Pit Stop.

I want to write this while I remember what it feels like.

I’m writing as a wife and a mother working, a working wife and mother.  These responsibilities come before anything else. Of course I’m also a daughter, daughter-in law, a sister, sister-in law, aunt, niece, cousin and a friend.  All of these roles belong to me.

I need to tell you about my job as a Director/ Producer. I’m not in this on my own, I work alongside Marcia Layne Writer/ Producer, together we are Hidden Gems Productions.

To make it clear Tabonuco is my creative entity that is rooted in Heritage and exploring in Film ( I’ve been accepted on a film making course which will support my first short documentary)

Now back to Hidden Gems, Hidden Gems Productions is a theatre collaborative, Black, British and Bold.

Due to my lower back issues, (high jumper,dancer,mum) I’ve been asked by health professionals, to find time, steal time to buy time for myself. Fellow Producers, promoters of events, the self-employed will understand my first thoughts  on that….. It involved a lot of rolling of eyes and kissing my teeth. No one is promised tomorrow but since I’d quite like to see a few more mornings I’m taking heed.  It’s my time now.

First of all I looked at how it is. Often when you push forward with your work it’s not the idea or even the work that can cause ‘stress’ but the lack of push surrounding your work. A crumpled folded flyer, a dumped batch of posters, non-returned calls, a casually missed deadline, late payments  of invoices all go towards adding pressure. This is whilst navigating the politics, back biting and general bullshit that goes on in the world right about now.

Let me tell you there are some days I wonder what the hell are we doing producing a theatre tour, two Black women in Yorkshire, are we crazy?  No….but trust me some days I have to question myself.

Some days I have to close my eyes and imagine the empty space….. the auditorium, the lights the music, pre show the audience the buzz….Just to keep going.

Hidden Gems Productions creating an atmosphere of anticipation, excitement and maybe even fear.

It’s hard to watch anything else be it tv, film or theatre itself without thinking, hearing, feeling, how do we make this worthwhile, worth your time, worth telling ,worth remembering?

Maya Angelou said

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’

So we keep going.

So that’s how it feels, here are some insights to the journey so far.

Every job creates another.

Creating that A5 flyer (please look out for it) involves so much you feel you should take a bow just for producing that. Is it striking enough? Is it heavy enough, environmentally let us order only what we need ……just how many people does it take to put up a poster?  And where to place them?

We don’t have a marketing team of our own (yet) what we do have is an amazing Dave who produces the style and energy we need as close to a brand as we can get.

With casting, from cast call to contracts. We have developed some mutually respectful working relationships with Agents.  It’s about getting their person seen and then asking for feedback if they didn’t get the job.  We’ve met some intriguing Actors from all over the country, some having their very first visit to the North, let alone Yorkshire. We have cast people who made us feel something, who could work hard as part of a team bringing their particular talent they are responsible for to the table.

We had over 600 applications and shortlisted and auditioned 24. This task was so large we wrote a report! Its great having a growing interest in what we do.

I’m now taking time out to reflect on the journey so far before we step it up another gear.  Rehearsals start out in a few weeks’ time. Opening night at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield 31st May 2012.

Who knows what the future holds.

What I do know is that we have a special story to tell about a teenage son and his mother, about broken friendships, loneliness of teenage girls and…….well come and take a look.

It must be special I’m taking time to tell you and resting easy for now so I can.

Look forward to seeing you at a performance next month, before then I’ll be at a coffee shop drinking herb tea and getting ready for the next part of this journey.

AH.

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No matter what the people say.

I understand some of you want me to cry for Greece, Syria or the Middle East in general. Lord knows I have and will continue to pray and push for peace. Little ole me.

I understand you think my being upset over a celebratory is ridiculous maybe even a little funny. Who gets to choose who we grieve for? Some obscure footballer, past MP or musician pops off, their picture flashes up, the newscaster puts their sad face and voice on and we all move on in 20 seconds. Some we are allowed to mourn for, for who they were, who they could have been, Elvis and Bob to name but a few. Others you can feel the ‘get over it’ sign going up before the first tear even sticks in your throat.

Anyway I get it, for those who don’t it’s ok. You do you and let me do me.

