but this does not mean that she can’t be problematic too. I felt that it was important for me to acknowledge that.
The through-line of the show is my character’s obsession with Kanye West. She truly believes in this idea of him as a radical, confident saviour-figure who calls everyone out, stands up for himself, and would never allow himself to be in a position my character often finds herself in – voiceless. She idolises his celebrity which, in turn, makes her incredibly narrow-minded. She never interrogates any of his problematic traits or viewpoints. She has found one tenuous thread to hang her hopes on – Kanye is brave where she is fearful – and she runs with it, glorifying him every step of the way. Desperate for some sort of role model, she chooses a questionable option. What do we do when our idols are problematic? What do we do when the people we expect to stick up for us (Kanye is black, my character is black) may not actually have our backs? In this way, I’m interrogating some of the complex intersections within black identities, shining a light on how we are similar and how we are different.
The ways in which we are different should be highlighted and celebrated. However, throughout my life I’ve had to judge situations that I find myself in to work out which of my identities are allowed a seat at the table. For example, certain scenarios have required me to quieten my queerness and put my racial identity in the driver’s seat. It’s a weird position to be in when you are all of these things and all of your experiences are informed by these multiple identities. The notion of having to choose which one is more important, or can be represented, at any given time, is frustrating and bizarre.
Theatre can be like this, too. I have often found myself watching a Black play that affirms some aspects of my experience of blackness or a feminist play that I can only half-heartedly agree with. These works never feel as if they’re truly representing the full story for me. I’ll watch the black play and wonder where the queer people are, or I’ll watch a feminist play and wonder where the black women are. (Let’s not get started on representations of class, disability, and non-black people of colour.) But perhaps this is unfair. There is a pressure, usually applied to women, to represent all people at all times, which is impossible to do.
I want a level playing field in which all stories are told in theatres up and down the country. We aren’t there yet. For now, though, we must have some self-awareness about the art we’re making, the people that we’re including and who we’re excluding from the narrative.
One of the best things about theatre is the ability it gives us to step into another person’s shoes and see the world in a new way. When we do not create theatre that is intersectional, we are denying people that opportunity to truly understand the systems in which we live and operate under, and how those systems affect each and every one of us. When we do not create theatre that is intersectional, we only present one side of the story – and, chances are, that is the side that has been told over and over again, for the last 2000 years.
Everything I Am is at the King’s Head Theatre on Monday 30 April, 7pm.