Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 26 Jan. Here Vanessa Kisuule gives us an inside look into her world of SEXY. Catch it at the Wardrobe Theatre on Fri 27 Jan.
SEXY is a show about sexiness that attempts to get to the bottom of what that means for me as a woman, and especially a black woman. It’s a massive topic, one that I could easily write an entire pHD on. Trying to pack all of my thoughts on this into an hour has been trying. But it has been an incredibly fun and rich process – I’ve been feverishly YouTubing iconic and beautiful women: Grace Jones, Rita Hayworth, Bettie Page, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce. I’ve studied the significance of the femme fatale in film and spent hours reading up on the politics of sex-positive feminism. I’ve been a life model, taken burlesque classes, perfected the art of taking a naughty selfie and had a private twerk class from a stripper. I have interviewed female friends on their feelings around this subject – their stories have been brilliant, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. Throughout this, I have had to remind myself to bring it back to myself and how all these ideas inform my relationship with my sexuality and my body. Some pretty unexpected revelations have occurred – feelings I didn’t know I’d been harbouring have come to the surface and every day there is a new discovery as to how this topic makes me feel. It has often felt like a mud wrestle with myself – my head, heart and crotch all seem to yell contradictory things at full volume. It’s hard to unearth a kernel of truth inamongst the cacophony, but I’ve come to realise that the process of untangling these threads is exactly what this show is about.
The last time I did a show for Ferment was in 2014 – a piece about love and many of the lies I felt I’d been fed by media and popular culture. It was a fun piece that I did with Joe Williams, a great musician and university friend of mine. It was one of my first attempts at working collaboratively on a creative idea. At that time, however, I primarily worked on projects that I executed alone. I’ve come a long way since then. I have reached a point where I am confident in what I can do independently – I am now more interested in seeking out people who can contribute skills and perspectives that I don’t have. It’s hard to invite other people to work with you on something that stems from your experience as the nature of my work is almost always autobiographical. But this just means it’s paramount to have a team who can help me make an internal journey translate to a story that others can lock into. It’s been a scary leap to make, but one that’s already paid off massively.
This show is, amongst many other things, a love letter to the music that has scored my life and my womanhood. There are many nods to mid noughties R&B, hip hop and pop music. I want to recreate the feeling one has when dancing with mates in a club – sometimes crippling self consciousness, other times complete joy and abandon. It’s been nice giving myself permission to be frank, lewd and crude with this piece. I don’t believe in shock value for its own sake. But certainly, a woman speaking her mind on a topic of this nature is still a shocking thing for many. I am excited to make a piece that is celebratory and fun, but I also want to find the bravery to explore some ugly and dark corners. I hope women and women of colour come to this show and feel some sense of recognition in this piece. I hope men come and are open and willing to engage in the ideas explored in this show. I am at a point now as an artist where I am no longer willing to pander to certain sensitivities – it will be interesting to see if any feathers get ruffled in the audience by some of the content. Part of me hopes they do, if only to know that something is shifting, that certain notions are being disrupted and upended. If my openness starts up some difficult but necessary conversations I’ll have achieved my aim.
I have a small and wonderful team of associates – Liz Counsell producing, Rob Watt on dramaturgy and direction and Lucy Bairstow working with me on movement. We have been devising for two days and already the show feels like a completely different beast – far more rigorous, slick and directional than I could have imagined. This show is going to encroach on the physical in a way that is new and daunting for me. But it feels like we’re encroaching on something genuinely fresh; something with a pulse. I’m really looking forward to Ferment as a pivotal stage in this show’s development – I hope the audience have as much fun with it as I have creating it so far.
Ferment Fortnight takes place at The Wardrobe Theatre 26-28 Jan before returning to Bristol Old Vic 31 Jan-2 Feb. For more info and to book tickets, click here.