Mandla-Rae is a poet and wordsmith who recently curated Outspoken, Queer Contact's annual poetry and spoken word event, having previously been a member of Re:Con, our Young Programming and Producing team. For the last two years Mandla has been shadowing Keisha Thompson, during the development and performance of her solo show, Man on the Moon.
When Keisha asked me to shadow her she gave me the opportunity to be present in the space where work is created and devised. Hearing and reading the early drafts and revisions of the script, being in the studio when creative decisions are discussed, watching Benji Reid direct and being in the studio as Keisha and Ruby-Ann were recording. I suppose she saw that I was just another gal trying to get involved in theatre and she invited me to the space. Lil ol’ me!
There are moments when theatre is magic. For me, the magic is the connections we make through performing.
Even the solo show requires collaborating on many levels, we don’t work alone. Even as poets. We write a poem and run it through friends/fellow writers for feedback before we finish it and share it with an audience. When I’m writing my friends often get calls/bombarded in the kitchen with ‘can you listen to this and tell me if it makes sense’. Writing isn’t a solitary act and we’re constantly learning and growing from one another.
I’m very lucky to have a community around me, of creatives, of queer people, of professionals I look up to.
Shirley May, Louise Wallwein, Pelin Basaran, Nasima Begum, Keisha Thompson, Ella Otomewo, some of the many womxn in my life who have seen me, and helped bring out my power. I thank you, always.
‘The women who sustained me were Black and white, old and young, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual, and we all shared a war against the tyrannies of silence.’ – Audre Lorde in The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.
Add to that list, Nima Sène, a nonbinary artist and performer who can be seen in various mediums performing as their drag alter ego, Beige B*tch. I first met Nima at a workshop where all the womxn who came along were given the opportunity to perform in Beige B*tch’s Contact Commission at STUN Studio. We danced, we talked openly about our lives, our experiences as people of colour, those that we share and those we don’t. We explored the ways we express ourselves, we wrote and performed. At the end of it all, we ate.
Working with Nima and being in the studio with fellow performer Jade and Nima’s producer Cam, I once again felt the sisterhood Audre Lorde wrote about.
I feel like the creative deities are constantly throwing exciting opportunities and indelible experiences my way
In 2018 I was asked to perform at Queer Contact’s Outspoken on 14 Feb. I always say I’m in a long-term relationship with words so spending Valentine’s Day performing with amazing queer womxn was the most wonderful way to celebrate love. This year, I was commissioned by Contact to curate the Outspoken line-up. I hosted some of Manchester’s finest queer womxn poets. During that afternoon, I was reminded of the inherent power in telling our stories and choosing our narratives. It was in the brutal honesty in Afshan D’Souza-Lodhi’s storytelling, in the fire in Bryony Bates’ words, in the intricate way Maz Hedgehog weaves mythologies, and the tender way that Ella Otomewo speaks.
‘I’ve performed at Outspoken for two years now and it’s been an absolute treat. The Contact team are so helpful and the other performers are always so fantastic. Poetry can be a little solitary sometimes, but events like Outspoken make me feel part of a community, which is invaluable.’ – Maz Hedgehog.
The moments where we’re connected, when we share our stories and know we’re heard, those are the most powerful moments of existence.
A lot of my writing comes with so much emotion, the delivery of story through articulating feeling is one of the reasons I connect with theatre.
It’s Women’s History Month. Celebrate women by reading them this month. Words have always been a powerful tool for womxn, in expressing ourselves, our need to tell stories, our observations of the world around us. As someone who writes from a place of reclaiming power, I feel that reading the words of Audre Lorde, Panashe Chigumadzi, Susan Sontag makes it a lot easier for me when I sit down and try to articulate the feeling or experience that becomes my poetry and the power it gives me to write and perform.