A topic receiving greater prominence within wider conversations is that of ‘cultural appropriation’; an issue regarding taking an aspect of a culture unfamiliar to an individual, an aspect of great significance and commodifying it for financial gain or trivialising it due to its aesthetic. Playwright Lekhani Chirwa explores this issue in her debut play Can I Touch Your Hair? Ahead of her 2 date performance at this year’s Vault Festival, Lekhani talks about the show’s themes, working with Ovalhouse, HerStory Festival and Blacktress prior to the Vault Festival and what audiences can expect.
Hi Lekhani! Can I Touch your Hair? will debut at this year’s Vault Festival, how are you feeling ahead of the show?
I’m feeling excited and nervous of course. I’ve worked so hard on the show so can’t wait to share it!
The show explores ‘what cultural appropriation really means, the struggle of having Afro hair, but more importantly, the pride’. What inspired you explore these further?
I was inspired to explore these topics as I think cultural appropriation is something that is in the limelight that keeps happening constantly – white celebrities are profiting from black culture without even crediting black people for it. In terms of the struggle that is more personal – I never had anyone teach me how to manage my afro hair properly so I never knew what I was doing with my hair. On my hair journey I’ve learnt that there is a pride of afro hair as it’s so unique and comes in many different textures. I was inspired to explore it through all I’ve learnt along my hair journey about owning my hairstyles and not holding back.
The show has been previously scratched at Ovalhouse, TheatreN16 (as part of the HerStory festival), and the Actor’s Centre (as part of the Blacktress 2018 season). How have these opportunities shaped the play?
Yes, definitely. The play was originally a monologue when it was performed at Ovalhouse and then for HerStory Festival I shared a 20 minute segment and the feedback was that people loved it but just wanted to see more. Then when I went on to do the Blacktress season I included a Q&A after the show to get audience feedback. It really helped me make the play more personal rather than general.
Can I Touch Your Hair is a solo show performed by yourself. How do you find performing your own work?
Honestly, I find it terrifying. I can’t hide behind a character as I am being myself. If people don’t like it you could argue that they don’t like me. It’s so exposing but at the same time liberating. I felt I have something to say therefore I should share my voice.
What can audiences expect from the show?
Expect some humour yet at the same time be prepared to feel uncomfortable. White audiences will learn from it, black audiences will relate to it. I’m sure everyone will enjoy the sick throwback soundtrack throughout.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
I would like them to take away the understanding that black hair is political and it isn’t just hair. I’d like them to think the next time they open their mouth to say something to a black or mixed race woman about her hair. I would like black or mixed race audiences to feel inspired to make their own art as our voices matter and there isn’t enough of ours out there.
Do you have any plans for the show beyond Vault Festival?
I would love to take the show to Edinburgh BUT I don’t know how I’d ever afford it. There’s a lot of industry from London theatres and I hope that it sparks interest. I’d love for this show to take shape in one of their spaces.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and performers?
Go for it! You have to just do it. Don’t hold back. Use your voice and tell your story, that’s what makes you unique.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Can I Touch Your Hair? will be showing from Friday 8th until Saturday 9th March 2019 at this year’s Vault Festival. To find out more about the production, visit here…