Spoken word theatre has arrived to light a fire in the Big Smoke
Melissa Ridge and Melanie O’ Donovan explore the still-developing form of spoken word theatre in Dublin through the lens of last year’s most fruitful and synergetic pairing; FeliSpeaks and Dagogo Hart.
Spoken word poetry has evolved in the last number of years. It’s exciting to watch the genre shift and change and incorporate styles from other genres of performance art; dance, theatre, fashion, visuals, all forms blended into soup and bent to the creator’s will with the express intention of expressing more than one form alone ever could. We first caught a glimpse of this amalgamation of Irish spoken word theatre in May 2018 when Dagogo Hart and FeliSpeaks (aka Felicia Olusanya) teamed up to produce their debut spoken word show “See True”.
The show’s intention was clear; there is power in the collective. The two-part spoken word theatre piece was the first of its kind produced and performed in Dublin combining poetry; interpretive dance; music; fashion; and theatre.
To put on a show of this calibre with a group of people all rising in their respective fields takes a lot of trust and a strong vision. Fusion was at the heart of this performance, from the amalgamation of tones and styles in the poetry, the alignment of the dancers hidden amongst the crowd, the development of the costumes; every element told a story within themselves. The heartbeat-mimicking drums which open the show emerged behind the audiences and was led by Dagogo Hart and his guttural performance of “Badagary”; this is the point when it’s abundantly clear the level of ambition and vibrancy on show.
“all forms [are] blended into soup and bent to the creator’s will with the express intention of expressing more than one form alone ever could”
From scene to scene there remained a sense of cohesion. Despite a forgone dress rehearsal there was a clear emotive goal from each performer that emanated from the stage to the audience. A few timing mishaps aside, there was a palpable bond between cast members that encouraged the audience to feel included in moments of joy and aching sadness alike. The performance of “Eulogy” by FeliSpeaks was such an authentic performance that left audience members in tears. Usually broken up into a two-part poem, FeliSpeaks conducted a seismic shift of emotion in the main room of The Workman’s Club that seized the room’s breath and refused to let it go.
After the show she revealed that she had planned only to recite half of the poem as she and music producer Adam Hart practice the first part. “When I got up there I felt really obliged to say the other part of the poem. I surprised myself on stage, I think that was the new element,” she says.
“See True” brought a startling new facet to the spoken word performance scene in Dublin and this was just the beginning of a cross-category movement, the breakdown of a genre and medium, and the cross-pollination of other genres can be felt seeping into the spoken word style of performance across the community.
“There is nothing more relevant and unfortunately true to life than this age-old story of masculinity carved in stone, false commandments of dominance still being dismantled by strong women armed with chisels and boundless reserves of patience”
In September 2018 as part of Dublin Fringe Festival the pair launched their second show ‘Boy Child’, a story of a boy becoming a man in an old world turning new.
The seasoned performers had taken the confidence earned from “See True” and channeled it into an even better showcase for their combined talents. They play numerous characters with the intention of proving that man need not be a villain to women; both can live in the same world once man learns that woman is not a dishwasher, child raiser, or sum of body parts brought together for man’s intentions. With a minimalist stage production and onstage costume changes, props, and a cast of six, they push this message with their moving performance poetry.
FeliSpeaks brings to life, and draws on the struggles and frustrations, of the many roles that women find themselves defined by in relation to the men in their lives. Be it wife, mother or girlfriend, her words carve out and shape a possible new mould of what man could be, should be, and must be, for a world where men and women can finally, finally exist as equals. This is a story of an old world meeting a new and watching the gender roles of family change before its very eyes.
More than that, this was a story of a man’s emotions being coaxed to the surface, and it was uncomfortable to watch a man grow and reach into himself to confront his own prejudices. Dagogo Hart as the titular Boy Child grows to respect and treat a woman as his complete equal, and this something that is often rarely witnessed in old traditional backgrounds. And yet, the duo manage to trigger this transformation with just forty minutes on the clock; perhaps this should be the standard to which we hold all the men in our lives, to either reach a state of vulnerability and maturity - or at least try - or take their emotional labour elsewhere. There is nothing more relevant and unfortunately true to life than this age-old story of masculinity carved in stone, false commandments of dominance still being dismantled by strong women armed with chisels and boundless reserves of patience.
It is the thread that weaves its way through every poem, interaction, and reaction on the stage. While the message sits on the nose of the audience, it is an evocative piece of performance art and an important moment for Irish spoken word theatre, as well as an exciting indicator of what the form could actually achieve.
‘See True’ is showing in Windmill Lane on 23rd August 2019. More information.
Originally printed in BND Vol. 1 Issue. 1
Written by Melissa Ridge & Melanie O’Donovan