My eyes were wide when I first saw Whitney. This vision with blonde curly hair doing soul/pop. She wanted to dance with somebody and I shouted me too! At 13 years old, Black and lanky, I not only learnt the words, I did the video moves too.

The press called her beautiful, she was not exotic, she was not sex, she was not poor, she was Soul royalty and I was glad.

I have the greatest hits. Dance with Somebody, It’s Not Right, Your Love. I watched all the films and loved that they had been made.

A black woman in the leading role and she wasn’t the maid.

I, like most others was surprised and intrigued at her choice of Bobby. We Black girls loved him too but he seemed a bit bad boy for Princess Whitney, little did we know how that would go. We watched the slow demise the destruction of self.

Leaping forward and Whitney was on Xfactor and we had our hearts in our mouths. Upset at the dress, upset at the let down, just upset.

I stopped watching. I no longer needed Whitney to show me how to be. I felt….sorry for her and hoped and prayed she would be alright if not ok.

Looking at the last few days of her life looks like Whitney was surrounded by friends and family and knew how to party. Whatever happened it was her choice, her voice. If I go out with my hands in the air, eyes closed, dancing that hard maybe that won’t be so bad.

We have to live our lives the way we choose, some like Whitney have a huge impact on a generation of little girls who are all grown up trying to live their own lives to the fullest.

I loved the beginning. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.

I truly hope she’s at some kind of peace.

For now I’ll end this sharing with one of my favorite lines of her songs

Your Love Is My love.

If I should die this very day (very very very day)Don’t cry, ’cause on earth we wasn’t meant to stay. And no matter what the people say (really don’t matter)I’ll be waiting for you after the Judgement Day

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Time to talk.

Time to talk.

I don’t know the family. I do know the streets. The bus stop, the bus, the classroom the teacher, the pain have all connected me over the years. More than I had imagined.

I’m tired of all the words even in this blog.  I hesitate to write but…… I have to mark the time, have to mark this moment that some of us have been waiting for, for so long.

As a sister I remember calling home to check on my brother. Calling the teacher to warn him that Black boys of Greenwich were afraid to leave their homes and that this thing was bigger than us all. We laid it to rest having neither the power or the strength to know what to do.

I remember seeing her face. She did not smile, it was like her light had been buried with her Son. I remember thinking the reflection of the boys that did it will remain in her eyes until they are caught. She is not messing, she will find you and you will go down.

I carried on with my life that I was blessed to have.  I remember looking at our first child, that first morning and knowing I was no longer first, that this boy and his beloved Brother to be would be loved and protected with all our might and that I would pray every time they left our charge. Perhaps this is why I sobbed when our first born first walked to High school on his own.  I remember thinking how could such beauty be so unloved?

The years have passed by but we never forgot. Every step of the way. The Elephant and Castle, the front pages, the surveillance footage. The list of names.

I carried on. I remember my first lesson on the internet. The teacher asked me what I would like to learn, I said what does WWW. stand for? She did not laugh she just answered. She said would you like to search for anything on the search engine?

I played around, I travelled the world and then it slowly dawned on me. I had recently tried to get the inquiry report on the case and had been told it would cost £116. Money our young family didn’t have.  I put the words in the search engine and it came up.

It was there.

To be downloaded and viewed. For free. And I cried.

Life continued whilst muttering under our collective breath Five white youths.

Over the years his family never gave up , campaigning  for their lives and the loss of their Son, Brother and Friend.

I don’t need to tell you, you know what happened next. It was all over the news, all over the country.

She said that even though they have not all seen justice, she can now start her life again after all these years.  A resolution that unless new evidence arises, those others will have to answer to God alone.

We shall see.

For now I wish us all well. This defined me as a sister, it certainly marked me as a mother. For a moment it made a difference in my workplace and has still reminds us all of how far we  have to go.

This first week I have seen deletion of Facebook friends who showed their true colours, and twitter land looking for distractions from the real questions. One MP’s lack of the words ‘some white people’ and we lose focus.

So how does it work this real life thing? Just what type of country do you want to live in? Where are we going?

I have taken the time to remind myself of the country I live in. My house is not my country. There are racists out there who hate me and mine. There are foolish people who just don’t get it and resist the opportunity to find out more and there are those of us who are too afraid to tell it how it is.

