Alessandra: I came across your work for the first time last November when at the Camden People’s Theatre I had the privilege to see your powerfully written and performed Brother Insect. For performingborders, I’d love to touch with you a topic that we haven’t addressed enough so far: poetry and performance. Would you mind to tell us more about how the two practices coexist in your creative processes and what are for your boundaries (if any) and point of attrition (if any) both on a personal and artistic level?
Sea: Although I consider myself to be a poet by trade, in the context of Brother Insect, I really thought I was writing a solo theatre show, not poetry. On reflection (and after receiving audience feedback), it should have come as no surprise that many people interpreted it as “performance poetry”, with stanzas that blurred into monologues and pages that morphed into dramatic scenes.
This wasn’t intentional on my part, but I’m not upset by these results either. I’m coming to terms that my art is an inherent hybrid of poetry and performance and that’s okay by me.
As for setting boundaries and limitations, on both a personal and artistic level, I find it challenging to recognize and prioritize self-care and press pause or even just say “no” before I burn myself out. I keep forgetting to rest, reset and refuel. I guess I’m not immortal anymore!
Xavier: Tell us a bit about the process of writing and making Brother Insect. What was the intention to write this piece and perform it with another performer on stage?
Sea: This was originally written as a one-person show, with me taking the role of the solo performer. At the time, I had absolutely no intentions of inviting another performer onboard, but I’m so glad that I did!
In the lead up to Brother Insect, I was having constant meltdowns. To put things into perspective, I was developing this theatrical show in addition to working my full-time office job. I literally used up the majority of my holiday leave in order to make enough time to collaborate with up to 7 different people in my creative team. On top of all this, I was also working towards memorizing the entire script, whilst playing the role of director and stage manager. I was also caught up in the middle of a very demanding process of publishing a full-length book of my poems (Waterloo Press). This, of course, meant that I spent most weekends editing, revising, reviewing my manuscript and having lengthy meetings with my editor and mentor. I also continued to perform poetry at events alongside some really important poets like Grace Nichols (Strong Words) and Maria Jastrzębska (Coast is Queer).
As a result of having very little spare time, my relationships and social life really suffered. I was so burnt out! I had countless explosive cry-sessions both inside and outside of therapy.
Exactly four weeks prior to opening night at Camden People’s Theatre in London (just after presenting a successful excerpt of Brother Insect at Dean Atta’s Black Flamingo Cabaret), I suddenly came to a revelation: I wasn’t myself because I was experiencing an epic adult-tantrum. This is what led me to the decision of changing the entire script and locating another performer to help relieve some of the pressure I was experiencing.
As you can see, it was a very messy process and definitely not what I envisioned from the start, but I’m very happy with the results. My lead performer, Michelle, was a godsend –I couldn’t have performed that role better!
Xavier: This was the first time you collaborated with performance makers such as Season Butler and Rachael Young. How did that collaborative approach happen and how did it impact on the outcomes of the piece?
Sea: I feel really blessed to have worked closely with folks like yourself at the Marlborough Theatre. I’ve had opportunities to network and collaborate with numerous inspiring theatre-makers and designers.
Collaborating with both Season and Rachael has been particularly rewarding for me in this new work. As a black kid from Kansas, I was unaware of many other queer black (British) trailblazers in the field of performance art. So it is particularly special that I’ve had the privilege of spending time with Rachael and Season. It has allowed me to learn from each of their unique experiences and now I can say that I truly have contemporary role models.
Xavier: Brother Insect was your first theatre show, and it touches on very personal experiences of being a migrant and person of colour in the UK and USA. This gives the audience member a lot of information and challenges to chew on, whilst at the same time exposing the artist in quite a public way. Could you reflect on how that visibility affects the way you communicate your thoughts and artistic intentions on stage?
Sea: Brother Insect considers two different types of visibility. 1) The kind that encourages us to unapologetically reclaim spaces and 2) The kind that hyper-magnifies our vulnerabilities and exposes our insecurities. The first is a crowd’s whopping applause, whilst the second is a rotten tomato to the face.
My artwork makes me feel visible in both these ways simultaneously.
These are the two types of visibility I am mindful of in both my artwork and my social life. I am most concerned about the visibility of the disempowered by protecting them from tomatoes by giving them more praise.
Xavier: Finally, what is next for the wonderful Sea Sharp?
Sea: So far, I’ve received invites to perform Brother Insect in Hamburg, from Underbelly to present the show at the Edinburgh Fringe and from The Albany to present the work as part of their spoken word season. But I’m not sure at this stage. I’d really like to continue developing Brother Insect further, potentially having the script published before accepting these invites and reaching out to programmers with a view to touring the work.
SEA SHARP is an award-winning poet and author of Black Cotton (Waterloo Press, 2019) and The Swagger of Dorothy Gale & Other Filthy Ways to Strut (Ice Cube Press, 2017). In the Arts Council England funded theatrical show, Brother Insect, Sea Sharp was both playwright and performer.
On the stage or on the page, their work is known to be “emotively confrontational and politically charged”, unflinching with uncompromising critiques on how we continuously mistreat each other, ourselves and our planet.
To this day, Sea Sharp is still black and queer (but sometimes invisible).