The British Council helped sponsor my visit here in South Africa. We have had a working
relationship for about twenty years now. They sponsored me in East Germany shortly after the wall came down and South Africa after regime change. Thailand, India, Cameroon, France, Singapore, Malta are a few more countries they have taken me to either as a British Council initiative or as a local initiative funded by The British Council. It is not the full scope of my international work but healthy chunk of it.
My performances here in South Africa are initiated by Pervaiz Khan at Sustained Theatre a company in England supported in this context by The British Council. Sustained Theatre have worked alongside The British Council and The National Arts Festival in South Africa who endeavour to expand their programme to international artists and Spoken Word Theatre. Artsadmin are the production company whom represent me.
“Spoken Word Theatre” describes an initiative started in England by Apples
and Snakes Britain’s leading organisation in the promotion of live poetry. In 2003 BAC,
Contact Theatre at the behest of Apples and Snakes commissioned myself to write “Spoken Word Theatre.” Up until then I had written various books, plays, radio documentaries, records and the like and spent alot of time reading on stages around the world – still do. But this was a new thing. A brand new thing.
The result was Something Dark. At the heart of the piece a poem and in the last two lines a rhyming couplet. But more importantly, in terms of poetry, I wrote the piece to try and show the writing fraternity that my l life as poet was beset by the greater need to piece together my story to find my family. “spoken word theatre” was if not the only way then the most effective way of pulling all these ties together. Since 2003 Something Dark has toured many parts of the world and was adapted for a BBC radio Play in 2004 winning the RIMA award.
Spoken word Theatre is a piece of theatre by a spoken word artist more likely a poet. It is scripted and directed with theatrical sensibility maintaining the poets integrity.
It was always part of a larger plan by Apples and Snakes, a plan to expand the breadth of poets into theatre; a plan to push poets into a new field where they would write and perform script and where their performance and writing would be crafted through a director and all the theatrical dynamics of lighting and sound. This is Spoken Word Theatre, a development made possible by a definite creative intervention by Apples and Snakes with the support of The Arts Council
Something Dark was the first in their initiative adn now the wheels had been put in motion. Poets such as Francesca Beard Zena Edwards and Malika Booker wrote shows, worked with directors and took them around the world. This year at the Edinburgh Festival poet Inua Ellams will take his show to The Edinburgh Festival at The British Council Showcase not as part of Apples and Snakes but with FUEL which is one of the most dynamic production companies in Britain. Word has spread.
As Spoken Word Theatre travels worldwide from England simultaneous movement happens. One of the most contemporary hip poets Lebo Mashile presents her show Threads at the festival. it is important that this is known about Spoken Word Theatre otherwise peoples interpretations and definitions will sway to whatever whim they decide it should be. Concerning England there is a very definite moment where spoken word theatre was developed and it came from Apples and Snakes.
These artists known as “spoken word artists” have been encouraged in a direction which has been fruitful and emp owering to them and their audiences. Theatre has been expanded too. Now theatre’s do not only think of poets as filling their studio spaces but
of their main venues and this was the key aim of Apples and snakes in inspiring this new initiative and new audience. It has worked in Something Dark.
And so there is no better place for Something Dark tonight than The National Arts Festival in South Africa in front of a sold out audience of three hundred and fifty while two bats dived from the rafters and flew around me like crazy things. Adrienne Sichel sat quietly in the audience. Yesterday on this stage was exhilarating but the second night after a good performance is always difficult. Professionalism is defined not by the first night but by the second. I walked off stage to a standing ovation. It is love. T
I have been defined in many ways by many people: Performance poet, Jazz poet, black poet, english poet, dub poet, Caribbean poet (!), ethiopiain poet, ethiopian british poet, rap poet, street poet, urban poet, spoken word poet, dub poet (!)… there is one constant throughout them all. It is in my plays, in my broadcasts, in my books, in my songs and the heart of “spoken Word Theatre”. It is clear and it resonates. And I know what it is and if I ever forgot I would die.