Tag Archives: Justina Kehinde

#1 ~ How To Pass Finals (and not Die in the Attempt)

This year was the first year I returned to University and it felt like home. More importantly I didn’t feel afraid. When I was a naive fresher the journey up the motorway oozed expectant possibilities, but by second year I had become jaded, by third year slightly cynical, yet this year, this fourth year I was pumped, because the end was in sight.

When I first started this blog almost 2 years ago and confronted the challenge to write something every day, I was candid, raw, experimental and most importantly, when living in a cyber era where privacy is a euphemism for extraneous publicity, I was anonymous. I was simply the Death of the Writer and I wrote for my own pleasure and in that time garnered some kind of an audience. My anonymity provided me with a cloak that allowed me to write about experiences, thoughts, ideas and issues without implicating anyone else, or myself. Yet this blog also opened up my own creativity. It became the scrap book of lyrics and poems that I would later perform, film and publicly own as mine. It became the platform for me to begin writing professionally as a freelance journalist, once more also publicly. It was used to raise awareness for my first ever theatrical production which we then performed off-broadway and which resulted in me getting twitter (??). And it now has a declaration under the banner image with my working name and a note not to steal my work. This is my blog, and I am its writer – and I also have one final year left of university to pass without dying.

A fan of hyperbole you say. Ironically not. Considering that during my exams last year I ended up passing out several times which disrupted my exam period and showed me my body was indeed frail, fragile and mortal, getting through this year, and more importantly coming out the other side if not whole, with as few dents in my body, and as few holes stealthily tacked up with plaster in my brain as possible, will be as much an achievement as achieving my long-awaited bachelors degree. So perhaps I won’t die in the attempt of surviving a BA, but let’s hope I don’t faint, fall ill or undergo any other kind of mishap.

This so far, is the longest introduction to a blog I have done, but bear with me, a lot has occurred since I removed my fingers from the keyboard of this so called scrap book.

Once more I throw down the gauntlet to academia and take up the challenge to write something, every day, from now until I leave these ivory towers, documenting my final year of University and all that it may entail.

But remember that note I left about anonymity. Well, perhaps this time round I won’t be able to be as candid. I’ll try and be honest, but sometimes obfuscating a situation or being dissembling can lead to more trouble – more than one person might think you’re writing about them!

So this will be an interesting attempt, because I will be documenting my year, whilst being consciously aware of documenting my year, whilst also trying not to care that people who know me away from the ether might be reading this – oh dear, the mind games have begun.

Well, here’s to scrap books and random thoughts and transformation and maturity, and expressions and fears and life. No doubt my thoughts and feelings will change as each day goes by and even after this blog has ended. I’m writing for myself and maybe for anyone out there who makes a connection, but this is a place of expression, of note taking, of learning.

And as I said all those years ago, maybe amongst the pile of shit you’ll find a spec of gold – welcome to this blog and to this new challenge to Pass Finals (and not die – or faint – in the attempt).

Walk with me this way —->

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Grandmother’s Hands

For Colored Girls London was a wonderful success and if you really want to know all the stories that surrounded its conception, production and performance just do a google search and you’ll find it all there ( can you believe, we can now be googled, so much for anonymity!). It’s been nigh on 6 months since I last posted, which means FAR too much has happened and it’d be awful for me to attempt to explain and write and describe and muse in retrospect. Moreover, where I once was able to write as a musing voice with no intended audience, since i’ve begun publishing my poetry and therefore having to put a name to my work, I now know I have (may have) an audience and moreover they know me – which changes the game entirely. However, for those who still once in a while pass through this former haven of my thoughts, I have a surprise in store for you in the New Year! (only a few days to go, stay excited).

In the meantime, one (amongst many wonderful things) that happened to me in November is I did a TEDx talk. Below is the link. I won’t say any more but do give it a watch, a listen, and if it touches you in a positive or challenging way, do share.

Wishing you seasons greetings. Till 2014

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#12 ~ For Colored Girls: Journeying

Waking up at 7am to travel (initially to Ealing till we moved rehearsal venue) and then to Peckham Rye for the last few weeks is a mission, especially for a director who is not a morning person.

Sadly it has resulted not only in exhaustion but also neglect of this journey process.

Over the past few weeks since I’ve been quiet on the writing front we have begun to produce some videos on the play, short cast interviews which you can find here, digging deeper into who their characters are and who the actresses are outside of their roles. Moreover, Assistant Director Gwenni Hawkins has joined the crew and we have completed almost 40% of the poems which is quite exciting.

Our choreographer, known affectionately as Nicole, has done some stunning dance routines not only to open the play but to enhance some of the poems (she’ll have a person post dedicated to her and her work).

So we’ve worked and progressed – now you get to have a little back story on the lady in purple.

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#8 ~ What’s Your Back Story: Lady in Green

Naomi Maxwell" Lady in GreenNaomi Maxwell was a sure fire-hire when I first auditioned her in October last year. She had this drawl to her voice – melodically southern – and a saucy smile. When she was giving attitude she would wrinkle her nose up in a look of disgust, and to top it all, she already had a silver ring in her nose – it was like she was born ready. Slipping into the Lady in Green’s role for the Cambridge Production came naturally to the writer and blogger – it almost seemed like an enviable ‘effortlessness’. Moreover, her heart wrenching poem that culminates into the play’s apex was bound to garner her a standing ovation whether she put in 100% effort or not.

But I’m a director who wants more.  ‘For Colored Girls’ requires the actresses to be verbal painters. Poetry involves bringing words to life on the canvas that is your audience. You have to pop, sizzle, simmer and evoke all at the same time – and this production uses minimal props so all that ‘action’ is located in the voice.

Maxwell’s opening poem ‘No More Assistance’ is the story (or should we say letter) of a woman who is ‘endin’ this affair‘. She has been short-changed in every way possible, and is at last beginning to assert herself – and it’s about time too!

Yet, to remove ourselves from stereotypes and hashed out caricatures a ‘back story’ is always important.

Creating a back story requires you to return to the text and ask why? Within what was initially a rant, the Lady in Green declares:

‘I have left 7 packages on your doorstep, 40 poems, 2 plants and 3 hand-made notecards I left town so I could send you have been no help to me on my job/’.

It’s a line that is easily glossed over, I doubt whether people familiar with the play remember it. Yesterday it struck a chord with me and I questioned Maxwell – when did you (LiG) start writing poems?


As a poet, I know that 40 in ‘8 months, two weeks and a day‘ is a lot of poems to be writing, let alone disseminating! What does that say about the character? Not only does she remember and count the days since she’s been with her man, but she’s educated, perhaps a romantic, she has a deep attachment to words.

As we began unpicking her lines the voice of Alysia Grace Williams, a Nurse in the local downtown Hospital emerged. She was caring by nature, shy but with a quiet confidence. She’d experienced emotional neglect when she was a child and that spiralled her into negative relationships with men who used, abused and confused her. She was barren, and the fates had it that she worked on a maternity ward. She yearned to be a mother, and her lousy-ass boyfriend Tyrone (inspired by Ma Badu herself) had only gone and gotten a young girl from the block pregnant. And that’s when the penny dropped.

‘But you are of no assistance’.

The break down above might seem simplistic – it is a simplified version of approximately 8 hours of character development that started yesterday afternoon. But when Maxwell chose the name, the very consonants where a reflection of the character. Ending the poem with a note and a plant pot, we discovered that ‘No Assistance’ is neither a monologue nor a rant, it’s the very letter Alysia writes to Tyrone to tell him that ‘I am ending this affair’. As Maxwell knows only too rightly, that very declaration took a lot of courage.

Watch this space to see how we develop this poem even more and breathe life into the story. Also, make sure you get your tickets, so you can see the final product on September 13th at Canada Water Culture Space.

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#6 ~ The Start of Rehearsals

for-colored-girls-06After an unforeseen pause, rehearsals (and this day by day blog) have finally started.  Over the past few weeks some exciting developments have occurred. The play has moved to Canada Water Culture Space which is linked with the prestigious Albany theatre. Moreover, writer, journalist and curator Hannah Pool has come on board to host the Q&A session. With incredible PR from Afridiziak Theatre News, the play is taking wings right before my eyes. Tickets have been launched, flyers are being finished, the rights are in and the music is almost sorted. Photographers have been contacted, schedules have been sent out, rehearsal space has been attained – anything else? Oh…now I get to start directing.

How do we begin? One of the hardest aspects of re-doing a play is helping your cast to create something new. Like wearing a comfortable jumper, our hands naturally dig into the worn pockets and holes, instead of seeking out new lumps and bumps that might prove more (un)comfortable. We get so used to wearing our jumper/costume/character in a particular fashion we forget that it is possible to wear it inside out or the other way around.

Over the past few days I’ve been working with 3 of the actress on trying to re-create their characters, and whilst being  a challenge it has also been a painful adventure.

More in my next post, in the meantime, make sure to check out our MEET THE CAST article hosted by Afridiziak.

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#4 ~ For Colored Girls: Dark Phrases

The first poem that opens FCG is entitled ‘Dark Phrases’. One of the last poems to be written, it begins as a lament, a lament for the (lost or stolen) womanhood of black women.


dark phrases of womanhood

of never gavin been a girl

half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

distraught laughter fallin

over a black girls shoulder

As a director, an actress, and a former english student, before I can translate the above words into action and stage craft, I need to be conscious of both syntax and semantics. Shange’s style is characterised by its colloquialism.  It carries the ease of natural speech, and yet it has been altered and adulterated to incorporate a poetic rhythm, a lilt and melody. The most obvious conceit throughout the play is the use of colour. The first hint to the colour spectrum we get is a shade. Shadism is a problem within black culture and stems from the racial discrimination that has dogged non-white individuals for generations. It is a discrimination in which the darker you are the less attractive you are the less desirable, the less ‘good’ or wholesome. It feeds into the dichotomy of black : white, evil:good, that fuelled institutions and regimes such as the Slave Trade, Apartheid and pre-civil rights America.

‘dark phrases of womanhood’,  alludes to shadism and colour dichotomy, insinuating a pain, a darkness and danger that haunts the growth of a woman of colour. It generates the image  of an aborted or stolen childhood, a neglected or abused innocence which has created this coloured woman who has ‘never been a girl’.

When I set out to create my own production of this phenomenal and well-known piece, I had a deep urge and awareness to include music. Each of the poems are themselves scattered and infused with musical references. It isn’t just about speaking the word, song is presented as intrinsic to the liberation of the coloured woman. When her song, her lyrical voice is silenced, it is a sonic destruction of her physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being. It is the oppressive removal of a life. What is left is terror, anxiety and  a discordant life that has no melody, no tune, no future and no purpose or recognition.

Watch this space to see how we take these concepts and use music and light in our production.

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#3 ~ For Colored Girls: Beginning

How to start a play. Or perhaps, instead of a statement, a question – how do you start a play?

It’s a tricky question. Often I jump to the end, to the applause, the emotion, the adrenaline and the sleep that follows. But how to begin. How to harness the reeking anticipation of your audience and the nervous sweat of your cast as you dare to produce something spectacular.

The first stage is the atmosphere. Yesterday, crammed into London Underground i read through the first page of the script. The Stage Directions state:

The stage is in darkness. Harsh music is heard as dim blue lights come up. One after another, seven women run onto the stage from each of the exits. They all freeze in postures of distress. The follow spot picks up the lady in brown. She comes to life and looks at the other ladies. All of the others are still. 

I start scribbling furiously. In those precious few moments, the audience have to shift from excitement and curiosity to an uncomfortable awareness that something ominous is coming. Something painful. On one hand I start thinking about the lighting design. How the colour of that blue has to sear through the audience and automatically communicate an iciness, a pain, that mirrors the tortured freeze frames of the actresses. Moreover, music is flowing through my mind. What kind of music? How will that Am arpeggio modulate, or the use of the cymbals create a discord, a screeching sound, and perhaps the thrumming of the bass get people’s pulse rising like the hairs on their arms. It’s all about setting the scene before we move onto the first poem.

‘Dark Phrases’.

But that’s for later on today.

Join the journey.

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