Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
Whenever people ask me what I do, I
always instinctively reply “I’m a poet” but even getting to that point took
years. I’m starting to feel like more of a ‘storyteller’ – that sounds
pretentious but essentially, I feel like what I do is I get to play around with
different ways to tell stories. I guess I’d say for me, art is an attempt to
seek and understand truth. My poetry is very personal, I write to reclaim an
inner power that I misplaced or gave away. It’s mostly feeling. Writing
and performing have been survival.
Performance is a really cathartic
experience, I have a really complicated relationship with it as every time I
perform it feels like I’m opening my soul and demanding it to be seen, telling
people things about myself I wouldn’t usually tell them, it’s not the idea of
judgement that scares me, it’s a fear of being open.
There’s a lot of trauma in the world
and there’s been a lot of repression in my mind, my work is an attempt to work
through these things. This year I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “In
order to survive, we were taught to forget” which I saw filmmaker and
director Campbell X write on social media and I really felt it.
That’s popped into my mind a lot while I’ve been writing this year. I’m
terrified of one day forgetting my life, but there’s so many events that I push
as far back as I can in order to just about survive, so I suppose it makes
sense that my work has always had a confessional aspect, even a poem like ‘to
the Slaughter’ which is so grotesque and seems so far away from
reality where my body is being chopped away, takes me back to a very specific,
very real moment.
recently been co-commissioned by Commonword and Journeys Festival to produce a
piece of work in response to our Displaced Words brief. What was your
initial inspiration for the piece Letters to our Mothers and Fathers? What
do you hope audiences will gain from experiencing this work?
There was something I wanted to say, I
didn’t know what it was but I knew I wanted to say it. I have a bit of a weird
relationship with my parents. I was raised by my grandmother; my dad’s mum and
I haven’t seen my mum since I moved to England as a child. My dad’s always
vaguely been around but I think because he didn’t raise me, there’s a distance
between us. I think we don’t really know how to talk to each other. My mum
feels more like a new friend and not so much a mother figure. I wanted to
explore that, to communicate with both of my parents. I started writing letters
to them about a year ago, letters I’m never going to send, sometimes I keep
them, sometimes I don’t. There’s a lot of things we don’t say in my family.
Family dynamics are often complicated, I’m obsessed with trying to figure them
I wanted to see what this experience
feels like for others who, like me, are far from their home countries. I wanted
to try and bring to the surface a snippet of what that feels like, to be trying
to stay connected to people who are so far away, who you haven’t seen for years,
maybe even decades, when you can’t just…make the trip to see them.
are the curator of Queer Contact: Outspoken. How did you get into curating? How
do you feel curating compliments your work as a writer?
I was on the
National Student Pride committee when I was at university and I think I caught
the curating bug when I was there, for two years I saw the festival start as vague
ideas and then I got to watch and be a part of its becoming.
Monument, Permanent Protest – a project myself, Nasima Begum, Ali Wilson
and Isaac Rose produced for Contact to celebrate the 30th
anniversary of the Section 28 protests in Manchester, I got the chance to work
with young LGBTQ poets. I facilitated poetry workshops with them and worked
with Nasima to curate their performance at an event at the old Free Trade Hall
to launch an image we’d commissioned by Manuel Vason. We also commissioned new
works from local artists Louise Wallwein and Leo Hermitt. We’d been inspired by
the Never Going Underground exhibition at the People’s History Museum
when we’d come together for Re:Con, we couldn’t miss the chance to celebrate
this beautiful moment in Manchester’s history where 25,000 people had marched
across the city in anger at the government’s anti-gay proposed laws.
I was over
the moon when Contact asked me to work with them to curate Queer Contact’s
Outspoken! I think being a writer can feel very isolating at times, so I always
jump at the chance to collaborate and showcase the brilliant work happening in
Manchester right now, particularly by queer artists. I love that you don’t have
to look very hard to find someone in this city who’s doing something fantastic,
I regularly go to see performances so the Outspoken line up was performers
whose work I’d been admiring over the past few years.
a seasoned spoken word performer, what do you enjoy most about the spoken word
scene? What advice would you give to first time performers?
