TBB talks to… Theatre director, writer & performer Emily aboud

Emily Aboud was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago …

Coming to the UK she was determined to excel in her chosen field working as a theatre director and writer. Getting the support she needed from her peers, Splintered has already been presented at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 getting rave reviews and earning a ‘Best Cabaret’ nomination from Broadwayworld.com. Emily has made London her home, and as a Caribbean LGBTQ writer, she’s excited to share experiences that we don’t often get to see on our stages.

Hello Emily and thank you for speaking to us. When did you get involved in the arts?

I’ve been interested in making theatre since I was 11 years old. I joined a Youth Theatre in Trinidad & Tobago, one of very few, called Lilliput Theatre. I remember seeing one of their shows when I was 10 and completely, truly falling in love with it. I begged my mum to sign me up that evening and a couple of weeks later, I was writing and acting in our own little skits with the class. It was brilliant and I’ve never stopped.

Tell us about Splintered?

Splintered is a play disguised as a cabaret. It encompasses many genres of cabaret including lip sync, songs, dance and lots of glitter as our happy way of telling a sad story – the sad story being homophobia in the Caribbean. Based on interviews, personal experiences and carnival music and freedom. Splintered is basically the play I wish I could’ve seen in my teenage years, and the play I’ve always wanted to make.

Why did you choose to call the play Splintered?

Back home in Trinidad, every year I produce and direct feminist cabaret. Originally, I wanted to call it, Splinters, after a brilliant soca song by Shal Marshall, simply because it’s a great song and I liked the imagery of exploding splinters – it felt joyful and explosive, as cabarets should. My father is a lawyer, however, and told me, maybe Shal Marshall would have a problem with me using that title, the very year his song was released. So, just to cheat, I changed it to Splintered. When it came to writing the play, I was still very in love with Splintered as a name. It had grown to mean many things eg explosive joy but also being cast off of society, part of the main thing but cracking off. Also, we started applying for funding and I had not written 3 pages so, the play was called Splintered before there was even a play.

Why this story?

Many reasons: representation of queer womxn from the Caribbean would be a big one, making the play that I wish I’d seen growing up, challenging the concept of the 5-act structure, making a show that had a narrative but was also as fun as a cabaret and the list goes on. I think that given all the homophobic laws in my country, are actually British laws from colonialism, I wanted to make a show about my “far-away” country that is still being affected by imperialism and the monstrous injustice of that. Sharing the piece, I find quite ironic actually because, despite all the material coming from the Caribbean, it would be nearly impossible for this play to ever be performed there. In short, it’s hella gay. London is really the most ideal place for this piece, with the existence of queer rights (could use some more though), a thriving theatre and cabaret scene and a large Caribbean diaspora.

We often hear how much queer people are vilified not only in the Caribbean but other non-westernised countries and how hard it is to “come out” to friends and family? This play is a celebration of loving a culture that you may not truly be accepted into as a queer person, how do you think telling stories such as this helps those living this truth?

Quite simply, representation matters. Seeing yourself onstage is important. Having a story or a character that you can relate to, is important, essential in fact. There are literally millions of people worldwide who cannot live their truth because of outdated laws, ignorance, colonial brainwashing etc. The 6-night run of our show will not free those millions of people but on one hand, it’s at least something, to share an existence onstage. On the other hand, it’s important for people who can live their truth, to see how others can’t and ground ourselves in that. To quote Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”.

Splintered at Vault Festival

Who is the piece aimed at?

Well, selfishly, I wrote this play for me – wanting to see a story that represented me. But honestly, this is play for Caribbean people and for queer people (and all the combinations of that). It’s a play about imperialism and oppression, how the Caribbean handles oppression and how queer people, very similarly, in my opinion, handle oppression. I’d like the audience to leave feeling ultimately, joyful. There is a play in me about the horrendous, horrendous social consequences of colonialism and post-colonialism, but that is not this play. A big challenge with writing this piece was trying to make a play about queerness without the inherent trauma of having to come out, which of course, is impossible. However, joy is a rebellion in itself and that is what we tried to do here.

