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Performance artist Rachael Young: ‘Black women are still having to fight oppression’

Rachael Young. Photo: Marcus Hessenberg Rachael Young. Photo: Marcus Hessenberg

Rachael Young’s latest solo show Nightclubbing is named after singer-songwriter Grace Jones’ album of the same name. She tells Giverny Masso how she imagines a different future for women of colour through the show…

What inspired Nightclubbing?

The idea stemmed from 2015, when a group of young women were refused entry into a nightclub because of their skin colour. We’re still having to fight oppression like this. That was the seed of the idea. I spent a lot of time researching Grace Jones, feminism and afrofuturism [an imagining of the future through a black lens] before spending time with a dramaturg to see how it would work with musicians. I describe it as a visual poem.

Do you think things have changed since the 2015 nightclub incident?

We have a long way to go. One of the things happening now is that people are not silent anymore. Things like this are happening all the time. I think it’s important we all try to be a little bit more mindful and listen to each other without taking offence at somebody else’s experience.

Why did you start making your own work?

I went to Arden School of Theatre in Manchester, and graduated in 2003. One of the first things I got was the lead female role in Romeo and Juliet, which was amazing because you wouldn’t usually see someone like me play Juliet. I didn’t start making my own work until last year. Previously I was working as a jobbing actor, but I wanted to tell those narratives that are interesting to me. Maybe I didn’t feel satisfied waiting for the phone to ring.

Is representation for artists of colour in theatre improving?

Again I still think there is a long way to go. There are so many artists of colour who are making things. We shouldn’t be elevating people to tick boxes but because the work is saying something. That’s really important. There definitely could be more opportunities.

Nightclubbing review at Camden People’s Theatre, London – ‘fiercely political’

Do you ever feel vulnerable performing a solo show?

Every single time. I’m lucky because I have two musicians in the space with me and I’ve had an amazing team of people around me. It’s a challenge making work on a shoestring, and having to apply for Arts Council funding, although this has got easier. It’s about convincing everyone that your idea is worth backing.

What’s your advice to emerging performers?

Test your instincts. When you are starting out, don’t invite too many voices into the room. Keep having conversations with people and reminding them that you are there.

CV: Rachael Young

Training: Acting at Arden School of Theatre in Manchester (2000-03)
First professional role: Romeo and Juliet at the Chester Gateway (2004)
Agent: The Queer House

Nightclubbing is playing at Latitude on July 13. More information on Rachael Young’s work can be found at rachaelyoung.net/projects

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