Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 2 Blog Post

Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell writes about the second week of his Emerging Directors Residency, a collaboration between Fresh Milk and the National Cultural Foundation (NCF). This week emphasized the importance of planning and strategizing to get the most out of the residency period, as well as seeing Matthew work more with his selected actors Patrick Foster, Nala and Luci Hammans as he continues to develop his interpretation of the play ‘Shakespeare’s Nigga’.

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Greetings.

I almost didn’t know what to write for this report. At first when I thought about this week, I kind of felt I had very little to say or report – yet when I really thought about it, I have a lot to say.

Well, first off, I got more clarity on what is expected of me during the residency, which has caused me to re-evaluate many things, almost start over and restructure. One thing that’s for sure is the importance of timing and planning. With that said, the date of the residency showcase has been postponed till late October. This works better for me and for everyone. In order to have a productive rehearsal, I can’t have my actors being loud disturbing the concentration of the visual artists. Also, we have time to focus on the text with stretched out rehearsal times.

Speaking with Kendel Hippolyte, we’ve asked some serious questions and came up with very interesting observations about the texts and the characters. It’s very clear he loves this play and the craftiness of Joseph’s attempt at old English fused with modern English. In conversation with him and my actors, we’re still dissecting the characters and figuring out who they really are and what their purposes are. The language has a lot to offer in many different connotations and offers a range of possibilities for both actor and director to explore. Many views were agreed on and a few questioned, but the journey to discovery is most amazing and rewarding, definitely the highlight of the residency.

I can’t say that I have a 100% concrete idea and concept of how to stage it. Through the many conversations with mentor and cast, more ideas float in and out. This is great, but I also need to concentrate on the theme I am pushing, which is Black Masculinity. One of my objectives is to give this text a space in the Caribbean, have the actors own the language in their voice. Our discussions on black masculinity mostly take place through the character of Aaron and the decisions he makes. Why Shakespeare’s daughter? How does he feel about Othello? The will to over throw Shakespeare’s empire.

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The rehearsal space gave room for exploration and discovery. Friday’s rehearsal saw Patrick and Nala on their feet working a scene where the power dynamic switches from Shakespeare to Aaron. After all the reading and discussion and dissecting of text for further understanding, after the second time on their feet, the actors got very intense. Choices of ‘interrogation’, ‘opium and open threats’, ‘dependency and power’ overcame the scene. Patrick and Nala as veteran actors entrusted me as a young director to get them to that point, and I am confident we have found the direction to head in. The actors, so happy and impressed by the work we put in, hug it out after a strong rehearsal!

So since the push back to October, I will be stretching my rehearsals to once a week. Though my time with Kendel is almost up, we agreed to keep talking through the duration of the residency as our conversations are very insightful, and often times humorous in the things we discover in the text and the ‘interesting’ choices I would like to make. I have more hours to make up with my actress than I do with my actors, but I’m excited about what I’ve learned in the process of directing, and excited to see what more can be uncovered.

– Kupa

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ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados

Matthew ‘Kupakwashe’ Murrell’s Emerging Director Residency – Week 1 Blog Post

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:

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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.

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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…”

– Aaron

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!”

– Kupa

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ncf mark rgb2This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados