natalie ibu, december 2014
“I have a confession to make; as a black Scottish woman – the only black face on my street, in my school, at work – I’ve never felt ‘black enough’ and, for a decade, have been haunted by a sense of inadequacy and engaged in an internal debate about what it means to be black, what it means to be of African heritage. What is expected of me and how am I measuring up?
My mother is half Scottish and half Cameroonian; she grew up in Africa but doesn’t speak the language, didn’t cook the food but spent Saturdays humming along to makossa tapes taken across borders whilst she cooked mince and tatties. My father – absent – is from Nigeria. In another life, I would have grown up there. Instead, I’m a black woman with a Scottish accent, middle class by education and profession, working class by birth. Met always with surprise, I spent a lot of time feeling like an intruder in all the cultural and social circles I had access to – not feeling African enough to share the jokes but – no matter the light – was I ever white. Until recently; I am black because my skin is. I am of African heritage because, whilst I might not speak the language and might feel like a foreigner in an African food shop, my features echo the landscape of my parent’s birthplaces. And I’m not alone. It is believed in less than 20 years, 50% of all young people in London will be of dual heritage. I’m interested in them, in you, in people like me; the dual, the in-between, the second/third generation African who wants to learn about their heritage but also wants to be recognized, visible, seen.
Sometimes they’re a black woman with a Scottish accent, middle class by education and profession, working class by birth. Sometimes they’re in touch with the origin of their name but have never tasted the fried fruity goodness of a plantain. Sometimes they take okra soup as packed lunch to their City job but have never set foot on African soil. Sometimes they’re bilingual but know nothing about their heritage. Sometimes they know it all but from papers rather than parents. Sometimes they’d define themselves by their politics, their gender, their sexuality, their age, their job, where they live, where they don’t live, anything before they’d think about the colour of their skin or where their ancestors were from. Our audience and our potential audience are a wonderfully complicated mix; they are united by some relationship to Africa but also divided by the specific nuances of that very relationship.
Theatre is powerful; for me, theatre is about a dialogue with ourselves, with each other, with the world. It gives us a language for the things in us that we thought there were no words for. But we mustn’t underestimate how transformative it is to simply see someone who looks like you on stage, to feel acknowledged, for your experience to be manifested, your dexterity as well as your confusion articulated. My vision for tiata fahodzi will see it continue to produce world class theatre that conveys, celebrates and challenges the cultural experiences of Africans by exploring – crucially – what we mean by African and what it means to be of African heritage in 2015 and beyond. Because it’s different for every single one of us. And we see every single one of you.”
natalie ibu is the artistic director of tiata fahodzi. Previously she was the Creative Producer for In Good Company, launching the regional artist development programme in the East Midlands for Derby Theatre, Embrace Arts Leicester and Create Mansfield. As a freelancer she has produced for Openworks Theatre and Maison Foo, worked as a Literary Consultant for Fifth Word and a dramaturg for SpiltMilk Dance. In 2014, she was the Programme Manager at the Roundhouse. In 2012/13, she was the Creative Producer for Only Connect, producing a season of cross art-form work. In 2010/11, she was the inaugural Associate Director (Warehouse) for HighTide Festival Productions – responsible for the artist development and a physical research and development studio. In July 2009, she completed a year’s residency at the Royal Court as their Trainee Director. Since graduating with a First Class Honours degree in 2004, she have completed short-term residencies with New York Theatre Workshop, the National Theatre Studio, Royal Shakespeare Company, Citizens’ Theatre and Contact. She have been awarded bursaries from Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme, the Federation of Scottish Theatre, Scottish Arts Council and Arts Council East Midlands. Awards include Dewar Arts Award for Exceptional Artists Under 30, Time Warner Ignite 2, IdeasTap Innovator’s Award and the Lilian Baylis Award for Theatrical Excellence. Directing credits include readings and productions at the Riverside Studios, Young Vic, Lyric, Southwark Playhouse, Southbank Centre, tiata fahodzi, Jersey Arts Trust, The Old Vic Tunnels, Theatre503, The Gate, Latitude, HighTide, BAC, Oran Mor, Traverse, Royal Court, ATC at the Young Vic, OVNV at The Old Vic, Waterloo East and The Vineyard Theatre in New York, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Citizens’, The Arches, Contact and Nottingham Playhouse.