Would you consider taking Splintered to Trinidad & Tobago and the Carribean at large?

I actually produce and direct an annual cabaret in Trinidad that showcases the work of local femme and queer artists. I have to be very careful with marketing though; “feminist” is somehow a bad word in Trinidad and “queer” is out of the question. I think Splintered, for better or worse, is written for a British audience to ingest. We explain many aspects of Caribbean culture for the audience (things that even British-Caribbean people didn’t learn in school, which is fascinating to me) and in Trinidad, I don’t know, it’s almost like explaining 1+1=2. We know our culture, we know our history. Bringing this to Trinidad & Tobago would not say the same things because the audience would be completely different. I would absolutely adore rewriting and adjusting this play for a Caribbean audience but then again, I think I’d significantly struggle to get the funding for it. But it’s mostly about the audience.

Can you tell us about Lagahoo productions to which you are the artistic director?

Oh, I love explaining this. So a Lagahoo is a Caribbean folklore character. He’s a similar creature to a werewolf and is often the mysterious witch doctor of the village. In addition to turning into a wolf, he’s a shapeshifter. My father, the lawyer, is also a published poet. His book of poems, Lagahoo Poems, were always a part of my life, and I guess because I’m his daughter, I really fell in love with this character – an all-powerful, unbeatable, unquenchable, shapeshifting, ancient thing. I wanted to make theatre like this; theatre that is shapeshifting. Additionally, to get away from the binaries of life, the idea of shapeshifting personally rings out for me – occupying many different spaces at the same time is what makes art interesting. Sometimes I dress very feminine, other times more masculine, sometimes I call myself a writer, other times a director, I can love London and hate London, we can all be more bending and fluid in our existence and that’s why I love being a Lagahoo, we’re all Lagahoos.

You are also associate artist at Bush Theatre, how do you find the time to juggle so many titles/jobs?

By barely seeing my friends. The end. Not kidding but I’ll elaborate. I’m very lucky to have the most wonderful and supportive friends in and out of the industry. So just when I’m about to work myself into a hole, it just takes a phone call and it’s alright. I also get extreme joy from working in the arts so, sometimes, that is my recreation. Sitting down to write a scene late at night and then seeing it really work in rehearsals is a dream come true really. But that’s unhealthy, I really need to start running or playing tennis or something. Also, would recommend a Google calendar. Also, would recommend, being nice to everyone you meet in the industry because friends help each other out. I’m really blessed to have friends I can count on for theatre advice, support in shows, even a retweet – it goes a long way.

What is the one thing that you have done in your career that sets the tone for who Emily Aboud is?

Lord, what a question. Now I don’t think that this is my most important piece of art but I am really proud of my drag king who I perform as. His name is ‘Trinidad & TooGayThough‘ and I really think the act captures a lot of my style. I love satire, it’s one of the highest forms of art there is (in my opinion) and is also, a great motivator for social change. I can’t remember who told me this, and I wish I could, but if an audience is laughing, they’re listening. Performing in drag, as a, well, typical Caribbean dancehall artist, I can take the piss out of the performativity of gender (I can act hella masculine), I can comment on the misogyny of certain lyrics and I can educate through laughter. I’m really proud of it.

What is next for you?

More of everything really. I want to write another play (if I have the energy) and I want to direct more, much more. Directing is definitely my passion, but writing Splintered was a necessity. I’d like to start writing for TV (universe, do your thing) and finally edit that short film I shot two years ago. Writing Splintered was a wonderful and challenging experience, it was my first play, but now that I’ve done that, I dunno, I feel much more like the world is my oyster, I want to do more. Big 2020 resolution is to start a YouTube channel, but we go see on that one.

Splintered opens at The Vault Festival 12th-16th February 2020. Find out more about the play and how to book tickets information here


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