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Reclaiming the stage at Dublin Fringe Festival

Words: Ellen Kenny
Photography: George Voronov
Additional Imagery by: Emmanuel Okoye, Sofi Design, and Tessy Media

Emerging artists and seasoned creators of the Dublin Fringe Festival’s Weft Project spoke to District about bending genres, capturing an audience, and constructing a narrative that is wholly your own.

Dublin Fringe Festival’s Weft Project is giving some of that respect back to creators. Launched in 2021, Weft focuses on talent development for emerging artists of colour in Ireland. This 18 month project has created a visible entry into Ireland’s creative industry for Black artists and artists of colour. It has enhanced links between directors and playwrights, actors and producers, sound designers and set-makers. All of which culminates in a lineup of powerful new productions at this year’s Dublin Fringe Festivals.  

In the past, characters and creators of colour have had their stories told for them, their identities ascribed to them. The struggling black woman, the comedic side character, the token diversity role. Both on the stage and behind the curtains, Ireland’s cultural scene has not given the respect due to creators of colour. 

Black creators and creators of colour know the stories you have heard, the archetypes you have seen. At this year’s Fringe, they will show you something new. With Weft’s support, artists of colour have created new perspectives on drawn-out narratives.

The Perfect Immigrant

Samuel Yakura

“What else does a young Black man have to say if it isn’t about racism?”

Samuel Yakura

One new story comes from Samuel Yakura and his one-man show, The Perfect Immigrant. Samuel agrees that one-man shows have become a staple for creators of colour to share their deeply personal stories of racism and prejudice. But while Samuel acknowledges that The Perfect Immigrant is just as autobiographical as other one-man shows before him, he explains that he is trying to show the audience a different kind of story, told in a new way. 

The Perfect Immigrant tells the story of Levi, a man who emigrates from Nigeria to Ireland, just like Samuel did in 2018. The play explores the traditional themes expected within plays about emigration, “themes of displacement, of defining home”. But the reason Samuel wrote this play is not to show you the stories you know, but the stories you don’t. 

“Since I moved here, most of the stories I keep seeing around or hearing about Black people are always racially related. There’s so much more to Black people than racism. Racism is important, but it is not the experience of every Black person.”

“I come from a country of over 200 million Black people, and I lived there for 80 per cent of my life. And I’ve been here for four or five years and yes, and I have seen traces of [racism], but it’s not the same as a Black Irish person who grew up in Ireland.”

Samuel is asking his audience, “What else does a young Black man have to say if it isn’t about racism?” The Perfect Immigrant shows “a more holistic peek into the life of Black people living in Ireland, not just the sufferings”.

“There are challenges, obviously, but the challenges are not always racial. There are challenges of trying to fight hot peppers, challenges of trying to find an Afro Beat Club.”

Samuel has also found a fresh new way to express this journey. In between manic monologues of Levi lamenting the lack of hot peppers in Lucan, he finds moments of reflection and clarity through spoken word poetry. Samuel has collaborated with Weft’s multidisciplinary team to create this unique, multifaceted experience.

The Perfect Immigrant artwork courtesy of Emmanuel Okoye

“There’s a shared relationship between the character that performs the poems and the character that does the monologues,” Samuel explains, “The character who does the monologues is the present character Levi who’s moving, then the poet is the ideal version of Levi.”

“You see this juxtaposition between what he’s actually going through and how he wants to be seen in his life.”

The Perfect Immigrant is about parsing through the manic and the thoughtful to find a common ground within yourself and those around you. Samuel’s one-man performance finds a new common ground between the poet and the playwright, between the Nigerian native and the immigrant learning to call Ireland home, between the audience and the performer. 

“That really is what multiculturalism is all about, it’s being able to listen and understand and empathise and have well informed dialogue.”

Click here to get tickets to The Perfect Immigrant at The New Theatre from September 13 to September 17.

