Tag Archives: Leo Kay

Baba Israel on creating The Spinning Wheel in memory of his late father

The Spinning Wheel - Brochure imageTheatre and Hip Hop artist Baba Israel is celebrating the life of his late father Steve Ben Israel, a New York jazz musician, stand-up comic, counter-cultural activist and member of the iconic Living Theatre, with an exciting international collaboration with Unfinished Business Artistic Director, Leo Kay. Combining spoken word, live music by Yako 440 and video by AlbinoMosquito, their dynamic show The Spinning Wheel is here this Saturday 22 November, 7.30pm. Baba Israel  answers some questions ahead of its only London performance:

Why were you inspired to make this show for your father?

Losing my father was very difficult and early on I knew that creativity would be an important part of the healing process. I did a poem for my father 8 days after he passed at his favorite jazz club smalls in the village with Omer Avital’s band. This was the first moment I started to dream about this show. I also made a promise to my father hours before he passed that I would carry on his creative legacy. I did not want his work to be lost and wanted to share it with new audiences. I felt that it was relevant and that there were people who did not encounter him who would dig his material. Another key inspiration was when I was Artistic Director of Contact in Manchester and I presented my collaborator Leo Kay’s show it’s like he’s knocking which dealt with the loss of his father. It has been important to have a co-creator who has worked with such personal material but also brought an objective eye. Leo also really challenged me to find a honest an open space as a performer and writer that I think makes the show deeper, richer, and more present for the audience.

What is the influence your father has had on your work?

My father introduced me to jazz and to improvisation. He also nurtured my love of poetry, humor, and bringing politics into art. I started going to my father’s shows at the age of 4 and was raised in the theatre world. I also witnessed his artistic interventions in the everyday world of parks and subways and as part of protests. He was committed to art as a medium to inspire change and to find utopian moments in the midst of the injustices of our modern world.

What do you think your father would think of The Spinning Wheel?

I think he would have dug it.. His intention was for people to leave his shows laughing, thinking, uplifted, and connected to what makes us human. So far we have been getting feedback from audiences that they are having similar reactions to The Spinning Wheel.

Are you excited about performing at the Albany? And why?

I am very excited! I have a lot of respect for the Albany and its engagement  with community and its diverse and rich program. It is also the first place Yako and I ever performed in London so it is special for us.

What do you hope London, and even Deptford, audiences will get from this production?

I hope that they will enjoy a personal story and enjoy learning about my father’s work and journey. I also hope that it will connect with their own experience of family  and of the need to stay engaged with making the world a better place to be. Plus there is some great music from Yako 440 and stand out visual work from Richard Ramchurn of AlbinoMosquito. Hope to see you there!

Baba Israel, Contact Manchester

Baba Israel hits the stage this Saturday 22 November, 7.30pm in The Spinning Wheel as part of EFG London Jazz Festival. For more information and to book, click here.

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You Are How You Eat: the Relationship of Arts and Food


We’re just about half way through Yam Yam! Festival, our six week festival of all things arts and foods, which has seen donkeys, goats and ferrets take over our garden, our cafe transformed into a delicious Phillippines pop up restaurant, a tour of discovery around Deptford’s West African shops and supermarkets, and loads more besides. This Friday and Saturday, Only Wolves and Lions will invite audience members to participate in the creation of a meal as part of a performance.  Head of Creative Programmes Raidene Carter reflects on the relationship between food and performance. This blog originally appeared on the Exeunt website. 

At the moment, one thing is certain: food is cool. Hipsters instagramming their cronuts, the queues round the block at the latest “no bookings” pop-up, and high concept tasting menus with endless courses; there’s something of a foodie revolution happening. In the midst of this abundance of delicious new foodstuffs to sample, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of not only what we eat, but how we eat. Food is sustenance. But it is much more than that too.

Yam Yam!, the Albany’s festival of arts and food, part of an 18 month programme of food related activity supported by The Big Lottery Food Fund, is, in many ways, a reflection on this. We have performances that celebrate the rituals of dining, shows reflecting on the history and cultural significance of what we eat, and events that revel in the fun of sharing food.

Unfinished Business’s Only Wolves and Lions (1st & 2nd November) is a great example. Each member of the small audience of 25 is asked to bring an ingredient with them and then, as part of the show, they work with their fellow audience members to cook up a delicious feast which they’ll share. The piece explores themes of community and isolation.

By asking us to collaborate on the creation of a meal, artist Leo Kay creates a temporary community, with each audience member having to take a role, negotiating and making compromises for the good of the group. Friendships are formed, sometimes arguments erupt and finally we all share in the fruits of what we’ve created together. The show proves, perhaps far better than a conventional drama might, the true value of being part of a community. Because the experience is framed as theatre, we look at what is, ultimately, an everyday act, in a different way and perhaps carry some of that new perspective back to our own kitchens and tables.

Kay isn’t the only artist exploring the experience of sharing food in theatre at the moment. At the Bristol Old Vic, The Table of Delights has recently been staged: a collaboration between a restaurant and Theatre Damafino.  Yumm-A-Yukka-Boo is currently touring, introducing young audiences to the foods from different cultures.

Perhaps this is symptomatic of the way we eat now. The abundance of food available to us, the speed with which we consume it, and the fact this is so at odds with what we know to be the experience of the vast majority of people alive today is demanding that we reconsider not only what we eat, but how we eat. It’s clear that performance practices – which have so much to do with the actions that define who we are – have a pivotal role to play in addressing this.

This idea of the performative role that the rituals of preparing and sharing food have to play in making communities runs through the festival. At the Albany we are surrounded by an incredibly diverse array of cultures and heritages. The influence of food in cultivating integration is clear on Deptford High Street, where fishmongers and butchers mingle with Vietnamese cafes, Nigerian bakeries and Chinese supermarkets.

Yam Yam! reflects this. Mazi Mas, for example, is a roaming restaurant that “showcases the culinary talents and diverse cultural heritages of migrant women in London”. During Yam Yam! they are hosting a series of three pop-up restaurants, focusing respectively on food from the Phillippines (17th October), Ethiopia (31st October) and South America (14th November). The experience for diners moves beyond simply consume the food; they will also find out more about how it is prepared and the rituals surrounding its consumption. The act of cooking becomes a means of empowerment for women who are often long-term unemployed and socially marginalised, and by sharing the food, diners and chefs alike come to a deeper understanding of one another’s cultures and experiences.

While events like this are less obviously “performance” or “art” in the conventional sense, we believe that by contextualising them in an arts space, we are inviting audiences to reflect on them differently, asking them to consider what and how they eat from a fresh point of view.

Raidene Carter, Head of Creative Programmes, The Albany

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