Enter/National Theatre
By Rachel N. Hastings

The day before we left for London we had the pleasure of touring their National Theatre. It is a massive investment in the arts with an annual 60 million pound budget. I fall in love with the way performance is occurring all around me. Dancers fill the windows. And bars. And stairs. All around us something is being celebrated. The level of commitment it takes to enter the environment of spectators is unbelievable. It makes me rethink how street theatre is being implemented even within the confines of the National Theatre. There are three stages functioning at this London venue. The Olivier is the biggest holding over 1100 spectators at a 120 degree angle. The angle of the human peripheral. The angle that allows actors to see everything in their environment. I run my hand across the purple velvet designed seats while thinking: “I want to perform on that stage.” Later, I facebook my mother an email that says “I can only hope that one day one of my plays will be featured at the National Theatre.” The next day, on our way to Lagos, I realize while thumbing through my journal, I will be performing my play, SEVEN, at the National Theatre in Nigeria. The godz are good to me.

The audience at the Nigerian National Theatre in Lagos is also massive. Much larger than expected, as almost twice as many people came to witness and their response is overwhelming. For the first time during the tour, all of the elements needed for a powerful performance were in place. Set design. Lighting. Energized soundscape. A commitment to knowledge. A wonderfully receptive audience. A group of professional actors who are also friends. And me. The poet. The playwright. The performance artist. I’m on stage. At the National Theatre. In Nigeria. And I feel alive.

Before the show begins, we are in place on stage, each at the edge of our fabric. Statues made of bodies. We remain in the same position until the house is in place. Our bodies cry out to be relieved of their stagnant aches and pains. I shake my foot awake and feel the tension spread throughout my calf. Finally. The lights die down into pitch black shadows. Our stage manager begins her announcement: No flash photography. No cell phones. Then, I am under the blueness of my fabric. The show begins. I settle into complete ownership of self on this stage.

I am performing at the National Theatre. In Lagos. Nigeria. Where the electricity is only supplied in the areas of use and the bathrooms have no toilet paper. After we use the toilet, a woman comes immediately afterwards to flush the commode with water in a bucket. I am thankful for her presence and tell her so. Ashay. Ashay. We are not so blessed with a 60 million pound annual budget. Lagos is not London.

Only a week or so before this moment I am sitting in the Olivier at the National Theatre in London. On stage is a new play. “Welcome to Thebes,” written by Moria Buffini.  I am already intrigued and baffled by the poster. A black girl. Holding a weapon of war. In her hands. Standing in a land of ruins. I cannot comprehend the relationship between her body and the environment of Thebes. How is the Western worldview being used to position her black being?

We are surprised by Segun and Henry with the tickets to the show, and I am overjoyed at the thought of having my question answered. Before we take our seats, I make sure I buy a copy of the play. It’s a more traditional piece that juxtaposes old philosophies of humanity with modern, everyday realizations of nation-building. The use of black bodies guided by Greek mythology is implemented to address how war-torn spaces attempt to rebuild themselves.

The cast presents an amazing synergy. From the very first line of the play, delivered by Megaera: “OK shut up.” A relationship is built between the audience and actors. I love her. Because she reveals “the other side of her.” Because she spits truth. Cornrows lace the edge of her head upward in a braided Mohawk. She is power. Or at least empowered by something other than the AK 47 that is manhandled by this woman turned fury.

“Shut up!” She tells the audience. She advises, “This is my shit and if you’re scared to hear it/ Close your eyes.” But I am mesmerized. And so I listen with my eyes wide open as she tells the story of violence occurring on her body. There is no femme in her as she reveals what was stolen from her. How rage entered her and reaped of her fruits. Until she was no more than fury. In the story, she is nobody trying to become somebody, again. “13 years later/she wants to scream rape” but “instead she just screams rage.” And she is committed to the struggle of reconciling with her past.

We are in the struggle together, asking: “How many women will be entered/ without asking?” We are asking.

She is performing at the National Theatre. A black girl. Under white lights. I am performing at the National Theatre. A black girl. Rising from a black w/hole. She is in London. I am in Lagos. Where Nollywood actors and filmmakers fill the audience. Where the crème de la crème of the intellectual and artistic world have come to examine this new piece of literature on stage. “Poetry in performance,” Segun says before the show. I am at the pinnacle of my career and I am only beginning. Before the show, I make sure I praise the an-sisters and the godz. I am aiming for total commitment. To be alive in the moment. To allow these words to penetrate the consciousness of the audience. I am aiming to “sling verbs like alliteration/ was a liberation tool.”

Soyinka once explained, the stage is an ideal place for confrontation. Here, I confront the past on behalf of Elizabeth, Frances, Carmen, Janice, Ennie and myself. For the unborn seventh generation of first daughters. “She stands at the edge of the stage. This is her mountaintop.” And it is. In my rehearsal notes are a few words of wisdom from Segun. “If you stare at the abyss, the abyss stares back.” I speak to the abyss and the abyss speaks back. They laugh during the professor scene when Rachel tells her professor, “what kind of black” she is. They cheer when the names of our Black American leaders are called upon. I open myself up. Like I am an AK47. And release critical attacks on systems of race and racism in an attempt to cultivate a process of revolutionary love.

I love Lagos. I love its honest, yet blurry representation of its material conditions. It’s reflections on revolutionary art. Its strong chain of brothas and sistas standing in solidarity with freedom and liberation. Before the show, I deliver a sample of poetry to the Artist Village. One person asks after I finish, “are we invited to battle?”

“Of course!” I say. “SEVEN is an invitation for us to battle together.”

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