Since I moved here, most of the stories I keep seeing around or hearing about Black people are always racially related. There’s so much more to Black people than racism. Racism is important, but it is not the experience of every Black person.

Samuel Yakura
Spear

CN Smith

“I feel like what actually should be happening is that white people are put under the microscope, and that white people should be the ones who are being examined and who are being questioned.”

CN Smith

While Samuel experiments with the one-man show, playwright CN Smith flips the format on its head completely. Though the playwright has a lot of experience with and respect for one-person performances as a way “to talk about race and traumatic experiences”, CN wanted to strive for something completely new in his upcoming play, Spear. 

“I was really interested in exploring one person’s story through lots of different people,” CN explains, “Those other shows are great, and they’re really speaking to a lot of people’s truths, but they keep us as people of colour under the microscope.”

“I feel like what actually should be happening is that white people are put under the microscope, and that white people should be the ones who are being examined and who are being questioned, that would be prodded in that way.”

Spear is about a Black man who makes it from an athletics field in rural Ireland to the Tokyo Olympics with a gold medal around his neck. Or rather, it’s about his three former friends who don’t make it. Reuniting on the now-disused athletics field, a decade since they last met there, the trio drink the night away and reflect on where they came from, where they are now, and why they didn’t reach the same heights as their friend. 

Their Black friend does not appear in the play at all. Instead, his friends have found his journal from secondary school. Through this they are forced to address the disconnect between the memories they have of their friend and the much more harrowing truth they begin to uncover over one night.

To CN, removing the character of colour from the play only adds to his power over both the characters and the audience: “it kind of puts a different kind of hyper focus on the characters because they feel the absence [of their friend] exactly like you can. You can really hear the silence. It almost makes you work harder to think about what’s true, what isn’t, how their image of him was being distorted.”

Spear Artwork courtesy of Emmanuel Okoye

The characters have maintained their friendship through a shared “bitterness” towards their friend for his apparent good fortune. But as the night unravels and the trio revisit their past through their friend’s journal, they are forced to reevaluate the environment they created for their friend growing up.

“There’s a section where he’s just got his first kind of positive feedback from, from his friend group, from the people on the athletics team”, CN explains, “They’ve made a chant about him because he’s so good at what he does. He ruins the moment by thinking ‘oh, they only like me because I’m Black and I’m exceeding expectations’.”

Spear leaves the audience wondering whether the three white protagonists will amend their understanding of their Black friend, or “put the blinders on”, as CN describes. But by reshaping the narrative to probe the perpetrators of prejudice rather than the victim, CN hopes that the, “mostly white audiences” will reconsider their own perspectives. 

Click here to get tickets to Spear at Smock Alley Theatre from September 13 to September 17.

Spear leaves the audience wondering whether the three white protagonists will amend their understanding of their Black friend, or “put the blinders on”

Filmore!

Dafe Orugbo

Dafe recalls that teenagers will often “act in a way that isn’t in their nature, because it’s something that will benefit them in a school context.” And for Dafe, this pressure doesn’t absolve former bullies of their wrongs, but still changes your perspective of their actions.

Different perspectives in theatre are also taken to a whole new level by Dafe Orugbo, or Maximus C. Filmore, as he is also known. Dafe’s show, Filmore!, doesn’t just invite the audience to embrace the narrative, but become part of the narrative itself. 

Dafe described his show, as “interactive theatre”- audience members are invited to become a seasoned detective investigating the bedroom and workstation of School Safety Officer Maximus C. Filmore, played by Dafe. In this extensive escape room, you figure out where Filmore is and what “crime” he may have committed.

Dafe wanted to explore our memories of secondary school and the strange experiences we remember: “When you think about school, especially through the lens of being an adult, it actually is very silly,” Dafe explained, “That’s why I wanted to be this kind of absurd exploration of what it was like to be in school.”

Dafe recalls the most common staples of secondary school- Lynx Africa, rules surrounding uniforms and hair. To solve the mystery, you have to relive all those experiences and get stuck in the head of a teenager once again. You have to truly become a character in this performance to unravel the story. 

