Sunday, November 18, 2007

Listening to the Audience

These few days at the Bernie Grant Centre have been terrific for us. For a start, the audiences have been big and welcoming. And they've been very diverse, with a high proportion of Ghanaian and other African people. It's rare and inspiring to find a venue where the audience development work has really reached into a community and found a new theatre audience. Of course, for this show, it's easier than it would be for many: Tottenham boasts the largest Ghanaian community outside Ghana. As you walk along the road outside the Centre, every other shop seems to be advertising money transfer to Ghana.

Having this audience moves the production on in some very interesting ways. There are magical moments when they join in with the songs, especially the funeral song near the end. It's an incredible experience to hear the auditorium humming with the same music as the stage. The laughter here is in different places; the Twi is clearly understood; and the cultural references are specific.

After Friday's show, some Fanti people had a long talk with some of the cast and Steve. Steve and Seun reported back to me yesterday. They were concerned that Ato was seen to kick Eulalie in the moment when his anger and frustration finally erupt. I'd deliberately pushed the violence beyond a slap, since I'd been concerned not to get the reaction I saw on the video Awo showed me of a production in Ghana - the audience applauding the slap. The audience members weren't concerned that the violence was strong, however - it was the specific action. Apparently Fanti people have a cultural resistance to kicking, even in a wild fury, because there's a taboo against the foot as dirty, in contact with the ground. I decide to change the fight in response to this, and tonight Ato slaps Eulalie, then punches her twice. It's actually more theatrically effective too, since there's no change to the physical impetus behind his fury.

Interestingly, Seun says that it also makes him feel more comfortable as a young black actor. He's very wary of the cliched image of young black men in this country, and doesn't want to pander to it. This role is anything but that cliche, especially the way he's playing it - but I'm pleased that the audience have moved us forward, not only in relation to Fanti culture, but also in relation to our own.

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