Writer, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson: ‘Opening up a dialogue around mental health has been important’
Keisha Thompson is young people’s producer at Contact in Manchester, chair of arts funding body Future Ventures’ Fund and a participant in the Leaders of Tomorrow scheme, which aims to improve diversity in theatre leadership roles. Thompson tells Giverny Masso about the solo show she is taking to Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, Man on the Moon…
What is the inspiration behind Man on the Moon?
I’d been having loads of conversations with people about fatherhood and I was thinking about my dad. Not deliberately, just when I was writing he kept popping up. It seemed like a good provocation. It was a good opportunity to interrogate that and push myself to make a piece of work I have more ownership of. The first time I did a solo show – I Wish I Had a Moustache – I wanted to know I could do it. I was really proud of it, but made loads of mistakes, so coming off the back of it I challenged myself structurally in terms of thinking of my process, and thematically thinking about the topic I wanted to cover.
What does the show explore?
It’s a journey from my house to my dad’s house. I communicate with my dad through books and letters and when I discover I haven’t received anything for five months and I’m not sure what that means, I have to go on bit of a quest with everyone else to find out. It’s a part storytelling and part comedic and poetic piece that has elements of surrealism and afrofuturism. I’m glad we had a two-year process [to make the show], because I spent the first year processing the material for myself and deciding what I would and wouldn’t share. I interviewed my dad, my mum and other family members, spoke to mental-health practitioners and did a lot of reading around trauma.
What have audience reactions been like?
I’ve had loads of people say it’s made them reflect on their relationships with their dad, but what’s been nice is people saying: “I’ve reached out to my dad.” People who have children, particularly men with daughters, have said they found it extremely gratifying, or validating or eye-opening. Just opening up that dialogue around mental health has been important, particularly for people from the black-British community who have said it is something that isn’t talked about and they value me being so open.
What other projects are you working on?
I have an EP with all the songs from the show. I’ve been performing that separately and people can download it. I have a book as well, which is the script of the show and some of my poems, because I felt I needed a secondary output. Apart from Man on the Moon, I have a commission I’m working on with Box of Tricks that will be presented in January as part of the Push Festival at Home in Manchester. I’m looking at female voices and relationships and linking it to gene hacking. I trained as a maths teacher and I’m still interested in the education system, so next year I’m going to be setting up a project teaching maths but using artistic practice – for example, teaching in the style of a poetry lesson or a theatre class.
Keisha Thompson CV
First professional role: Poetry Commission at the opening of the Emory Douglas exhibition at the Urbis Gallery in Manchester (2008)
Man on the Moon runs at Edinburgh’s Summerhall from August 20 to 25 as part of the British Council Showcase. For more information go to: keishathompson.com
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