Enough words from me. For now I leave this for all those who have Black children to raise. I wish you love and peace in your heart.  I hope you never have to have the reflection of those who harm us in your eyes but if you do I hope all who surround you come to your aid and fight alongside you.

You can count on me, that’s for sure.

Always.

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Hidden in plain sight.

Second week complete. Introductions done, journey continues.

So why tell this story? Lost and Found by Marcia Layne is about taking a look again at a story we all thought we knew.  Hidden in plain sight. Why do we tell stories? To know ourselves and each other better? To mark a moment and move on. To honour our past?

Traveling through time with the cast and crew. It’s been a privilege working in rehearsal, learning and growing together, exploring Marcia Layne’s many layered script. Just what does happen when the subject of the transatlantic slave trade is taught in schools? Does anybody care? Does  it still matter? Light bulb moments hit us all throughout rehearsals. The legacy of language and rediscovering secret coded underground railroad songs  ‘Swing Low  sweet Charity’’. The play moves quickly from contemporary Britain to the beginning of revolution in the Caribbean and back to West Africa at the beginning of the Transatlantic Slave trade itself.

As Director/ Producer I have had to communicate using the language of all who join us to make and share the work. Funders, Venues, Agents, Actors, Administrators, Designers, Stage Mangers, fellow Creative Companies, Schools, Press, Black Hairdressers and Barbers, Community Centres, Takeaway shops, Coffee Shops and the General Public from all walks of life.  Speaking  about the production itself has never been a problem for me. I have lived with the work since Marcia Layne shared it four years ago. I know the characters, I know where they are from, and I know how they make me feel. I’m proud to be a part of the sharing of an incredible story that belongs to us all.  We have talked about radio plays, horror movies and bringing sexy back in our rehearsals.  Arriving at the last day of rehearsals and now the day of our opening night, I’m done with the talking.

It’s time for Lost and Found to speak for itself. This is as it should be.

We hope you can join us, we are looking forward to sharing the work with you.

Tuesday 4th October 7pm Seven Arts, Leeds.

Box Office 0113 2626777. Website –http://tinyurl.com/3qnykoa

Friday 7th October 7:45pm Library Theatre, Sheffield.

Box Office 0114 2565567. Website http://tinyurl.com/3ofy6us

Wednesday 12th October 7:30pm Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

BoxOffice01484430528.Websiste- http://www.thelbt.org/Lost-and-Found

 

 

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Lost and Found Redux

So that said………….

I’ve arrived at the end of the first week of rehearsals. The creative team agrees that when we speak about the work outside of rehearsals we have to start with a little speech that goes something like this

CAST Member: Yes I’m in a play called Lost and Found and loving the work

FRIEND: Oh yeah, what’s it about?

CAST: Yeah it’s about slavery ….

FRIEND Starts to put their serious face on or shoes to run away.

CAST ‘No, no wait, it’s alright it’s got laughs and everything.

FRIEND: Either starts to relax or remain a little afraid.

Stock answer from CAST : Look you’re just going to have to come and see it for yourself.

In 2007 there was wealth of work including Lost and Found that tried to tell the story about the abolition of the transatlantic Slave trade in Britain. It took all year just to get the sentence out. My good friend and creative partner the writer Marcia Layne was commissioned by the company I has Artistic Director for at the time Yorkshire Women Theatre. Since then as artists we have shared work both in collaboration and individually. The birth of Hidden Gems Productions is our story and one which we will tell, for now I will share what happened in our first week of rehearsals this week.

So back to Lost and Found. The first day of rehearsals, full of excitement and fear.

This blog is not about disclosing what was said or who did what. The rehearsal space I help to build is a safe space where we can make mistakes and build great work together. What I will be sharing is a flavour of the process. I’m fascinated by how it’s made.

I used to spend ages on the getting to know you process. However on this day I have broken this hippy habit, on this day I was heard to say “ Listen I’m not doing those getting to know you games? All of this should be getting to know you, right?” Surely you get a sense of who people are if they offer to make you a cup of tea, if they arrive on time, if they choose to swear every other word, if they name drop, if they have a swagger or they are frozen in fear with the face of “ everyone knows I shouldn’t be here” We are supposed to be experts in the human condition. Observing like scientists choices people make. I have to have a little clue who people are so that I can communicate quickly to build and support them in the building of the character written.

