kay scorah.

invisible + unheard = fearless.

Month: November, 2019

Turning the Tables. Turning the Tide.

As we step into the 10-day countdown to Turning the Tables conference, the inspiring and thought-provoking conversations continue: conversations with our 10 young speakers, with my network of extraordinary collaborators, and with new people I’ve met as a result of starting this journey.

I’m grateful to Canon Ed Newell, CEO of Cumberland Lodge and author of “The Sacramental Sea”, for quite accidentally helping me to realise why the Turning the Tables Conference is so important to me. As our wide-ranging conversation the other day turned to the magical and profound effect that the ocean can have on our physical and mental health, Canon Newell referred to “turning the tide”. Exactly. I’m hoping that Turning the Tables will be the start of turning our sea of troubles into waves of opportunity.

I’m also grateful to Camilla Parker of Just Equality for informative and inspiring conversation around the rights of all young people, and to artists like Elizabeth Arifien who fiercely and beautifully continue to remind us of all that we can gain from granting equal respect to all types of intelligence and expression, not just the intellectual and verbal.

It has seemed to me for some time that the role of our governments and organisations has been reduced to a clumsy, resentful patching up of holes in dysfunctional systems, only to see another hole appear as soon as that repair is done.

I’m impatient for more fundamental change. Smarter people than I, Albert Einstein for one, have expressed this more eloquently, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Also smarter than I, my friend and colleague the extraordinary Lucy Taylor recently asked if perhaps the concept of sustainability sets too low a bar, it implies maintaining the status quo, when our aim instead should be regeneration. We need not better repair kits, but to build something new out of the remains of the old.

We continue to complain that nothing seems to work, and the evidence for this is right there under our noses; from homeless people on the streets to electoral corruption to 6 week waits to see a GP, yet like an addict returning to the drug dealer, we keep looking for help in the wrong places. This is not least because we keep bringing our problems to those “excellent sheep” described by William Deresiewicz, the graduates from establishment schools and top universities who have achieved their status by performing so well within this broken system.

Because of my own steep learning curve in the last few years, I have come to believe that it is never too late to really listen to and learn from those that we have previously placed on the outside. If we help them to belong, we will all benefit. I am emphatically not asking for intellectual colonialism at Turning the Tables; our role as the audience is not to listen to these young people and tell them how we will help them to be more like us. No. Our role is to have enough humility to listen to them, and, based on what we hear, co-create with them the new ways of working and playing that we so badly need.

 

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Threadmash. November 2019. The Gift.

With thanks to the Threadmash Crew, especially Rohan Candappa, and to fellow Threadmasher Ian Louis Harris for featuring this on his OgBlog

The subject for our latest gathering was “The Gift” Here is my contribution. Or gift, if you like.

The Gift. Bobo

The Holme Lane Theatre Company – HLTC – specialised in Dickensian tales of poverty and suffering. Inspired by…

…well…

…Charles Dickens’ tales of poverty and suffering.

Their performances always featured a fierce heroine; Olivia Twist or Nicola Nickleby, who overcame tyranny and liberated the oppressed. This heroine was always slight of build, sharp-witted and fleet of foot. Uncannily like a certain small, skinny girl who always came top of the class and had to run fast to escape the thick bully boys in the neighbourhood.

The cast of HLTC, a motley collection of dolls and soft toys, would rehearse in my attic playroom in Hillsborough, Sheffield, and then head out on tour, which involved moving the entire production down to the living room to play to a captive (as opposed to captivated) audience of long-suffering grown ups, or GUs as we shall call them.

Bobo joined the cast in September 1961. A birthday gift from Granny. The first black doll in our company. She turned out to be the Russian doll of gifts. Which is weird because you don’t come across many black Russians….not outside of a cocktail menu, anyway.

Bobo the doll was just the wrapper around the gift of layers of learning.

Bobo gift 1: Golly has to go. With her movable arms, head and legs and her eyes which closed when she lay down, Bobo was a far more versatile performer than Golly, who just flopped about the place with a fixed grin. And, to be honest, in spite of being rocketed to stardom after having been featured on the side of a jam jar, Golly’s place in the company had been uncertain for some time. Some of our audience did not approve, even threatened to boycott performances, and with Bobo’s arrival… things became very awkward. No. Bobo most certainly could not be expected to work alongside Golly. This was perhaps the only time in history that a black female was given precedence over a male of any hue.

Bobo gift 2: Fluidity in representations of gender.

With Golly gone, there were no male cast members. So we became an all-female theatre company. Male characters, if we must have them, were played by girl dolls. In 1961. Yes, The Holme Lane Theatre company was way ahead of its time.

Bobo Gift 3. Questioning the concept of gendered naming:

Bobo arrived on a Tuesday. In conversation with Mr Baidu down the street, I learned that Bobo was Ghanaian for “Tuesday child”. I didn’t know that it was Ghanaian for “boy Tuesday child”. Nor did Bobo.

Bobo Gift 4. Heated debates on colonialism, cultural appropriation, integration, assimilation, ancestry, origin, custom. And more:

Some of the GUs argued that Bobo should have an English name, like the other dolls – Wendy, Susan, Lorraine, Katy. “She needs to feel that she belongs.” “Just because she’s black doesn’t mean she isn’t English.” Others defended her right to claim her ancestry….
It could be hard to get their attention back to the play; to Olivia Twist MP’s fight for workhouse reform or Dr Nicola Nickleby’s courageous work among child polio victims.

So, here’s to Bobo, probably the first black female to play the lead in a stage adaptation of a Dickens novel, who, 5 years before the race relations act, called out racism and reclaimed African culture from the colonial Brits, and who, decades ahead of the LGBTQ+ movement gave rise to an all-female, gender non-conforming, cross-dressing theatre company.

Not bad for a doll.