Hive City Legacy – “Express, don’t repress.”


Posted 3 weeks ago in Theatre Features

NCH – 25 sep-3 oct-22 Desktop

“When we get the chance to share our experiences here, we don’t have to explain too much. That’s comforting, not having to explain yourself all the time.”

 

The late-morning sun presses down on Fairview, preparing to lightly sear the North Dublin suburb. Across the street from the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is the faint sound of laughter detectable as the roar of a passing bus fades.

The voices travel out from an open window in the courtyard of a former post office. Built in the late 19th Century, the gable-fronted redbrick is now home to the CoisCéim Dance Theatre, with its current residents, Hot Brown Honey, an Australian cabaret troupe.

They are in their second of a six-week creative development process ahead of Dublin’s Fringe Festival. Few of the voices, however, are Australian. Largely, they belong to local performers, recruited to form what the group has dubbed its Dublin Chapter.

The artists come from all disciplines. Among them are Jess Kav, singer and former leader of the band BARQ; Osaro Azam, the founder of the Fried Plantains Collective; and Andrea Williams, a choreographer who has collaborated with such musicians as Denise Chaila, Ed Sheeran and Jafaris.

Titled Hive City Legacy: The Dublin Chapter, the production is a genre-blending piece, combining dance, music, poetry, drama and satire. Running from 9th to 17th September, it is led by a cast of eight women of colour and is billed as a reclaiming of their narratives by exploring how they navigate life in contemporary Ireland.

*

As 10.30am comes around, the cast is in the middle of warming up, prepping their reactiveness through a version of handball.

Their day is going to be devoted to the rehearsal of the opening number and the fleshing out of several ideas, some of which only hours ago were loose concepts at best.

It is a collective slog of multidisciplinary artists. Everybody chips in to the writing. Everyone is contributing from their field of expertise. It is essential, because Hive City is being built from ground up.

Going from a bare concept to a fully-fledged hour-long performance is a daunting prospect. But it’s the norm when it comes to Hot Brown Honey’s productions, according to director Lisa Fa’alafi and writer/composer, Kim Bowers, also known as Busty Beatz.

“We work pretty fast,” says Lisa Fa’alafi, co-director of Hot Brown Honey. “We have a map, but we try to respond to each day and keep experimenting with ideas that the performers are interested in.”

The energy levels are high as the rehearsals commence. All eight of the performers split into two parallel lines, clutching hearts made from cardboard. They face towards an exposed brick wall, and then, begin to stop, first in place, then forward, marching to the rollicking beat of a drum accompanied by a camp, jazzy brass line.

On one of the walls are a series of light brown A1 sheets of paper, sellotaped in place.  These feature the lyrics to their opening song, Joyous Rage. The words, written in sharpie, read like one-word protest slogans; Liberate, Power, Empower, Metamorph, Reclaim.

As the cast merges to form a single file in the centre of the linoleum floor, marked with duct-tape, a voice chants from a stereo set, “aggravate pollinate, liberate.” It is a cabaret of decolonisation, flamboyant musically, and teeming with impassioned anger in the message.

“Walk with the power of Ancestral legacy,” the cast sing. “Not a minority, nothing minor about me.”

*

An open call had been put out back in late March, with the Hot Brown Honey group declaring that they were on the search for Irish and Irish-based female identifying artists who were black, indigenous or persons with colour.

Hive City Legacy, they explained, would interrogate political and social structures by staging “a conversation around gender, race and identity, decolonisation [and] body image.”

“It just seemed like an exciting project,” says Venus Patel, a trans artist, content creator and filmmaker.

“I mean, like the number of women of colour in Dublin is just so tiny. It was great that there was something that could bring us together, where we could share our different experiences.”

Patel moved to Dublin from Los Angeles in 2018 as an international student. During the early months of the pandemic, she took to TikTok, amassing a following of 150,000 users.

More recently, in March, Patel made her theatrical debut in Privilege: The Musical, written and directed by Louise White. Subsequently, she produced the short film Egg Performance for Fanvid, an underground DIY film club.

On this particular Thursday, for Hive City Legacy, Patel takes the lead in one darkly comedic sketch, titled ‘How Irish Are You?’

The skit lampoons racial and ethnic stereotypes and the question of national identity by way of a Family Feud-style quiz show in which two teams, “Light-Skinned” and “The Blacks” compete for citizenship.

Their task is simple. They are to answer a series of questions, such as “where are you really from,” and “how do you greet your black friends?”

Patel says the idea came about from discussions around micro-aggressions which they all encountered regularly.

“What does a black Irish person look like?” Patel asks in-character, the correct answer to this being, “actually, I don’t see colour.”

As the cast play out the scene, they are constantly throwing in improvised pieces of dialogue. In one moment of unsettling inspiration, Jess Kav suggests that the host offer all participants a voucher for the sports shop Decathlon, “so nobody will leave without a home.”

In another instance, as both teams break out into song, Patel ad-libs a compliment, remarking how wonderfully “tribal” all the women are.

“All of this was a bit scary at first,” Patel says. “I feel like most of us hadn’t known what we were getting into. But just being able to come in and actually collaborate, we’ve been able to make something huge in the little time we’ve had.”

