Today we’re joined by poet and playwright Mya Onwugbonu, who as part of Burnt Orange Theatre Company is helping to bring the new Spoken Word, community-driven piece Hear Me Now to VAULT Festival. The show takes on raw experiences of lived London experience to explore blackness, stereotypes, prejudices and racism, as well as expressing “blackness as art itself.” We sat down with Mya to unpick these topics and the buzz surrounding the new piece.
You can catch Hear Me Now at VAULT Festival between the 14th and 17th February at 18:40. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hi Mya, you’ve put together Hear Me Now – a piece that blends art and spoken word poetry grounded in the black chorus, lived London experience of stereotypes and prejudices. What inspired you to create the show?
“I guess I felt it was time to share our stories. 2020 was the year that a lot came to light but for people who didn’t look like me. There was an education happening globally for all people who weren’t of an ethnic group. I’ve been living as a black person for 22 years now, I know what my struggle is – and I know it is lived experience amongst a lot of other black people for many years. 2020 shed a particularly bright light on our experiences. I wanted to share it in a way that is sad and, in some ways, harrowing yet creatively beautiful. I, like many others, express and respond through my art and I felt inspired to do that. Express life through a black lens.”
The show has the philosophy of showing “blackness as art itself” – it’s a really beautiful message, what are you hoping the audience take away from the piece?
“Well, blackness is a construct created by consumerism, colonial hauntology and racism – put simply. But blackness is beautiful because of its rawness in pain, trauma and most of all the expression of excellence which has rippled as a consequential influence all over the world. Black is responsible for a lot of the art forms we all indulge in today, not based on just the talent of black people but for the reality we have faced and how we triumphed through it. So, we as black people and people of ethnic minority groups should feel empowered for simply the colour we are. But I also want other people to find a new appreciation for people of colour, to breed unity and a newfound belief in community.”
Tell us a little bit about the spoken word and poetic inspirations of the piece, and how your community-driven focus has helped bring the piece together.
“My main form of expression has always been lyrical in some form whether it’s a song, poem or story. So, I really wanted to capture all that within theatre. A lot of my inspiration comes from musical lyricists like Kendrick Lamar and Jhene Aiko, but also a lot from black writers like Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Suzan Lori-Parks. Though I cannot forget the many illustrious poets that truly shaped the way I flow like Maya Angelou and George the Poet. But these poetic pieces were born from real life experiences – spoken word was just how I chose to emote them.”
“Honestly being on this journey with this cast and crew has been amazing. There was something ignited amongst all of us the moment we even got a taste of the script, and it is that passion that brings the piece – and us – together. This is what you’ll feel in the audience of Hear Me Now – passion, warmth, and community. What is better than that for a Valentine’s Day treat? So come and join us… Feel the love vibrate from us to you!”
Tell us a little bit about the process of creating the show and what you have been up to ahead of the show landing at VAULT Festival.
“The process started in 2020. It was a ‘passion project’, a way for me to express everything I had been exposed to. I approached Burnt Orange Theatre Co. wanting to grow as an artist, and they were excited to help me put this piece on. From there, it was feedback from theatre practitioners and R&D’s, and it just grew and grew into a show. We casted and rehearsed for a 3-month period, before putting it on for a sold-out debut performance at Southwark Playhouse. That was the most surreal experience. Seeing my work on stage, seeing the cast put everything out there and the immense response from the audience during the open mic and though feedback – it was breath-taking. And now here we are about to take to the VAULT Festival stage.”
Now that we’re gearing up for VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
“I am excited to do a 4-night run of Hear Me Now. To share this show with new audiences will be rewarding, as the show and the response will differ and evolve each night – the possibility in that is exciting and interesting.”
“But I’m also excited just to be there. Be in the buzz and excitement of theatre – new theatre, comedy, drag… simply ART.”
Is there anything else you’re keen to let us know about?
“As I hope Hear Me Now to have lasting effect on the audience, it has created a ripple in my creativity. Up next is a collaboration with Wired4Music on an acoustic radio play. Stay tuned at @myathepoet1 on Instagram to get involved and stay connected.”
Fitting with the themes of our magazine, if your show was an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage (think cocktails, mocktails, shots, beers, be creative!) what would it be?
“Wray & Nephew Rum – it gives you a warm feeling but is hard to swallow.”
“Thanks for having me! Hope to see you down at the Vaults!”