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Hannah Silva on how she used Fifty Shades of Grey to create powerful feminist satire, Schlock!

Below is a piece written by Hannah Silva on her solo performance Schlock!, a powerful feminist satire for the cut and paste generation inspired by two books; Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and In Memoriam to Identity by Kathy Acker. Schlock! will be performed at the Albany on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 November at 7.30pm. Click here for details and booking information.

Schlock imagery by Field and McGlynn June 14_003

What I did to Fifty Shades of Grey.  

“Rendered through spoken word, vocal loops, articulation techniques, off-kilter screened subtitles, and sections performed entirely in British Sign Language, Schlock! is a captivating and disconcerting experience.” narc magazine.

Schlock! is a solo performance mostly made by splicing together two books, Fifty Shades of Grey and a novel by Kathy Acker. The result is something entirely different, so you don’t need to have read or know anything about either book/author to experience the work, it was just part of my writing process. But for those who are interested in the process behind the performance, here’s what I did, and a bit about why:

I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Failed, but managed to copy down some lines such as:

“How did you feel when I was hitting you and after?”

“I didn’t like it. I’d rather you didn’t do it again.”

“You weren’t meant to like it.”

I also did a word search on my Kindle edition for all of the instances of the word ‘pain’ (75). I wrote them down and that has become one section of the performance.

When trying to read the novel I was shocked by how clearly the protagonist says ‘no’ and surprised by how unattractive the character of Grey is, but mostly it made me feel sad. As much as the language, it was the intensity of that emotional response that I worked with to make the performance.

I’ve always had an intense emotional/visceral response to reading novels by Kathy Acker. Totally different to Fifty Shades – Acker’s writing overwhelms me with its craft and boldness, but it’s also very sad, she gets to the heart of the kind of emptiness and abuse that’s on the surface of Fifty Shades and uses writing to drill down into absence and numbness and exposes the isolation and disconnection of the figures that roam through her words… It seemed to me that I could use the text of Fifty Shades to write about Kathy.

To write about Kathy I needed to write about the body and femaleness and sex and abuse and pain and death and control and orgasm, but mostly to write about Kathy I needed to write about writing, I couldn’t separate Kathy from writing from her body from sex from a woman from a child from an orgasm from death….

One of the main things I did to Fifty Shades was to replace the words ‘submissive’ with ‘mother’ and ‘dominant’ with ‘child’:

‘Am I submissive? Maybe I come across that way. Maybe I misled him in the interview’


‘Am I a mother? Maybe I come across that way. Maybe I misled him’.

I also took the definition of ‘submissive’ that’s used in Fifty Shades:

tractable, compliant, pliant, amenable, passive, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued.

And found words in it: tract, act, able, come, pliant, plant, ant, liant, map, amen, able, pass, sieve, sign, gen, sing, need, tent, net, pat, dol, cile, sub, due, bed.

I split these words into smaller words or phonemes, and used them as a map for a ‘new’ piece of text e.g:

Kathy is a sieve I use sometimes when I need a sign. Every one of Kathy’s books is signed with need with gen with sing at pat at patterns. Kathy used a net to make stories and Kathy had natty tits hidden in a tent top until needed…

I use British Sign Language in the performance to explore ways of writing – sign language is writing embodied. I also wanted to open up my work to d/Deaf audiences, as it’s always been so sound focused in the past. And I love the language, I love the way gestures are made meaningful… I found that I had to totally change the way I think about writing and poetry in order to ‘write’ the sign language sections. It was very difficult, I worked with a few different people all of whom were not able to keep working with me for various reasons – I had a breakdown in middle of night, but recovered when I saw a quote by Sarah Kane that I have stuck on my wall: ‘I genuinely believe you can do anything on stage. For me the language of theatre is image’. Then I met Daryl Jackson, a Deaf actor and interpreter who was brilliant and enthusiastic about what I was trying to do, and it was through working with him I got to experience what it’s like to become the writing….

Read more about Hannah Silva’s use of British Sign Language here… http://hannahsilva.co.uk/signs-of-poetry/

Finally I structured the performance using events from Kathy Acker’s life (which you can read about here: http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/last-days-kathy-acker – particularly her actions following being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ultimately I wrote through my source materials to explore sex, disease, control and death, taking Kathy’s name as subject.

I didn’t do it in this way all the way through (some sections are ‘original’), but here’s an example of how the two texts got spliced together to make something different. I’ve put words from Acker in italics, words from Fifty Shades in bold, underlined words are ‘mine’. Words I replaced are in square brackets. I’ve used a ‘|’ to indicate when the text is taken from a different location in the same source text:

The child wants above all to be destroyed.

Before being born, he asks his mother ‘how much pain are you willing to experience? The pregnant woman already knows what it is to be flogged, spanked, whipped and corporally punished. |‘I’ll show you how bad it can be’ her unborn son saysSanta Klaus doesn’t exist’ she replies. ‘Ouch! Are you stamping your little foot?’

Whose identity [sexuality] am I and whose identity [sexuality] are you?

The entrance to her womb [to the hospital] says EMERGENCY.

She must be spread open. | Her heart must show.

Watch the Schlock! trailer here… http://hannahsilva.co.uk/performance/schlock/

Read an interview with Hannah Silva on Schlock! here… https://livetheatrenewcastle.wordpress.com/62-2/interview-with-theatre-maker-and-writer-hannah-silva/

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Julie McNamara and director Paulette Randall discuss Let Me Stay

Let Me Stay imageThroughout June, Anxiety Arts Festival 2014 is taking over venues across London, exploring anxiety and how it can manifest creatively. As part of the inaugural festival, Vital Xposure’s Let Me Stay is performing here from Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 June, 7.30pm. Writer and performer Julie McNamara explores the impact of  Alzheimer’s on family relations, specifically focussing on her mother’s experience with the condition. Below is an interview conducted by Naomi Cortes with both Julie McNamara and director Paulette Randall:

Share with us how you began to collaborate together?

Julie: I had read about Paulette’s work, when I was on placement with Talawa Theatre and I was looking for a new Director for a play I was working on. Other artists had suggested I contact her. So in 2009, whilst working on the production of Crossings we had an initial chat on the telephone and she suggested we meet for lunch.

Paulette: Yeah, from the phone call I followed my instinct and knew it was going to work. When we met for lunch we really connected about storytelling and music and I knew that her work was something I really wanted to explore.

Julie: I had no expectations and went to meet her with an open mind and an open heart and thought great she’s going to do the job.

Why did you decide to place your mother Shirley at the centre of Let Me Stay?

Julie: I’ve always listened to my mother’s stories and her mother before her, my grandmother.  My mother still remains one of the funniest women I have ever met, she’s extraordinary. She’s full of life and has a strong rebellious spirit and I just thought other people should meet her.

One day I was playing truant from school and was smoking a fag at home and mum came home unexpectedly. I was trying to hide it behind my back and she told me she’d seen it. I thought she was going to tell me off, but actually she was playing hooky from work and had walked out during an appraisal. I never forgot that day because we both had an afternoon together playing hooky and she told me why she had walked out. She didn’t know words like feminism, but she was the first real feminist I ever knew.

Writing Let Me Stay has become part of my own grief in letting go. My mother’s been living with Alzheimer’s for ten years. She has been many people to me and I have always been on shifting sands with her, it made me think about who we are to each other in each space we travel, in each world we inhabit.

It’s also about challenging all those ubiquitous images around what a terrible, dark tragedy it is to end your life with Alzheimer’s. I have to be honest. I’m witnessing somebody who is quite enjoying herself. She’s having the time of her life.

What made you think that now was the right time to explore Alzheimer’s in your work?

Julie: It was just before my mum’s physical tipping point. We had been working together on this for a while with songs and stories. I would share back what she had said, she would deny having said it, I would remind her she had and we would laugh.

Or I would show her pictures of things she had done. One of the funniest was when she had decorated a mug tree with chocolate bars and I showed her the photo of it. She asked who had done it, I explained she had and she said ‘well, that’s very clever!’. I thought it would be really sad if all of that was lost inside some dark story about how at the end of her life she withdrew away from it all. Shirley is dancing and grooving up and down the wards, very much the life and soul of the party.

Paulette, what attracted you to the story of Let Me Stay and working with Julie again?

Paulette: After our first time of working together, I said to Julie, I wanted to keep working with her. And when she came back from working in New Zealand and Australia, she confided in me that she was better known over there than in U.K. I thought this was a disgrace and I wanted people to know Julie McNamara here, because I think she has a really important voice and a beautiful, funny way of telling stories. Her work touches and moves people and with all the voices out there in theatre at the moment, there is nothing quite like hers.

Whilst training, I chose a course which was about working with specific communities. So, creating work with Julie was the first time in my career I worked with a mixed ability group. And that was terrifying and exhilarating because I didn’t know what to expect, it was going in at the deep end for me, but it was a brilliant opportunity.

And we both knew from the beginning of Let Me Stay that this was just the starting point, that the show had a life and that’s quite exciting.

Tell us about a magical moment which happens onstage?

Paulette: We were looking for things which could be found during the play amongst the many boxes on the set. And Julie found an old record box of singles and in it was a copy of Queen Bitch by David Bowie. And written on the label was ‘this is no reference to you!’

Julie: And it was in my dad’s handwriting. I had never seen this before.

Paulette: It’s brilliant, funny and beautiful. It’s a great track.

Julie: So, every time I take that out on stage, it’s like a message from my dad.

The journey within the production is incredibly personal and intimate, how do you manage to maintain this onstage whilst working within the conventions of theatre?

Paulette: I have to remember that Julie is the writer and the performer. I have to honour both those roles. Sometimes when I’m directing Julie we will talk about what the writer would say if they were in the room. And I remind her in rehearsals that the script is more eloquent and tells the story in a more successful way than if you were just saying it.

Julie: Once I have made the decision to commit it to the page, my role as the writer is very different to Julie who is remembering. I think I’m a savage editor of my own work and I’m quite happy for it to be a live process. The first script you take into rehearsal is like a road map but it’s not necessarily where we’ll end up. What I love is being able to surrender that to Paulette and saying ‘there you go’.

And being in the show, I then surrender the connection to Julie McNamara the person who has lived that moment. The director is the boss. I trust Paulette with my life, she’s a great director.

We know that music can make people living with Alzheimer’s experience great joy. How important is music to the production?

Julie: It all started with Shirley. I began recording her singing, when she started losing her language. I know that music is in a different part of the brain to language and her singing voice is sweet. I recorded quite a few tracks of her singing.

Paulette: To add to what Julie has said, one of the things I love about her work is the music. I discovered that there had been music and song in everything she’s done, it’s an integral part of her life. So it wasn’t surprising to me that music was being included in Let Me Stay. And it’s also a cultural thing, there are certain communities where singing is important. It’s important to storytelling.

Finally, what gift would you like your audiences to leave with?

Julie: A sense of hope. Alzheimer’s is not an apologetic withdrawal from life.

Paulette: Being able to not fear something you don’t understand…embrace it.

Naomi Cortes

Let Me Stay is here as part of Anxiety Arts Festival 2014 from Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 June. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

For more information on Anxiety Festival at the Albany and Deptford Lounge, click here.

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‘Still I Rise’: An Exhibition by Nadine Walker, Inspired by Maya Angelou

Inspired by the beloved poem by the late Maya Angelou, Still I Rise, visual artist Nadine Walker presents a stunning exhibition about overcoming racism, criticism and personal obstacles through a series of images featuring women who are beautiful, strong, occasionally sensual and infinitely empowered, on now in the Albany cafe through Monday 30 June. The images are made using mixed media with digital editing to create striking portraits that portray inner strength and endless endurance.


 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

(with illustrations by Nadine Walker) 

image (12)

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.


Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.


image (8)


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise?

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?


Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.


image (14)

While completing her MA in illustration, Nadine’s lecturer challenged her to craft an image using both visual art and text. At the time, Nadine was reading one of Maya Angelou’s books and stumbled across a poem she immediately connected with, Still I Rise, leading to her inspiration for this exhibition. She shared her love of the poem with her year 7 and 8 students from Virgo Fidelis Covent School in Norwood- challenging them to illustrate the poem. She ran a competition across 8 classes, selecting four to join her in her exhibition: Akalia Newland, Tahreem Sattar, Shafia Ali and Tia-Louise Bryan.

Nadine Walker is an art educator, graphic designer and illustrator from Lewisham. She has participated in collaborative and solo exhibitions across Central London, most notably being selected by the BBC as one of 20 artists invited to visually document the HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Thames Pagent.

For more information about Nadine and her work click here.

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Sizwe Banzi is Dead: An Anti-Apartheid Masterpiece Comes to the Albany

Sizwe Bansi Image

As Athol Fugard’s Apartheid era classic, Sizwe Banzi is Dead, arrives at the Albany, our Marketing Intern, Megan Bommarito, takes a look at the history of the Tony-nominated play.

Sizwe Banzi is Dead
, recognised as a cornerstone of the global anti-apartheid movement, is a gripping and thought-provoking tale of identity and the dehumanising nature of apartheid in South Africa. This significant revival of a theatrical classic arrives at the Albany soon after the 20th anniversary celebrations marking the inauguration of Nelson Mandela and the end of the apartheid. Sizwe Banzi is Dead is a play that examines the meaning of self and the inner turmoil of humanity and which resonates both individually and universally because of its importance in history and its relevance today.

In 1948 apartheid (‘total segregation’) became institutionalised across South Africa, separating and imprisoning non-white South Africans as the new all-white government began to take hold. Sizwe Banzi is Dead, written by Athol Fugard in collaboration with John Kani and Winston Ntshona who both starred in the original production, centres around Fugard’s experiences as a law clerk at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg. Fugard, hailed by Time Magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world”, was born to a Polish/Irish father and an Afrikaner mother in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He experienced the brutalities of apartheid first-hand in his years as a clerk before becoming a playwright in the hope to expose the true nature of the injustices of South Africa. Read more about the history of the apartheid  here and Athol Fugard here.

At the time of its conception, Sizwe Banzi is Dead was a highly controversial political piece that swept the country. Debuted on 8 October 1972 at the Space Theatre in Cape Town, it was, along with Fugard’s The Island, a bold stand against apartheid, even leading to the arrest of Kani and Ntshona for its performance in Umtata in 1976. The trio brought Sizwe Banzi is Dead to a number of venues within the black community, from schools to family centres, angering many of the South African authorities and creating an air of defiance around the performances. In the original production, the performance opened each night with a monologue improvised using the news of the day as inspiration. The play made its debut in Britain a little more than a year later, winning The London Theatre Critics award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play following its premiere in New York in 1974.

Sizwe Banzi is Dead is more than a play about the trials of one man during apartheid: it is a profound look at the struggle for freedom in the throngs of oppression that begs the existential question of what it means to be. Even today, Sizwe Banzi is Dead remains painfully relevant and has been beautifully revived by Matthew Xia, featuring the acting of Sibusiso Mambo and Tonderai Munyevu. Their performance delivers a clear message of the universal struggle of the human spirit and speaks volumes about the importance of freedom that resonates even today.

Sizwe Banzi is Dead is at the Albany Tuesday 27 May – Saturday 31 May with performances at 7.45pm and a Saturday matinee at 2:30pm. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Megan Bommarito, Marketing Intern, The Albany

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