“I read For Colored Girls by Ntozake Shange over a decade ago; although there were things in it that I couldn’t empathise with as a man, I understood the power of the text” Ryan Calais Cameron
What happens when six young Black men meet for group therapy, and let their hearts – and imaginations – run wild? From father figures to fashion tips, lost loves to jollof rice, African empires to illicit sex, and good days and bad days, this profound and playful new work is located on the threshold of joyful fantasy and brutal reality; a world where six men clash and connect in a desperate bid for survival. This world premiere from multi-award winning company Nouveau Riche and playwright Ryan Calais Cameron, directed by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu at the New Diorama Theatre, is not one to miss.
Casting INCLUDES Aruna Jalloh, Emmanuel Akwafo, Kaine Lawrence, Nnabiko Ejimofor, Mark Akintimehin and Darragh Hand, ALT talks with writer Ryan Calais Cameron about the impact of the pandemic on his creative-self and mental-health, as well as his hopes and motivations behind For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy.
What has the past 18 months been like for you?
As a creative, it’s been tough for all of us; living with a level of uncertainty as none of us knew if there was going to be a theatre industry to come back to. The first 6 – 9 months were incredibly difficult, I started doing some work for TV and was navigating my way around that to help me financially. I was still creating things for theatre but now it’s exciting to return and to come back better.
How does it feel to be back staging work in a theatre space: and are you a fan of online theatre?
During the pandemic I enjoyed online theatre, however, to be back in theatre is absolutely everything. As a theatre-maker, the difference between theatre and other mediums of storytelling is the fact that it is live…That we are all in the same room going through the same experience together at the same time. The performers are right in front of us, you can see them thinking, you can see them acting. It’s an experience like no other.
For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Get’s Too Heavy is a powerful title: why now?
I read For Colored Girls by Ntozake Shange over a decade ago; although there were things in it that I couldn’t empathise with as a man, I understood the power of the text, its subject matter and the ensuing conversation. Over the last 10 years I have often wondered what the outcome would be if there was an equivalent piece for young Black men, and if it would work at the theatre, showing the inner workings of our soul in front of us on stage. How could that move a generation? What would it feel like to believe that this ‘stage’ and this room is for you – to have your stories being told in the flesh. So, it has literally taken ten years to get here. Finding the right medium, the right time; right now as we move out of lockdown and the pandemic, people’s mental, emotional and spiritual health are all being questioned. I think it is the perfect time to have this articulated from a demographic that we seldom hear.
What do you find inspiring about storytelling?
Firstly, being able to have a voice, and secondly, having that voice validated. For there to be whole communities of people that can resonate with this voice, and for it to become their voice, and vice versa, is really important to me as an artist.
Do you think Black men’s mental health issues should be addressed differently?
Every mental health issue, topic or discussion needs to be met with a certain level of nuance. I think we need to start investigating where these issues stem from…if we are talking about the Black community and the history of Black people in general, and specifically Black men and toxic masculinity, cultural masculinity, then of course you have to address it differently. We need to converse with a certain demographic of people that do not want to speak, who have been taught and conditioned to believe that speaking is an act of weakness, and that you can’t be a man if you are weak. So, yes, the most important thing is to have Black men who have experienced such issues, speaking directly to Black men.
What can you resonate with if at all within this story?
The first thing is being young, being British, being Black and being male. These are the stories of the people I grew up with. My uncles, my elders, my brothers, friends, and myself, even now being a father, having that perspective of what I want to pass on to my young Black boys. I also resonate with being in a position or place where you believe things are so bad there might be somewhere else that could be better. This is a discussion I have in the piece; it is not a necessarily about wanting to kill yourself but about wanting to end the pain that you are in right now.
Your plays, particularly the monologues in Queens of Sheba and Typical have been described as smart, lyrical, and playful. What can audiences expect to see from this production?
What’s different about this one is that it is larger in scale. This is the third part of a trilogy, and it is a lot bigger and goes in a lot deeper, but it still has that form-bending magic that the former two pieces hold!
Tell us about the main characters?
We have six young Black men from completely different walks of life that are each going through completely different things. You have men that have been out there on the roads – lived as gangsters. We have a young man that is confused about his identity as he is well-educated and incredibly smart, but has been told that he doesn’t ‘act Black’; he is going on a journey to discover what that means. You have a man who has been idolised and sexualised his entire life and now has to find a deeper meaning to himself, a young man that is grappling with his sexual identity and a young man that is coping with having to change his entire world after witnessing a death first-hand.
What is the key message?
For young men, Black men, to understand that they have a voice, that we need to talk, that talking about how you feel can actually save lives.
12 October – 6 November
Box Office Tel: 020 7383 9034