JOY

 

Theatre as a mirror to yourself. If you don't see yourself, who do you see?

 

Joy is not white.

 

Her presence on stage is an involuntary comment on blackness. It is involuntary because she herself can nor is doing anything to produce the comment. The comment itself is counterproductive as it obscures agendas in which her particular race is irrelevant. From the point of view of plays not addressing relations between white and black people, Joy's ethnicity is always beside the point, yet she is forced by her mere presence to mention it – the category of plays not dealing with relations between white and black people includes all pre-modernist, modern, postmodern and most contemporary plays. In short, Joy's race does not exist in literature, unless the piece particularly addresses relations between white and black people. This becomes a problem when Joy comes across subjects which do not address this issue, I.e – most subjects. By means of a force that transcends her, Joy is not Miss Julie, Antigone, Yelena or Macbeth but Black. If the piece she's performing is a contemporary play, it will most probably be specifically written for Joy, which means the comment will be implicit in the text itself. Leaving her black(er) still. Perhaps it is in an attempt for a certain freedom (of speech,) that Joy sometimes turns to performance art? Perhaps the loss of the fourth wall will allow her to speak directly to her spectators, without the filters of characters that were never written for her kind, in the sense that they are not addressing relations between white and black people. (because only in that sense is she black. Black people are not “black people” in Africa right? They're just called “people” there.)Through the medium of live and performance art she tries to create a circumstance in which history does not translate her presence into the manifestation of oppression. But even so, is she succeeding? In most cases that I've seen or read about, Joy is playing with the concept of race performativity, to point out in which various ways her ethnicity is stereotyped. I am bringing this up because I wonder whether what she is doing is artistic freedom, or yet another comment on blackness, but under the guise of “voluntary”.

 

Whether or not Joy is performing her race, she is black. The issue is not that she can perform nothing but her race, - but that her spectators can see nothing but it. This leaves us in a problematic situation in regards to authenticity. What we end up witnessing is a political ideology, played out, but not, as we would like to think, in the content of the performance. But in the confrontation between performer and spectator, in the first second of exposition.

 

Meanwhile it is not from a place of “paranoia” that the term oppressed was applied to black people and privileged, to white.

 

We're still not over the horror shows, slavery, segregation and colonisation. The wound is deep, and the relationship between the two people damaged, to the point where the current political discourse on the left, is critical to the idea that a conversation beyond rhetoric can take place between a historically disadvantaged group and a privileged one. In short; You will never know what it's like to be oppressed. And I will never know what it's like to be privileged. We cannot negotiate, because all that boils down to is, rhetoric. Under which conditions the only act is revolution. By which I will take your place of power violently, making you oppressed and myself privileged. If this is so, is not Joy's entire presence on stage an act of mere survival in the face of adversity? Under these circumstances, is the play needed? Because how could you want more than a manifestation of a person's survival? How could you ask for more of a person?

 

My point is, - if Joy has no intention of representing the story of an oppressed people, shouldn't we be curious as to who we're actually watching? Once the group identity is stripped off, we will need to connect with Joy on the basis of individuals. See ourselves in her. If we intent to suggest that the group identity cannot be stripped off, my question is; why do we go to the theatre?

 

If the play is called, “Miss Julie”and she is black you will not connect because you're privileged, and she's oppressed. If the play is called,“Miss Chantelle” set in “Brixton” and she's black you will not connect because you're privileged and she's oppressed. If it is a duration performance of her getting her hair braided in silence for 13 hours, you will not connect, because you will probably stay at home. It is not so much Joy's blackness that stands in the way for the wide audience. Blackness as the subject of oppression is just a passing fancy, who knows what it will be 200 years from now. What stands in the way for connecting on the basis of individuals, is the dictum oppressed and privileged. Each scenario for this reason, becomes a testimony of the times. Something more than it has intention to be, or worse; something less than it actually is. - Joy's presence on stage, whether it be through a voluntary or involuntary comment on her racial identity, is an act of coming clean about blackness. That's what it looks like to me. Admitting blackness on stage, is admitting that you're performing on borrowed time. You yourself become the means by which a conversation which has nothing to do with the content of your performance, can continue.

 

// Dina