Daughters of Woe, Daughters of Wonder - review

 

 

From the offset the audience was immersed into the event by way of music and video, a far warmer entry into what can be a harsh arrival into zoom events. The host acknowledged that zoom could sometimes be a difficult platform for enabling us to connect and that this would be a select audience.

"We're going to do something a bit different tonight" felt like the start of an adventure.

The host explained a change of plans due to unforeseen circumstances, and that the evening would include facilitated small break out group activity in which the audience would be invited to share their experiences over the year of the pandemic. Some audience members later confessed they had felt a slight consternation and discomfort on being expected to 'contribute.'

The host explained the task urging us to reflect and focus on themes linked to: what had been difficult? What had stood out? She modelled what was expected by sharing an analogy of her own challenges touching on vulnerabilities; this served to stoke a sense of connection.

In the breakout group in which I found myself, the host's story was a motivation for participants to dive deep with offers of their own stories. Audience members shared experiences of loss, grief, anxiety, despair and pain. Yet the facilitator also encouraged us to reflect on our discoveries, how we had tapped into unearthed creativity, how we survived and thrived.

In the coming back together audience members freely shared their stories and felt listened to; this was perceptively held by cast members. The audience members sharing of their stories became a performance. One summed up the similarities we have all endured in spoken poetry she devised and performed: 'the potential of heaven; the potential of hell.

The Daughters of Woe performance greatly touched the audience, evident by comments relating to the anguished mother. One audience member recited back the protagonist's line, 'what use the sunrise, what use the stars' which signified a level of attention and empathy with the mother in her grief. Anguish and grief is so familiar; we have all been met by these visitations in this past year.

The audience member who is content to reveal themselves working out on a exercise bike while viewing the show is clearly feeling at ease in the virtual space! The host was unfazed as she affably quizzed him, eliciting humour among the wider audience. Another member suggested she might even get her knitting out. We can of course multi-task during performances in our zoom habitats - evidently. He was also typing reflections in the chat while watching and cycling.

 

The audience and performances were well held by the host with warmth, authority and geniality.

The moving performance of Josephine Baker's life drew comments about the challenges she faced as a celebrated black woman, recognition of how she navigated her activism, with comparisons drawn to current topical issues for black women and the sisterhood.

For some Josephine's story was a new discovery, a number said they would now research her life, one remarked she had been "so mesmerised she had forgotten to drink her wine!"

After acknowledging and reading the flurry of positive comments about the performances in the chat the host thanked the audience for their warmth, support and generosity remarking that exposing ourselves to each other as we had done tonight was not an easy ask. There was indeed a sense that we had gravitated towards each other as the evening had unfurled.

 

An audience member's final comment was an apt summary, "what a wonderful place to find myself in tonight."

 Evaluation of Sheba Soul Ensemble’s Performance of -

Are you Sure we are Awake?

25/03/2021

 

How the company nurtured the audience through their strands of performing?

-          Opening message to greet participants in the chat box, prior to the event starting.

-          Lovely, friendly, energetic verbal welcome by presenter, who held the presenting role throughout the performance. Setting the stage, so the audience knew what to expect, regards to the structure of the evening.

-          Prior to the theatre piece starting the presenter played some uplifting, engaging music from Uganda and explained the reason for selecting the particular piece of music – Name of musician – “Sheba” having the same name used in their Theatre Company “Sheba Soul Ensemble”. Also, the musician coming from Uganda which was a link to the performance. This created the mood of anticipation of what else was to come.

-          Each actor had the name of their character on their screen which made things clear for the audience members.

-          The presenter invited the audience to make any comments, ask any questions or to seek clarity between each Act. This pause / delivering the performance in bite size chucks, (Acts),gave room for the audience to process what they took from the Act just delivered. All questions and comments made in the chat and made verbally were acknowledged and answered.

-          The performance was multifaceted, which tailored to the needs of the varying audience members – theatre, music, dance, song, video, and improvisation – making for a very creative, dynamic, and interesting show.

-          The Presenter used great summarizing, paraphrasing and open questioning which helped the audience members to openup and share their own thoughts, experiences, and feelings.

-          Having the whole cast come together with the audience at the end of the show was a lovely way to end and seemed to have been appreciated by the audience.

Focus on Mental Health and Well Being/How the piece affected the audience/Audience reactions

-          Thought was given to not put pressure on the audience, but at the same time to encourage them to participate in different ways e.g. audience invited to switch on their camera’s, to share the perceptions, thoughts - verbally or through the chat.

-          Presenter used audience members names and showed interest and enthusiasm in all offers shared, which lead to the audience opening more.

-           It was acknowledged by the presenter that the performance was moving through history and was an exploration of the links between Covid and colonialism. The performance sparked thoughts and questions for the audience and the audience felt able to express the parts and aspects of the performance that resonated with them and their own views regards to the contrasting aspects of the characters and their morals in the performance.

-          Towards the end of the performance the audience were invited to share their own stories of what had been happening for them over the past 12 months. This allowed the audience to share their experiences and for the other audience members to hear the experiences of others – allowing for connectedness, challenging that sense of being alone with a situation as the audience recognised that other audience members had been going through struggles of their own too.

-          Audience members voiced how helpful this process was for them and acknowledged how naming their strength and the tools used to overcome difficulties was helpful.

-          Other audience members expressed how being listened too, beingaffirmed, and responded to via the improvisation theatre played back to them and by the comments made by other audience members was very catharsis and she would take this with her.

 

-          Other audience members talked about a group consciousness and how the performance and the audiences stories had talked about finding a strength within, dual feelings/experiences e.g. joy and sadness being experienced at the same time and them co existing rather than pushing either feeling away. It was acknowledged that they had shared some sort of group healing through their connectedness, even though it was vertical space (via zoom). It was acknowledged that one member of the Theatre company had done her aspect of the performance from another continent – Africa, Uganda.

-          The presenter and the actors later in the performance expressed their gratitude for audience members courage, openness, and honesty and how they were honoured that the audience had trusted them with these important aspects of their life. This made for a mutual connection and togetherness as the audience too shared their appreciation for the performance and the evening/atmosphere that had been created and delivered by Sheba Soul Ensemble.

-          The Improvisation singer used the phrase “me” in the song she created, which showed a real coming alongside the audience member who had shared their story, as if they were one.

-          One audience member was not wishing to verbally share her story initially, but instead wrote it in the chat. This was respected and honoured, and this led to the audience member becoming less anxious and taking risks to open and share more verbally.

-          An audience member who had written and published her own poems over the past 12 months as a way of managing her time and challenging the negative feelings that tried to creep in over the past 12 months; was given space to share some of her own poems and her poems were celebrated as part of the evening’s events.

 

Summary

The evening and performance was a great success and from my analysis I believe a great job was done insuring the nurturing and holding of the audience and creating a space where the focus was on mental health and wellbeing, without even naming it as that. The performance was excellently executed and delivered and lead to the audience freely sharing their own stories triggered by the thought-provoking art delivered. I have no critical analysis as I feel you met all your aims and objectives well and you were as a company, greatly received by your audience.

- Vanessa Boyawa theatre practitioner