An insight into HOMEWARD: SOUL FOOD
By Keely Augustus
‘Can I get you some water while I make you a cup of tea?’
‘I am more powerful than your mind’
‘Together we can do anything… anything… anything….’
Over the past few days I’ve found myself speaking to others and randomly inserting lines from the show into my everyday dialogue to family and friends. Often resulting in me talking to myself and chucking at my own jokes.
Or I find myself asking for my receipt when I’m buying something and clasping tightly to it as I leave the shop.
You see that’s the beauty of storytelling and the mastery of putting pen to paper. It’s powerful and it hits you in ways you didn’t expect, with sayings and moments coming back to stay with you time and time again.
HOMEWARD ACADEMY 2022
At Lyrici we’d always known that we wanted to devise an academy to support Black heritage artists. In some form I’d already been doing this for years, especially between 2007-13 in London. I had an arts organisation called Formidable Fusion founded with the wonderful Carmen Rose, and together we fused artist development with raising awareness for charitable causes. Artists performed at corporate events, within festivals and on well known London stages including Richmix, Proud Camden, The Roundhouse and more. We staged emerging and established artists like Artcha, Cashtastic, Jammer and Jammin and Kele Le Roc.
My personal remit of artist development has always catered for inclusivity, working with a range of people, ethnicities, faiths and genders that caused no division. We continued this when Lyrici Arts was founded in Medway in 2016, with an inclusive talent pool consisting of national and homegrown artists.
But over the years I’d seen the comparison between London and the South East, especially in regards to opportunities for progression for Black Heritage artists. In an early talk with funders Creative Estuary, I explained to them how it was necessary for me to produce in London in those earlier years. Venues and pathways seemed somehow easier to enter, audiences were fuller, cultural appropriation was understood in unspoken ways.
Creative Estuary’s support offered us a gift of creating without the usual financial pressures. We used the funding as match to pull in additional support from Arts Council England, Medway Council, Kent County Council and Royal Opera House Bridge. Under our HOMEWARD strand we obtained a devising, touring and educational package of work.
Anthony Ekundayo Lennon is a key part of the team and we put our heads together to devise the HOMEWARD ethos, which means ‘towards home’. Clara and I thought about themes and we came up with the idea of Soul Food. For us the word encompassed so many things that we always had in mind. With our productions we seek to make work which sparks joy, which inspires people, which changes the narrative of what Black heritage theatre can be. ‘Soul Food’ does what it says on the tin.
We released a call out for artists in May 2022 and we were overjoyed with the take up. We narrowed it down to five participants and offered it to four, with the promise of mentoring the fifth candidate at a future date.
Our wonderful artists are (from left to right) Chika Jones, Monique Day, Aduke Akadekomo and Lizzy Partridge. Learn more about them here.
Anthony and I co-directed Soul Food. We created a hybrid mixture of working via online and in person sessions. We used the online sessions to concentrate on writing and content, ensuring that stories created were full of joy, hope and optimism.
The stories centred around what is it that feeds your soul, the family connections, generations of history, traditions and more simply, the food that we have and enjoy.
We gave artists creative licence of their stories working with them to bring out parts that they wanted to say and allowing them to have the freedom to write what they wanted to express. The writing process was a lot quicker than I had imagined and before long the artists had completed four stories bursting with optimism, hope, creativity, and joy. They were masterpieces in themselves.
We then took the stories into the rehearsal room. Anthony worked with them, mentoring the artists to deliver the stories to each other, to shape them, to explore narratives via workshop games. Anthony beautifully made the actors feel at ease and gave them encouragement to know that their work was worthwhile and on par with industry standard. I say ‘on par’ but I personally feel that it is even above par.
In September I took over co-directing the piece. I worked with the actors within technical rehearsals, orchestrating and encouraging specific stage blocking. I directed transitions within stories to create a through line narrative which interlinked the stories in a concise and beautiful way.
I’m thankful to the wonderful Lyrici team for holding all of our hands throughout that process – to the designer who dressed the set, to the lighting designer who created a wonderful display of lights to enhance the storytelling, to the team behind the scenes who created creative and engaging marketing campaigns and illustrated the artists in ways that they deserved to be platformed.
Through a combined effort we found that the words on the page were coming to life. I was reminded that storytelling is so much more than an ordinary theatre show. There are different dimensions within storytelling that you sometimes forget exist. The art form has different ways to tell the story- through direct narrative, through exploring characterization or through jumping through time zones. All I knew was that these four actors had created a masterpiece that had to be seen by the world.
September flew by, the actors had completed the tech rehearsals, and before we knew it, October had arrived and we were ready to tour.
A rich storytelling experience that feeds your imagination and nourishes the soul.
Stories of love. Of fantasy. Of adventure. Of home. Of warmth. Of transformation. Of joy.