I love the
support from other poets, particularly in Manchester. It really does help to
have a community of creatives otherwise you’d just be practicing your craft
alone in your room (in my case anyway). To have friends like Nasima Begum who
demand to see drafts of your new ideas, to regularly have a show or a
performance or exhibition to support a friend in is really important in just
keeping me going.
thinking about performing or have just started, show people your work –
especially if the thing doesn’t feel finished (will it ever feel finished?), do
it! Performance doesn’t just happen on the stage. Ask for advice, ask for help,
find your community.
the summer you’ve been working at Edinburgh Fringe and you’ve previously
participated in the Royal Exchange’s Writers of Colour group. What are your
plans for delving further into theatre land?
I’ve always thought of myself as being
in a long-term relationship with words, and I’m really excited by theatre and
spectacle. Before Fringe, I was working at Manchester International Festival so
working amongst two brilliant festivals for showcasing theatre and art, seeing
shows back to back throughout the summer, it just made sense to look into
writing about theatre. I applied for the Greater Manchester Critics Scheme as
soon as I got back from Edinburgh and was really pleased to get accepted! There
are some great programmes in and around Manchester this Autumn/Winter at
theatres like Contact, the Royal Exchange, HOME and the Octagon and I’m really
excited to dive into theatre reviewing and learning from some top names in the
have been the key milestones in your development as a writer?
Young Identity when I first moved to Manchester and I’m really thankful for
those workshops and the amount of support I gained from being part of the
performance collective. I’ll always love YI. Standing on the Shoulders of
Giants was a stunning show to be part of, three generations of artists came
together at Contact – Speakeasy, Inna Voice and Young Identity, that was a
Keisha Thompson and watching her spectacular show Man on the Moon bloom
and grow. That was really special, to be invited by Keisha into the space and
watch a show become.
on Nima Séne’s Beige Bitch with
Contact at Stun. Nima really encouraged me to take control of the poem I
performed, to play around with its presentation. To take up space.
laughing with, getting words of wisdom from one of my favourite playwrights
ever – Debbie Tucker-Green during a Writers of Colour workshop(!!!!)
it’s interesting to see how my choices and opportunities over the past few
years have kind of been leading me into making theatre.
next for you in your writing career?
I used to find solo shows so
terrifying and always thought I’d never have the nerve to do one. When I was
shadowing Keisha,I remember thinking I’d never want to get on stage, as
myself in a solo show and tell people things about my life as they happened. I
always thought I would just write plays and have nothing to do with the
performance. I guess there’s been some growth somewhere down the line as I’m
now trying to learn as much as I can about how to do just that. There’s a story
I want to tell and obviously there’s poetry involved but I want to see how much
further I can push it. Until this year, I had only told a handful of friends in
my whole life that I’m a refugee. I’ve always shared that I wasn’t born here,
but I wouldn’t go out of my way to correct people when they’d assume that I had
British Citizenship. Sometimes things would happen and I’d just keep them quiet
instead of telling the story and having to answer the inevitable questions. I’m
picking apart that shame, while trying to figure out if there is such a thing
as ‘becoming British’. This story is more than three minutes long. I’m
terrified. I’m excited.
I pitched the idea to Mother’s
Bloomers and I’ll be workshopping a ten-minute part of the script at their next
event at the Royal Exchange on the 16th of November with Lisa and
Tim’s support. It’s a completely different performance to anything I’ve ever
can we find out more about you and your work?
year in December, a small collection of some of my poems –Slaughter –is
being published in the new anthology from Lungs Project. The anthology’s called
New Landscapes and is now available to pre-order at lungsproject.org!
follow also me on Twitter – @mandla_rae – I post all my upcoming gigs and news
I had a chat
with Nuria López de la Oliva, curator and Journeys Festival Assistant Producer
for the Journeys Roots to Fruits Podcast where we talked about Manchester and I
shared a monologue from the solo show I’m currently working on developing. That
will be on the Journeys Festival website in October.
happening in October are the Letters to our Mothers and Fathers
performances. The first will be at Longsight Library on the 5th of October and
the second will be at Cathedral Gardens on the 12th. I’ll be part of the
festival’s activities on those days too, you can come and write a letter with
me so please do!
But I’d say
the best way to find out about my work is to come and see me or book me to
perform! I’m performing quite a bit in October actually, at the Journeys
Festival Launch, Creatures of Catharsis and the Devils Dykes Network Festival in
up your experience thus far in one word.