Lekhani Chirwa | Playing Yourself

By March 1, 2021News

So a lot of people say that if you’re creating your own work based on your own personal experience then it’s a good idea to separate yourself from the main character. To protect yourself.

Well I’ve only gone and done the complete opposite which is as you can imagine, absolutely terrifying. But here we are!

I think when I first started developing Can I Touch Your Hair? I definitely focussed on telling the story of black and mixed race women collectively. The struggles we all go through, the things we all experience. How we’re all tired of cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions and hair touchers.

I feel there was a huge shift with the show. It came when I did a 20 minute sharing of the show at The Actors Centre for Blacktress’ John Thaw Initiative. It was a chance for black women to share new work. I performed a 20 minute iteration for the show and decided to hold a Q&A afterwards. The audience’s feedback was great and I couldn’t not take it on board. They were all asking me – ‘but what about you, Lekhani?’. They wanted to hear my specific story and who I was in relation to my hair.

And that’s when things got deep. It brought up some old memories that I’d kind of suppressed and never really looked at. Resurfacing my story and sharing my words on meant that I could take ownership and power back from all that I had experienced. I am so glad I did. I think there is real power in being able to speak your own personal truth. If I can give context to my hair struggles and who I am, then the audience surely has to respect that?

Playing yourself is tough as you can’t exactly hide behind a character. Although I want to remind people that this is an exaggerated and heightened version of me. It’s exposing but at the same time liberating. I have something to say and want to share it, if only one person can resonate with it then that is enough.

For Can I Touch Your Hair?, I still want to highlight things like the European beauty standard but in particular I want to delve into how that had a knock on effect on my own identity. I grew up spending a lot of time assimilating to whiteness because that was all I knew. Through creating this show I have become empowered as well as falling in love with my hair and its journey.

After VAULT Festival 2019 I went on to take the show to Hull Truck and The Curve, Slough. I had big plans for Can I Touch Your Hair? In 2020 but covid and the pandemic meant I had to put them on pause. Now 2021 is here and I’m already pencilling in dates to take the show to some festivals and theatre venues later in the year. However due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic it may not be possible to do live performances. Therefore Engine Room is allowing me the space to try out Zoom theatre to see whether its something I can achieve or not.

This time round I am hoping to understand how audiences find the transition of my work digitally. From previously performing the show it has been dependent on audience interaction. I’m looking to see how the show will translate when I’m behind a screen. I also can’t wait to try out some new things and play, working to see if they will keep the audience engaged.

I’m really excited to try out this new iteration of the show, it is directed by the wonderful Jackie Fisher. Please tune in on 1st March at 7pm over on Omnibus Theatre’s YouTube channel and do take the time to fill out the feedback form, it’s really important. Enjoy!

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