A chat with Granny and Lasana Shabazz before Granny's Yard at VFD, Saturday 24th October. Check out below a piece from Lasana's last show Minstrels.
- Tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm a performance artist and writer although I original trained as an actor. My work tends to be multidisciplinary incorporating acting, singing, dance and multimedia. I also direct and produce arts projects.
- How did you first get into performance?
I grew up in the arts. My father is a playwright and artist and took me to his rehearsals as baby. So I was exposed to the arts very early. Then when I was 4 I started going to a performance arts school called weekend arts school (WAC) which I went to until drama school. So for 14 years.
- How does your new show Minstrel explore themes of race and gender, and why did you think it was important for the current gay landscape in London?
The show connects to a lot of people's experience in terms the common identity question of where do I fit in. It also explores what it's like to be a non-White gay man which is a harder experience. Learning from when you come out you can be fetishised or point blank rejected simply because of the colour of your skin. These rejections built on stereotypes and preconceptions of a race. Re gender I deconstruct this idea of 'boys things' and 'girls things' and pigeon holing yourself or allowing people to do that to you simply because of your Gentalia. The show in a bit sell the preconceptions people place on you and the ones you place on yourself. Within gay culture there's a lot, for example masc for masc which I find quite amusing. As the quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet goes 'the lady doth protest too much, methinks'. A lot of this apparent masculinity in the gay and straight scene is very performative.
- Have you experienced prejudice for either reasons or race or gender, or both, within the gay community of London? If so, how do we think we best go forward combatting that?
I find the gay scene more racist as there's this idea that 'I'm a minority myself so I can say whatever I like'. I've been categorised because of my race either as a top with a big dick face or face or via dating apps. Alternatively there's the classic stereotype of the angry, hyper sexual, illiterate, homophobic, straight only or down low black man. People to who tend to be vocal about these assumptions also seem to be quite defensive when challenged. One key thing I've noticed is also the racism I experience in London on gay the scene has increased significantly with gentrification. I find a lot of people are leaving small and maybe closed minded areas of the U.K and bringing some of those narrow minded views and ignorance into London.
- Tell us about Granny's Yard. How are you going to make it into an immersive theatrical experience?
For granny's yard I'm bringing an array of performers but an also interactive recognisable character, granny Roslyn. She's your Aunty or your mums friend or best friends granny, as character you know her. The audience will also help make some of the performance throughout the night. This night of performance is also accompanied by dance party after where the audience and performer lines are blurred further.
- How did you go about researching the Granny's Yard piece? What did you find out about drag and the generations in conducting your research?
I wouldn't really define Granny as drag. She is a cultural identifiable character. The research I've done was I suppose through meeting and watching hundreds of Caribbean women of Granny's generation at funerals, party's, also using my own grandmas for research.
- And finally, why is London such a great city to be right now in terms of queer performance? Which artists do you most admire?
London is amazing at the moment as there's such a diverse representation of queer performance which is out there like Imma Mess, Ellis D, virgin xtravaganza, Rebekah Ubuntu, Tsinder, Baby Tap and so much more.
And although not all queer and arts venue are not keen on diversity in queer performance and don't want to provide a platform for it, it's still getting out there and opening audiences eyes.
Granny's Yard, VFD, Saturday 24th October, 10pm-3am.