“I think it’s gonna be such an interesting journey for the individual person because as you’re investigating this fake scenario and this character… we kind of want [Filmore] to be a mirror reflection of the shit that you went through and how you differ from him, how you’re the same.”

The room has been built to allow you to find clues through different means, and Dafe is excited to see how different participants will pick up on different clues, and how that might affect your perspective of Filmore!. Because, even though there are over 50 clues, the hardest part is not figuring out what Filmore did, but figuring out if you can forgive him. 

Image courtesy of Sofi Design

Secondary schools often create environments that force people to behave in certain ways. Dafe recalls that teenagers will often “act in a way that isn’t in their nature, because it’s something that will benefit them in a school context.” And for Dafe, this pressure doesn’t absolve former bullies of their wrongs, but it still changes your perspective of their actions. 

Dafe distils this complicated experience into a single character’s complicated journey that audiences must uncover: “When you’re writing your findings in the end, do you think this is a sympathetic character, do you think there is no excuse for what he did?”

Dafe may have constructed this unique interactive nostalgia-trip, but he is leaving the narrative to the audience: “There’s no point in me trying to say here’s what’s important. You’re the judge, jury and execution here. You decide what is justified, what’s important and what’s valid.”

Click here to get tickets to Filmore! at the Teachers Club from September 13 to September 17 and click here to get tickets to the afterparty at Workman’s, where you can discover the full mystery. 

“There’s no point in me trying to say here’s what’s important. You’re the judge, jury and executioner here. You decide what is justified, what’s important and what’s valid.”

Dafe Orugbo
Hot Brown Honey

Hive City Legacy: Dublin Chapter

Image courtesy of Tessy Media

“We don’t get to celebrate ourselves enough, especially on the stage in front of people, so we wanted to centre the show around Black and Brown joy.”

Lisa Fa’alafi

Hive City Legacy: Dublin Chapter does not move the perspective off creators of colour, but instead offers a new perspective. Led by Lisa Fa’alafi and Busty Beatz of Hot Brown Honey, the genre-bending experience has a distinct focus on joy over pain.

“We don’t get to celebrate ourselves enough, especially on the stage in front of people,” Lisa explains, “So we wanted to centre the show around Black and Brown joy.”

Hot Brown Honey aims to build a “creative revolution” and “decolonise the world, one stage at a time.” With a group of Femmes of colour based in Ireland, they have curated a series of dance, song, and poetry to share their experiences on their own terms.

“Femmes of colour do not get enough time on stage. They do not get enough time out in the world.”

Featuring Dublin performers such as Venus Patel, Jess Kav and Shauna Harris, Hive City Legacy is a collaboration seeped with the talent of Femmes of colour finding universal themes as well as moments of individuality.

“We find places within these things as we were writing for each person to shine, and it’s ingrained in each number”, Lisa explains. “And we found there are a number of universal truths that are just out there for Black and Brown Femmes,” Busty adds, emphasising the common ground these creators of colour have found to create a moving experience. 

Image courtesy of Tessy Media

Lisa and Busty have been working closely with the Weft project, using their 20 years of experience to support emerging artists of colour. According to them, the success of projects like Weft can create long-lasting opportunities for creators of colour, and earn them back their power to tell their own stories.

“The art has the capacity to change culture. We know it does. And we know that the time we spend with audiences can be transformative,” Busty explains, “And it’s not just about the time we spend in the theatre together. It’s about the conversations that happen.”

“But then it’s also an ongoing process. It’s making sure that the scaffolding involved with every theatre company there is like, you know, making sure arts organisations know that there are all these amazing multitalented, multiskilled people out there.”

Click here to get tickets to Hive City Legacy: Dublin Chapter at Projects Art Centre from September 11 to September 17.

The art has the capacity to change culture. We know it does. And we know that the time we spend with audiences can be transformative

Busty Beatz, Hive City Legacy

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