This October, join Lyrici Arts at the table for a soulful storytelling feast that will draw you into a journey that is both intimate and epic in scope. Four compelling tales from four remarkable Black heritage artists, take audiences around the world and across time on a passage of self-discovery. Voyage with us to council house number 11 in England, to Nigeria, to Jamaica, to Ghana, and other worldly realms. Encounter Anansi the Spider, discover self love, immerse yourself in a heart felt family gathering, and hear from ancestors from near and afar.
The stories are familiar, yet never before heard: about family, about food, about love, about history and identity. Showcasing an assortment of lyrical styles and modes of storytelling, this is an experience that will leave you full and changed forever.
‘Rich, enchanting and adventurous’
‘Storytelling with a touch of magic and soul’
‘A theatrical storytelling feast’
The Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury
Ironically, I studied at the University of Kent from 2001 to 2005 (an MDrama in Dranma and Theatre Studies, with a specialism in Stage Directing). When I stepped back on to the campus where I had grown up and studied, and where I’d made friends and encountered life lessons, it felt surreal. It felt like I had gone full circle on a lesson that had to be learned – about trying and failing, and succeeding and coming through harder. It felt good. I felt like I was where I was meant to be.
The Gulbenkian were wonderful, supporting us every step of the way. From the technical staff to the front of house staff, everybody was polite, warm and welcoming and it translated within the performance.
Backstage, before the show, I spoke to the artists and told them to ‘relax, tell your story, be proud, and to remember that you deserve to be on that platform.’
As the lights went down and the audience shuffled in their seats, I felt butterflies. I felt a sense of pride, I felt like this is where they deserved to be- this was their platform, this was their stage, this was their time.
From Monique’s first story when the audience started laughing in their seats and chuckling frantically, I just knew that the stories resonated. The stories are universal and joyful- an aspect that Lyrici always try to achieve, but this time there was also a cultural element. Black heritage audiences laughed in that theatre. Black heritage audiences understood cultural refences in that theatre, all of the audience felt welcome in that theatre.
I sat smiling for the rest of the show, feeling proud in the moments that sparked inspiration, observing the moments where characters appeared that I knew were going to take the audience by surprise. Pensive at parts where truth was spoken, yes sometimes with sadness, but always with a hint of fond remembrance and compassion. And I listened intensively when stories took us into hidden magical worlds, where forest spirits stood whose feet pointed backwards.
I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of all of the artists.
The Woodville Theatre, Gravesend
At the Woodville Theatre we chose to perform within the studio space which holds 150 people. We had a welcoming an audience, consisting of a combination of school children from a junior School, secondary children and local audiences. All were welcoming and appreciative of the stories that were told. I think that’s the thing that hits me the most about Kent and the communities within it- everybody is accepting, everybody listens to stories with a willingness to learn and a keenness to absorb.
As I mentioned before, storytelling is an art form. At the Gulbenkian we were we were on a thrust stage the audience were several metres away. Within the Woodville Studio the audience were less than 2 metres away and though the story was the same, the delivery had to be adapted to match this more intimate setting.
The actors were quick to adapt and although I’ve heard their stories multiple times, on this tour date I saw their work in a new way. The actors cleverly used audience interaction to speak to school children, to gesture for food within stories, to deliver certain lines directly to faces in the audience to make the story more personal. They involved them with larger than life audience participation at key moments of the story.
And I sat there watching this thinking ‘that continued impact is due to the strength of their stories.’ The fact that you can stand far away from the closest audience member and still mesmerise them with what you are saying. Then in the next venue you can be up close and personal to the audience, allowing them onto your stage and inviting them into the stories that you want to share. Storytelling always adapts depending on who the audience is, and in that situation I saw it to be true.
Our last leg of the tour is on the 18th October at GlassBox Theatre in Gillingham. As the final leg of the tour is on home ground, we’re celebrating with a post show party of complimentary Caribbean canapes and a live band playing an one hour set of (you guessed it) SOUL music.
The performance of Soul Food is British Sign Language integrated and if you can’t make it for access reasons then we are also livestreaming the show in real time from GlassBox Theatre.
Here’s a sneak preview of our wonderful artists in action.
Thank you to our funders and partners for supporting us to make new work. Thank you to Alison Lewis Photography for capturing the essence of the show so beautifully. Thank you too to the wonderful team behind Lyrici Arts who have supported and held the production, we are lucky to work with each one of you. And most importantly thank you to our wonderful artists Aduke Aladekomo, Monique Day, Chika Jones, and Lizzy Partridge for trusting us with your stories and journey.
Lyrici means ‘Of literature, art or music; expressing the writers emotions in a beautiful and imaginative way.’ Our four Soul Food artists have made this phrase a reality.
Happy Black History month 2022!
Blog photography by Alison Lewis Photography