I love what we do, I love how we do it. Creating a vibe that feels right. In the background India Irie singing Strength, Courage and Wisdom offering Lemon and Ginger Caribbean tea as well as Earl Grey and bringing together a team of hard workers who love what they do. I love to connect, to get right to it.

We have at the core of the story the question of what happens for two young people called Ashleigh and Ricky when the subject of slavery is taught in schools. We then travel over time and continents with the plantation story set in the Caribbean and a love story set in West Africa. It’s an exciting challenge. We had a great warm up where we discussed the Huddersfield landscape using various accents.

I find on the rehearsal floor with the actors I have many voices. I use both my English and Jamaican voice sometimes in the same sentence. I have even let out the odd Jamaican exclamation which amuses the actors no end and comforts me. I am on my two feet working with a Writer Producer I respect doing it the way I see fit. Owning the choices and bursting to share with the world.

At the end of this first week we have a hard-working and talented team and for this brief moment we want to share with you what we have found.

Please join us for the performances of Lost and Found. We’d love to see you there.

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My Cousin Shawn.

It’s been awhile…………… so much has happened in these last few months.  The family I grew up with as opposed to the family I now have of my own were fighting a battle that we finally lost.

We lost one of our own, a good man.

Like many before, and to come it was cancer and now he’s gone but the fight still remains.  I wish you well in your own battle if this has touched you in any way. Whatever I can do to help the fight for the future so that families no longer have to go through this I will do.

When we were little I learnt to read from a book called ‘my cousin Shawn’. That was his name.  I ran faster than him, he loved sweeties and bun and he had the most beautiful smile you’d feel blessed to receive.

Love and loss is a powerful thing, it is now left to us to live the lives we have been blessed with.

That is all.

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Delight and Devastation- Written at 7.30am 30/3/11

I had just left an acting audition for Chol Theatres Beast Market by Andrew Loretto. I was coming out of semi retirement because the work was good. Buzzing excited that I had kept up with Balbir Singh’s demands after all these years NOT dancing.

As the part-time Artistic Theatre Director of Yorkshire Women’s Theatre it had been frowned upon to continue as an actor, apparently I would not be taken seriously as I continued to learn my craft as a Theatre Director in my own right and being Black and a Woman I needed all the ‘being taken seriously’ I could get . So attending that audition was my first step in defying YWT and going on my own instincts and trusting .

In the school of stating the bleeding obvious there is a massive difference between the role of Artistic Director and that of Theatre Director. In my first year I looked at the heritage of the company, unpacked the canon of work, and learnt the values and motivations behind the work and human behaviours. I also learnt how to deal with people looking for my ‘boss’ over my shoulder for the real AD as I introduced myself.

The second year I looked ahead, looked at planning, looking at context. Context a word I came to love and still do. Where did we sit in Leeds, the north the world as a company?

The third year arrived and I came into my own, the future, my first three-year plan.It was horrible, but it was mine. I began to understand the difference between working in rehearsal and the work towards making it happening. Unfortunately as I understood the role and complexities of leadership, as I began to get the courage to take the reins and take the company where they deserved to be. The lack of understanding of our own context sunk us.

I realised too late that the head of the company and the Board were no longer leading. Not enough eyes, The Company was not strong enough to take the blow.

I sat and thought and asked for help and it came in the shape of the amazing Stef of Red Ladder and Maureen of T.I.E when most ran away they ran towards and worked hard. We collectively made the decision to close the Company. It was time. All the work on rebranding, road mapping and community engagement was not lost just stored away for another time. Companies are made up of people.

I did not die, not that day. I looked at my part in this. Good and bad. I learnt my lessons and put them in my bag to share with others to remind myself. Always.

Today many Arts organisations will have got ‘the letter’ many of them will be delighted and can now build for a better future, many will be devastated and are looking amongst the debris wondering what happened. Cut or gone it feels bad.

Nearly three years on and I’m stronger, fitter healthier and happier. Whatever news you get today build for a better future and remember arts cuts do not mean you are no longer an artist. That is up to you.

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