Writer Mojisola Adebayo talks about latest production ‘STARS: An Afrofuturistic Space Odyssey’ to show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) before embarking on a national tour

Sex and sexuality can often be tricky topics to openly navigate. These two worlds incredibly complex and personal, with experiences differing dependent on one’s perspective and life journey. Topics that are usually greeted with judgement and surrounded by stigma dictated by societal norms and cultural contexts, creating much needed safe spaces to explore and discuss these facets of humanity is becoming increasingly important in our day and age. Writer Mojisola Adebayo delves deeper into these realities with upcoming production STARS: An Afrofuturistic Space Odyssey, a play following protagonist Mrs– an old lady who goes into outer space in search of her own orgasm, her quest sparked by three encounters: a young neighbour who discloses a secret; an old friend who reveals she is intersex; and a would-be lesbian lover in a launderette who offers Mrs two drops of her own pressed lavender and a smile that says ‘I handle delicates with care’. Ahead of the production’s premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 18th April to 4th May, Mojisola tells us more about what to expect from the show!Hi Mojisola, your show STARS will show at the ICA from 13th Apr to 4th May – before embarking on a national tour including Contact Theatre, Manchester; Bristol Old Vic; The Old Rep, Birmingham; Northern Stage, Newcastle; Liverpool Everyman. How are you feeling ahead of the run?

It feels absolutely fantastic or STARSto be reaching people all over the country-this is just the start. We want the show to go to Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Europe, the US, Canada, South Africa, Singapore and beyond, all places where I have made theatre before. I want to reach people everywhere. That energy is what took me to Antarctica to make my first show, also directed by S. Ama Wray called Moj of the Antarctic and so I dream far and wide for STARS too.

STARS explores an old lady’s story as she goes into outer space in search of her own orgasm. Her quest is sparked by three encounters: a young neighbour who discloses a secret; an old friend who reveals she is intersex; and a would-be lesbian lover in a launderette who offers Mrs two drops of her own pressed lavender and a smile that says ‘I handle delicates with care’. What inspired you to explore this narrative further?

I’d been wondering since my teens about my lost orgasm – where did it go?? Outer space??!! After years of therapy, I can laugh about it but as a survivor of sexual abuse and gender-based violence, it’s still a very tough question. So when in the Summer of 2016, IdleWomen invited me to float on a Lancashire boat, the Selina Cooper, relax along canals and write a play, I laid back and thought, well it’s not just me, lots of people struggle with sex and millionsof women all over-the-world are cut off from the possibility of pleasure, because they go through traditional harmful surgeries as girls, known as FGM, but it is often kept a secret. I connected with FORWARD, a fantastic charity lead by African women and I learnt a lot about FGM from them. I had also been in the church for many years and repressed my sexuality in fear that I might go through so called conversion therapy, exorcism actually, asa friend of mine went through. I did come out in the end and as someone who is part of the LGBTIQA+ community and dialogues with Valentino Vecchietti of Intersex Equality Rights creatively informed my writing. Vecchietti and artist / activist Del La Grace Volcano taught me about non-consensual surgeries faced by many Intersex children, here in Britain. However, FGM and childhood Intersex surgeries are rarely discussed on the same page and the I on the end of LGBTQI is often forgotten. But, I thought, these issues have the same root. So,I decided to connect these questions of the gender binary and control, in one story exploring the politics of pleasure, through the three encounters you mentioned.

My collaborator-brother-friend DJ Debo and I started talking music and came up with the idea of creating ‘a concept album for the stage’. As a performer, I started exploring movement possibilities with my long-time collaborator-sista-friend S. Ama Wray and together with lots of people in the research and development processes from 2016 – 2021 (all named above), we found ourselves here!

We knew from the start that we wanted not just the content but the form of the show to be uplifting, releasing,and healing – not just a play but an event. I have often felt frustrated that theatres are dead spaces after 11pm – just when we could get a party started! Debo and I came up with this idea of a play that can transform into a club night, starting with a DJ mixing music all the way through the show. That ecstatic feeling of being on a dance floor with your friends around you – that’s almost orgasmic for me – the earth moves! The club night also features insights from women who’ve been exploring the politics of pleasure in workshops at the ICA. Thanks to them!

STARS is told through one woman, a live DJ, and projected animation. Combining various tech elements, what has the process involved in terms of piecing the show together?

Yes, a DJ mixes all the way through the show. Folks can have a little dance at the end and on some nights the show transforms into a club. I have always wondered why theatres are such dead spaces after 11pm, just when we could get a party started! I started talking to my brother and collaborator, DJ Debo about the idea of combining club and theatre. We ran a couple of nights at The Yard theatre with pop-up performances and then started imagining STARS. The club feel also connects to the theme of orgasm because the dance floor can be a space of free, consensual, ecstatic, pleasure. Clubs also often have visuals. I met the magical artist Candice Purwin on IdleWomen’s boat, the Selina Cooper. Her amazing drawings are woven through the show, which becomes an Afrofuturist space odyssey. The movement is choreographed by S. Ama Wray and the text skillfully guided by Gail Babb. I always want to make my work as accessible as possible so I contacted the brilliant Graeae Theatre Company to ask if they had any suggestions for people who could create captions so that D/deaf and hearing-impaired people who read English can read the text and follow the story. I connected with Stephen Lloyd and also Stephen Collins and Yvonne Beckford, who gave consultancy and as a result we have a show that reaches many people who would not be able to access the words otherwise.

STARS is a co-production with ICA and Tamasha. How have you all worked together to realise the show?

It has been a really great brand-new collaboration between these two terrific organisations. Tamasha has the theatre expertise and a history and future of work by Asian, Black and Global Majority artists and ICA is an extraordinary space for all art forms and is cutting edge and contemporary. These two companies really got what Debo and I wanted to do with STARS-it is a great combination.

What have you learned/taken away from creating the show?

There is power in pleasure!

What can audiences expect from the show?

A story with 15 characters performed by the incredible Debra Michaels, funky music spun and mixed by the dextrous Bradley Michaels, lots of belly laughs, lots of thoughts provoked, an absolutely stunning set by Miriam Nabarro, exquisite visuals by Candice Purwin all bathed in lights from Nao Nagaiand all happening on time thanks to Alison Pottinger. I could not be prouder of this team!

What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?

I would like people to become sex and gender liberationists! I want them to have a really fun time. Pleasure is what it is all about!

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

STARS will show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) from Tuesday 18th April until Saturday 4th May 2023 beforee going on tour. To find out more about the production, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop