Marcus Hessenberg

Marcus Hessenberg

1981: Grace Jones releases her landmark album Nightclubbing; her body is brown and soft.

2015: Three women are refused entry into a London nightclub; their bodies are brown and soft.

Jones: a dark skinned, androgynous, Jamaican woman, transcending societal norms to become an international superstar. Then later, three young black women, discriminated against and excluded, their bodies branded ‘undesirable’. We are those women, we zoom through galaxies and solar systems, travelling through time, preparing for our moment to land. It’s now. Women to the front, People of Colour to the front, LGBTQIA+ to the front.

QPOC theatre maker, Rachael Young and her badass band of superhumans embrace Afrofuturism and the cult of Grace Jones in Nightclubbing – an explosive new performance bringing visceral live music and intergalactic visions to start a revolution, coming to Liverpool’s Homotopia Festival in November. To mark Black History Month, we get in touch with a “procrastinating” Rachael to talk identity and QPOC representation.

You recently penned A New Play for Royal Court’s Queer Upstairs series – how did that gig come about and how did it go?

Along with other artists, I was commissioned to write a piece to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. We didn’t necessarily have to reflect the uprising, Royal Court just wanted to work with queer artists whose work they found interesting. Some of the people involved would definitely class themselves as writers, others like myself were more makers or live artists. So for me it was an opportunity, for the first time in a very long time, to just sit down and write. They were really short plays, and we came together over about four sessions, working with mentors, Mark Ravenhill and Hester Chillingworth, and going through different approaches to ways of writing for the stage. We each presented our work to an audience in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. It was really good to take myself out of my normal practice and challenge myself to do something else.

Your show Nightclubbing is inspired by Grace Jones and her Nightclubbing album, how come? 

Marcus Hessenberg

Marcus Hessenberg

I specifically chose Grace Jones because as a black woman she has managed to get to a place where she is uncompromising about who she is, and that feels like something that doesn’t happen a lot. I remember seeing her on TV when I was younger, and feeling like it was something I’d not seen before. She wasn’t like any other black woman and it felt really exciting. When I look at that now, I think she was really a trailblazer. People were often caught up in the fact she was quite outspoken, but actually she was doing some really amazing things musically. She was working at Studio 54, doing a lot of disco, but on the Nightclubbing album she kind of moves away from that and starts to think about her own cultural identity. She looks at the world around her, thinks about how she fits within that, and carves out her own space. That’s what my show is trying to do.

How different is it to your show, Out?

I made Out first and then Nightclubbing came after that. But for me they are sister shows because they’re both part of my research project, The Freedom Project. As part of that, I had a residency for younger artists which happened over a seven-month period, making work from many different disciplines. At the time I knew I wanted to make these two pieces, or that I wanted the way I made work to shift. So for me they feel like they are connected. They both take place on different sections of dancefloor. It feels like you could flip the world on its head and one side would be this bright pink dancefloor where Out happens, and on the other this black space in which Nightclubbing happens. They have similar themes though they are very different pieces.

OUT

OUT

Speaking of dancefloors, Pose’s Billy Porter recently picked up an Emmy, becoming the first gay black man to do so. Are you happy about the current level of QPOC representation, be it on stage or screen?

It’s definitely nice to turn on the TV and see more people that look like you. That work still needs to be continued. It’s slowly getting better, and I hope it’s not something that people just pick up for the moment – I feel like people say ‘oh, we’ve done it now, filled the quota.’ When we look to the media, TV, film or theatre, it needs to reflect the world we live in. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and it doesn’t just stop with the people on the stage or in front of the cameras, it needs to be in the writers and people making decisions. When we have representation all the way through those hierarchies, then things will feel like they’re starting to change.

 

Nightclubbing is part of Liverpool’s Homotopia Festival, 6 November 7.30pm, Unity Theatre.

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