DIVA chats to Emily Aboud, the director behind the queer Caribbean Carnival not to be missed
BY ERIN MANIATOPOULOU
Emily Aboud is bringing SPLINTERED to Vault Festival this February! Refreshing visions of the Caribbean Carnival mixed with queerness, this is a play that laughs in the face of oppression. It’s a carnival dance party littered with sad truths and joyful lies based upon interviews with queer women in Trinidad and Tobago.
SPLINTERED is a part of Lagahoo Productions – formed to fill a gap in representation, focusing on creating formally innovative new-writing for and by Caribbean people, with a focus on queer and diverse work.
DIVA was excited to speak to Emily and find out more about the inspiration behind SPLINTERED…
DIVA: You’re going to be performing at Vault Festival soon! How are the rehearsals coming along?
EMILY ABOUD: We start rehearsals on Monday, but we’ve done the same show at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, there are some changes and I’ve rewritten the script a few times. I’m just excited to get back into the room and start working on making it fun and making it fab!
What kind of responses have you got from people about the show?
I think it’s a really impacting show about queer women from the Caribbean. I myself am from Trinidad and even I have never seen a show about that subject matter despite being in the UK for about eight years. The genuine response is that a lot of people are very curious. My goal was to create a show about queerness in the Caribbean, but I didn’t want it to highlight the trauma of queerness. I don’t want it to be a show saying: “Boohoo it’s illegal to be here – we want to be like Britain”, because I think that’s horrid! I wanted it to be a show about celebrating queerness despite of a homophobic culture.
Do you think there’s anything inherently queer about Carnival?
Oh yeah! I’ve been studying the theatre of Carnival and I’ve written a thesis on it. The most amazing thing about Carnival is that it’s constantly changing, and it’s constantly adapting to empower people depending on what oppression looks like at the time. Carnival will always be like that. When it begun during the days of enslavement in Trinidad and Tobago, it was banned. The colonialists would ban music, drums. They would ban any gathering. And every time they did that Carnival tried its best to remain alive. When they banned drums, we invented the tamboo bamboo. They banned the tamboo bamboo, we invented the steel drum – it’s just a constantly twisting festival trying to celebrate and disown the oppressor. That is the history of Carnival.
Where do you think the Western tradition of Pride stands in relation to this?
Unfortunately, I have never enjoyed London Pride. It feels very corporate to me. To be fair, I might just not be going to the best place during Pride, but it’s very much like “here’s the Britney stage, and giving away free rainbow sweets” and the fact that the Church is allowed to march with us is disgusting. But Carnival can today take many forms, especially as globalisation poses a threat to its integrity. It’s more about knowing which celebrations to join. But I think there’s no festival in the world better than Carnival in Trinidad. Sorry, London Pride!
Could there be something potentially repressive about being expected to celebrate in the face of oppression?
Speaking only from my experience – I come from a luckily privileged background in Trinidad – I think there appears to be no elitism in Carnival. Carnival is kind of about doing whatever you want and that’s a celebration in itself. Carnival is literally “you do you”. I’ve got Asperger’s, I’m on the autistic spectrum. My first Carnival was when I was 16. I was a year younger than anyone else and for some reason I was so keen to play in Carnival. As I was walking to meet the band with my mum – obviously shitting it – I started to immediately sink into the vibe.
Is that how SPLINTERED approaches Carnival?
The play is not structured on a classical play format. It’s more like a cabaret. There are three actors, each playing a scene. Some are literally scenes of what every queer person has gone through, such as realising that you’re gay or being in love with your straight best friend. And then there’s other bits which I thought would be easier to tackle with something far more cabaret-esque, like a lip-sync or dancing and songs.
We don’t come into the theme of dual identity as much, because we’re kind of just presenting a picture: lots of scenarios that aren’t seen of stage but a whole host of people experience. I think trying to answer to ‘what is homophobic in the Caribbean’ is just an impossible question. Britain gave us homophobic laws, they also gave us religion, then you’ve got capitalism, slavery. The reason why the Caribbean is homophobic is massive, and that’s just scratching the surface of one of the thousand implications of colonialism.
What are the visions of the actors you chose for the play? Do they have the shared experience of what you’re describing?
The first cast for Splintered at the Fringe were incredible: all of Caribbean descent, the majority of them were queer women, and their insights to the piece were really interesting and really helpful. It raises a lot of interesting questions for the director and the writer about the essence of what they are saying.
You’re also a drag king. Your stage name is TriniDad & TooGayThough – hilarious! Do you incorporate that Carnival energy into your character?
In fact, I don’t think SPLINTERED would have existed had I not started doing drag. My friends are drag kings and they make me think I could do this. A lot of Caribbean music (not the majority at all) can be homophobic in some way. It comes across as empowering to men, but not so empowering to women. So I thought what a fun idea to become this carnival man! But instead of being disenfranchised, I’m finding a way to empower myself through him.
This is the way to tackle oppression for me, instead of writing a soppy monologue talking about the lyrics of homophobic songs and how they hurt me. Satirising the oppression is more fun. That’s what we do in SPLINTERED. We completely take the piss and we’re not sorry!
Book your ticket here now and join SPLIINTERED in its colourful celebration of queerness, running from 12 – 16 February! 🏳️🌈
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