WALES LAB: Our Mother's Were Sisters.
Our Mothers were Sisters, Wella Corria, Laila Mohamed Mason & Louise Osborn Butetown, April 2013
So, you’ve heard of Tiger Bay? Maybe the romantic myths or the damning stories?
Born and bred here, we have lived the celebrated diversity - we understand the difference between Bay and Docks. It has run through our blood for seven generations – when our forefathers first landed on these shores.
There’s some that would never believe that we are related - different colours, different religions and ethnic ‘types’ - but our feisty, funny, beautiful Mothers were sisters and in the docks, historically, this mix of ethnicity and culture has united us and made Tiger Bay the unique place that it was. We passionately want to share our stories – especially now, when new misunderstandings are arising, not previously experienced.
Wella, Laila & Louise will work together for a week to beging to explore their stories and how to share those with the audience.
Transcript of reflections from our week's work:
LOUISE: (DIRECTOR/ CURATOR)
In the rehearsal room with Wella and Laila. At times it has been deeply funny, at other times profoundly moving. We've mined a wealth of material emanating from collected Butetown memories and the memories of others.
I have come to understand that their ability to tell a great story is 'in the blood' - as they would say. Part of the cultural history of growing up in the docks, this is a tradition that's been kept alive through these stories being told and retold. Laila and Wella tell really vivid accounts, with detailed observation and insight. Very descriptive, they are natural actors and performers ... and I've had to stay on the ball to keep up, and to help to shape this richness into theatrical, but honouring form.
So this week we've been looking at both content and form. How to tell these stories – and how we might develop and enhance the content through the use of other theatrical conventions. We've discussed the use of found images (there are some amazing old photographs of characters and places) Music, Smells, Objects, Sounds, Atmospheres. We've explored multi-role playing and swopping...
I've also been working to build up their skills as actors – offering exercises for them to connect in immediate and truthful ways to the dynamics of the relationships held within these accounts. Providing some tools for the analysis of action and meaning. It has led to some interesting and fiery debate – and raised loads of questions.
Lou: So, how has this week been for you?
On Sunday night I was in the house thinking to myself there's no way that we have got five days worth of material about our mothers... I could feel myself having a 'docks' style panic attack, leaning against cabinets and screaming.... 'Wadini'..(Arabic for 'I swear')
But then, come Monday, my panic attack was shortlived... by the time we started and I got going I realised it wasn't going to be a problem... Louise has this ability for helping us spill out and shape up the history of the family tree, and all the stories that mean so, so much for us....
This has been a rollercoaster of a week – we've been through so many different emotions. With my own development as a performer Lou has been pushing us - teaching us acting techniques to explore and show these stories to their best potential.. because even though we know these stories we want to tell them as they happened..... we've been learning to connect to this material in a truthful way and be in the moment - through analysing these stories..... looking at their meaning....interogating them and sort of 'occupying' them from the inside..
It's been nice for me to open up... and nice for me to find out new stuff about my mother and family when they was younger... like, for example, I didn't realise just how wealthy my Dadda Toni was 'til I got to hear some of the stories....Lots of the information was found from me sitting with my mother at the kitchen table for hours... that was good that was. Really good.
When you're acting on stage it's like putting your feelings through the character... and it's been amazing because just remembering and imagining has made me appreciate what an amazing strong, dynamic, charasmatic and beautiful family that I come from....These were my people – survivors - good bad, right wrong...they're mine and they helped to shape the people we are today...
Why is this stuff interesting to an audience?
Because it's life and it's real....these stories can be related to....these are powerful stories about our history, our legacy. This is not fiction. These amazing, dramatic and funny stories took place....
This is part of the Welsh landscape and history.
LOU: These are stories about Dockland's life. Not romantic - stories of loyalty, courage, ferocity and violence, of love and hatreds.
WELLA: Old feuds, survival, sharing and loads of mishchief...
LAILA: …..and most of all there was , top of the list, there was humour..
WELLA: And all of this becomes relevant because all of these stories come from one connection – and that's the fact that our mothers' were sisters. People not from the docks wouldn't get that...
LAILA: 'Cos we're different colours, different ethnicities...
LOU: But you're cousins...
LAILA: It's as if, this week, we've been on a journey of memories, that have taken us inside homes, prisons, classrooms, coach trips,
WELLA: ….police stations, care homes, hospitals,
LAILA: … inside those wonderful houses in Loudon Square. We've been to clubs, pubs, living rooms, cars, offices and on the streets.
WELLA: On the dock, the boats, by the canal, in the shops. On the corners with the street runners and bookies. We've met prostitutes, Russian circus performers, sailors, musicians, lodgers, gangsters, fiddlers (some still alive and kicking and fingers dipping!)
LAILA: A vicious biting monkey called Jackal, coppers, the tax man, kids and villains. We've talked with the boys on the corners...
WELLA: ….seen the boys taming the gypsies wild horses on the canal side and over the park. We've bought to life characters – met with Big Lisa the African Queen with her arms full of bracelets, her sweets and pennies for the kids and her favours for the men. Chiefy, Rennee, Kickeye, The Electric Warrior, Mrs. Fafana and a whole load more...
LAILA: …. not to mention all the crazy characters from our own family....
WELLA: We've traded with the sailors, we've run with diamonds and sacks of money, we've eaten bread and jam, 'fuffi', we've sung some of the old songs....
LAILA: Really looked up close....
LOUISE: These stories hold universal interest... they raise lots of questions about tolerance, about intolerance, about community and belonging.
ON FRIDAY: Sharing
During the week I had written down copious pages of the different stories that emerged... We knew we would only have time to begin to shape a fraction of this material – so we chose to really focus down on some of the Sister Stories. We made selections and gave some final shape to our choices - pulling together some of the threads and themes of what was explored during this packed week!
I knew that to 'script' this stuff would be totally pointless – and reductive... so we worked thematically – gave headings to the different stories. Practising their telling, editing on our feet.
The piece took the form of both a 'conversation' – between Wella, Laila and the Audience – moving into animated 'scenes' with Wella and Laila becoming the various characters. We also explored moments of stillness and silence – and worked to strip out where there was over-telling. We discovered time and again how 'less' can be more, exploring how to 'show' not tell....How to give emotional space for the audience – to trust in their understanding and ability to fill in the emotional spaces.
Kyle (Resident Artist) and Gavin (New Associate) joined us for our sharing – and Gavin filmed the stories so that we would have a record of the work for potential future development. (Extracts to be posted)
Laila and Wella were extraordinary. They presented back a whole hours' worth of unscripted storytelling, mixed with scenes bought to life...A beautiful, rich mixed bag of hidden treasure! As Kyle said when he came to watch: It was like watching a film...
Thanks to everyone for their support.
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