*

Once a brief break is taken, the cast regroups in the middle of the room, standing motionless.

A minimalistic hammering beat begins to play from the stereo, and the creative director Yami “Rowdy” Lofvenberg instructs everybody to walk in slow motion.

They advance towards what will be the front of stage, as one performer, Deborah Dickenson breaks away. She wanders through this crowd quickly, her arms outstretched and the palms of her hands open, like a mime asking a question loudly.

Lofvenberg tells Dickenson to look into the solemn and still faces of her castmates. Dickenson complies, inspecting their features frantically and up-close.

“Don’t play it for laughs,” comes the voice of Lofvenberg.

Dickenson pulls back, now adopting a character who appears lost and alone.

She continues her search in their eyes.

“I’m looking into their faces for people like me,” Dickenson says, reflecting on her performance later. “It’s about who I can relate to?”

After a minute or so of searching, Lofvenberg calls loudly for the performers to invert the scenario.

Now, Dickenson is suddenly swarmed by the others. They shuffle around her rapidly, altering the directions of their orbit at random, while she drags her feet in the direction of a double-framed wooden antique mirror propped up to one side.

The scene started as what seemed to be an elaborate exercise to awaken certain emotions. Bit-by-bit however, something meaningful unfolded, fully formed.

Lofvenberg willed her performers into becoming an alienating spectacle, a lonesome crowd of people, together but separate, preoccupied by their own personal daily routines.

As they go deeper, the piece becomes a mute waltz of people blind to one another, manoeuvring around other bodies as if they are inanimate objects in motion.

The sheer pace of an idea coming to fruition is magic to observe. Where it ends up would almost seem to suggest that this idea had been in the works for days.

Dickenson laughs, saying the entire routine was conceived in that very moment.

“Rowdy just flung that on us today,” she says while on a break, out in the courtyard.

“I’d normally overthink things,” Patel says. “My work is normally like a lot more slowed down.”

Tatiana Santos, a dancer and dance facilitator at Tallaght Community Arts Centre says the speed at which Hot Brown Honey operates caught her by surprise.

“They have this methodology of how they make things come, and they come straight away. They encourage us not to think too much,” she says. “Just write it down on paper and do it.”

Developing ideas on the spot at this rate is almost ideal, Dickenson adds.

“I wasn’t expecting to have much to say in the creative side. With me, it’s always been about getting confidence. If I am doing something and someone else doesn’t speak, naturally I assume I’m wrong.”

“Here, I’m not really looking for the approval of others, so if I genuinely think what I do is okay, it’s good because I can just go with it. It’s challenged me, and given me the opportunity to progress my ideas, and to listen to everybody else’s ones.”

*

Deborah Dickenson is a student of drama in the UK and a volunteer for a youth theatre group. She had been involved in the performing arts since she was a child.

She sang, danced and acted, before later branching out into filmmaking in 2019, writing and performing in the short film, Reflections.

As she explains her life in the arts however, her feeling was that she was always someone on the outside, growing up around friends who were predominantly white.

Hive City Legacy, she says, provided her the opportunity to be among others who could relate to her experience as a black woman.

“We don’t really get opportunities to be in the company of many people with colour,” she says. “We don’t get the opportunity to talk about these issues…”

“And to tell our stories”, Venus Patel chimes in. “Because it’s always being overshadowed by other people.”

“It can be lonely as a black person or a person of colour,” Santos says.

“When we get the chance to share our experiences here, we don’t have to explain too much. That’s comforting, not having to explain yourself all the time.”

Delving into experiences of racism and bigotry, Santos notes does still have its toll. “At the end of the day, we are throwing our personal stories in here, and these are sometimes bad experiences. So, an aspect of the process is paying attention to our mental health.”

“We’d do check-ins to see how everyone else is feeling,” Dickenson adds. “Everyone is considerate of our minds as we go through this.”

What inspires the material often comes from places of pain and anger, the trio explain. Still, as they come together to explore these experiences, spirits are nothing if not high. There is laughter. Joy springs from their rage.

After a lunchtime tea break, the cast all proceed towards the linoleum floor to carry on until the evening. At their feet are scripts, loose sheets, folders and notepads.

They pick up on building out the “How Irish Are You?” sketch.

“We’ve a very exotic, tribal African woman,” says Santos, trial running a new joke as Patel’s assisting presenter.

Her voice is over-the-top and chirpy to the point of being utterly oblivious. “She’s in the audience, people! Can you spot her?”

“We’re rising,” the cast sing on the track ‘Joyous Rage. “But there’s change to make. Fair Shake, wouldn’t that be great?”

Hive City Legacy: Dublin Chapter is on the Project Arts Centre (Space Upstairs) from September 9 to 17., €14-€18 Further details can be found here.

Words: Michael Lanigan

Photos: Aoife Herrity

NEWSLETTER

The key to the city. Straight to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter.

SEARCH

DTF 22 – MPU sep 24-okt 16
National Museum Exhibitions MPU #1

NEWSLETTER

The key to the city. Straight to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter.