Public Engagement

Seeing STARS: Public engagement through mentoring and performance

Through our Small Grants scheme, the CPE supported Mojisola Adebayo, School of English and Drama, to host a staged reading of her play STARS-along with a mentoing week at Ovalhouse Theatre. Below she shares her experiences. 

27 August 2018

I’m a theatre artist and academic based at QMUL. Thanks to the Centre for Public Engagement, my team and I mentored four young black disabled emerging theatre artists as part of the research and development week of my latest play, STARS at Ovalhouse Theatre. As well as the three public staged readings, we also hosted three post-show discussions, all interpreted into British Sign Language. This was a chance for people to discuss the subjects raised by the play including FGM, intersex experience, orgasm, anorgasmia, Dogon culture and astronomy! It was such an inspirational experience being able to support the next generation of artists-on-the-edge and be part of clearing the way for them to be centre stage! The mentees observed rehearsals, got 1-2-1 advice, showed their creative work, received feedback and were supported by access workers. The mentees also watched the staged readings and had a chance to see STARS move from page to stage in just a week. They loved the experience and CPE enabled them to be paid good expenses for travel and lunch so they could access the week. Here’s some feedback from the mentees themselves:

 

The whole experience of being in the STARS has boosted me, energised me, encouraged and inspired me, how much I learned even in such a short space of time, and its given me an urgency to keep at my writing, to feel that it is possible to create something and how wonderful to create as part of a great team.  Thank you again for this gift, and of welcoming me into your creative space, so generously given - your generosity in sharing with me and all the mentees is really a very special part of what you do - and I hope we will be able to share another creative space together, sometime in the not too distant future of time!

 

The fact it was paid [expenses] meant I was free to be creative as I cannot normally afford that time. I felt completely care-free, enough to create, which unfortunately is quite alien to me with the pressures of debts and arrears!

 

It was an intense week even if we were 'just observing', partly because I don't have that kind of routine anymore, but it was an eye opener in terms of what goes into the process. Actually, I value that we were active participants if we wanted to be, and not just observers. We were artists and there of our own merit. I didn't feel like an intern, mentee or work experience person, I feel I was there because I had something to offer, and I was there because this was recognised. This is something that is alien to me having started my career life as an intern, and ten years later, still a trainee, seemingly only qualifying for another trainee/ low paid/unskilled position. Being so disillusioned with this sub-strata of the Arts field I am saying no more. This is how the process is meant to be, and feel.

 

I love being surrounded by people who say 'yes'. It's refreshing to genuinely work collaboratively and go beyond politics and ego which is common. Even if there was a 'no' it was not without good reason (then again I wasn't aware of tensions there may have been) I like that you've all worked together and that really contributed to the family feel. I would love to work with my family… I want to work with people who I like; that's how the Employment system that I'm continuously excluded from, works, so I need to make that work for me.

 

I greatly value everyone's openness, everyone was so forthcoming and honest. I made a lot of notes as I've learned so much whether directly related to practise or not.

 

I felt more comfortable surrounded by majority POC [people-of-colour], I did not feel like the token I normally am, and wasn't suffering from double consciousness; It was like on holiday, and was in an environment where I could be myself, whether with mentees, access workers, the creative team or being in Oval itself which has a community with plenty POC. Thanks to everyone for fostering a safe space. I've started this week with a lot of confidence.

 

1-1 mentor time was infinitely useful, I cannot think of another way in which we could have those practitioners listen to us and support us. It's the first time I've voiced some of my ideas, and they landed with a 'yes'. Not that I needed permission strictly, but I get stuck on the how. I got a lot of support from each and every person.

 

Access workers were phenomenal, we had a lot of open discussion (conducive to subjects we were exploring) and structured time. Infinite thanks to them.

 

Thanks for setting the creative task and having us present… It also helped me to articulate my position as a creative - art that's not elitist, white supremacist money driven but a human right that's interdisciplinary, a tool for disruption through the joy of creating, or indeed the need.

 

I really enjoyed the week and kind of wished it went on for longer!

 

I know I've said thank you many of times but thank you again to all the artists for the support last week. I will never forget the time we shared.

 

I want to thank you, for giving me the opportunity to be part of the R+D – mentoring project for your incredible play, ‘Stars’.

 

I really enjoyed meeting every single member of the team that you and Debo assembled (it felt like I was allowed to join and learn from an elite team of superhero theatre makers and artists- on a mission to accomplish something extraordinary in just 4 and a half days).  

 

Amongst other things, being a part of this process has taught me about true artistic professionalism, integrity, organisation, respect, care, sensitivity, courage and attention to detail- all virtues I’ll take forward with me in my own artistic practice. Your example is something I’ll remember and harness when teaching or mentoring younger artists. 

 

This show has sown the seed of possibility for me to write a novel, of my own one day, teaching/putting on shows abroad or even reciting bits of my show or poetry as a legitimate way to make a living. 

 

I’ve also made friends in the other mentees and we have said that we will work with / support each other on projects in the future. 

 

I just wanted to say how much the whole experience of last week has stayed with me throughout these last days, both remembering being in the process with you and watching your deeply moving (and hilarious!) performances. I was so struck by how STARS weaves so intricately the profound issues you explore into one narrative, and it took me on a such a deeply emotional yet thoughtful and challenging - there were moments that were in turns stunning and heartbreaking, laugh-out loud and jolting. Its everything that I want from theatre - political, personal, metaphorical, visual, physical… and aural - and I am still thinking, feeling and reflecting days later. Debo's wonderful music is still on in my happy ears and Candice's visuals are lifting me to the beyond!  It is a wonderful, unique piece, thank you for making for such a special work for the world!

 

**

The full production of STARS is coming to a theatre near you in 2019! STARS will also be published in Mojisola Adebayo: Plays Two (Oberon Books, 2019). See www.mojisolaadebayo.com for details…