Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell is on the Fresh Milk platform this month as the second candidate in the inaugural Emerging Directors Residency, hosted in collaboration with the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). Despite working within a short time-frame and noting that two weeks is not enough to fully flesh out a residency of this kind, Matthew is making the most of the time and resources he has been afforded by having fruitful discussions with his assigned mentor, renowned St. Lucian poet, playwright and director Kendel Hippolyte, and doing research for his chosen play ‘Shakespeare’s Nigga’. Read more from Matthew below:
My name is Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell and I am a part of the Emerging Theatre Director’s Residency pilot project with the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) and Fresh Milk. Although this is the first collaboration of its kind, it’s not the first time I’m undertaking a theatre residency at Fresh Milk. In 2013, I completed a residency in playwriting, producing an excerpt of a play I was devising titled ‘The Brightest Red’.
For the first week, I’ve experienced some ups and downs as it’s the first of its kind and some kinks have to be dealt with along the way to make future participants happy. Given two weeks to do research and then give a presentation of findings is really not enough. Talking to my assigned mentor, St. Lucian playwright and director Kendel Hippolyte, he agreed as well. One week for researching and another for rehearsals as I divided it, still meant little time for proper conceptualisation, rehearsals, scheduling etc. As a director’s residency, I would expect more time to be given for proper research and rehearsals, but it seemed more like a tight window for academic purposes of research and a small presentation of findings. I also expected not to do the whole piece as intended, but even a scene or two in this small window isn’t enough in my opinion. Time is necessary.
So for my residency I’m working on ‘Shakespeare’s Nigga’ written by Trinidadian born and Toronto based playwright and actor Joseph Jomo Pierre. I was first introduced to Joseph’s work years ago as a student at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination (EBCCI). At that time, Alison Sealy-Smith was teaching there fresh off the boat. I always found his work to be daring and unapologetic, and it influenced my writing a lot, especially when our works focused largely on masculinity. Later, Joseph and I became good friends when I travelled to Toronto and spoke about this particular project. ‘Shakespeare’s Nigga’ enters into the dream world of Shakespeare where he is confronted by his black/Moor characters. His rebellious slave Aaron (Titus Andronicus), his obedient ‘slaves’ Othello (Othello) and Tyrus (Titus Andronicus). Shakespeare also deals with his rebellious daughter Judith, who has an ongoing relationship with Aaron. I chose this play for the themes presented and what they meant for me. Shakespeare represents a part of the patriarchy; 50 years of Independence is being celebrating all throughout the Caribbean this year, and our literary giants still hold a back seat to Shakespeare.
His works in our space are considered ‘classics’ and used as a tool for classicism in our classrooms in the days of ‘growing up stupid under the union jack’. Reading the text, as a Caribbean ‘yute’, I saw the proverbial whip being handed down on Aaron’s back by Othello, who was ordered by Shakespeare to do so, as a constant reminder not only of physical but also mental slavery. Aaron’s response to uprise and to denounce Shakespeare as not his ‘negro’ but his ‘nigga’, turning around that hateful word and putting power and purpose to it, and also Othello’s realisation of Shakespeare’s separatism of he and Aaron to cause divide is nothing short of revolutionary for black literary consciousness.
“I am not Shakespeare’s negro. My palate is not so refine. My coarse hair knows not the acquaintance of a brush…”
As research goes, I’ve brushed up on my Shakespeare knowledge on Titus Andronicus and Othello. To be very fair, I am not a Shakespeare fan (except Hamlet), so personal feelings aside, it’s quite interesting to see the playwright’s use of characterisations of the hated Moorish slave in one piece and a hated Moorish commander in other. Both did what they could do to muster respect and a proper way of life, instead…
“…For the paper, look how low we’a stoop/
even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coup/coup…”
– Kanye West
I’ve also done a lot of reading in Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ which I may add is one of the hardest rangate books on theatre and performance I’ve ever read. So theatre kids in college and university reading this blog, invest in it. Many a times while reading it, I’ve been constantly reminded of what I love about the theatre, and what I think has been missing from our scene for some time. Another part of my research was looking at Spike Lee’s ‘Chi-Raq’. As a Spike Lee fan all my life, I totally enjoyed what he did in taking Lysistrata and making it a contemporary film surrounding the tragedies happening in Chicago’s inner city. Taking a Greek tragedy and showing the purpose and strength of #BlackLivesMatter was especially something I wanted to focus on within my research.
Along with the research, my mentor Kendel and I had great conversations about theatre, the drama and the direction of the piece. The dream of Shakespeare opens countless ideas of how to manipulate the space. The use of language, sound and lights presented endless ideas and great discussions. Next week I work with my actors in the space. Right now, instead of using all the characters, I will only be using three. The legendary Patrick Foster as Shakespeare, the enigmatic Nala as Aaron and the feminist powerhouse Luci Hammans as Judith…I love my cast as you can see from their superpowers.
And as I end this report…
“what light over yonder breaks?
….oh shite, is de ra**hole police!”
This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados