Live looper musician, poet and sound designer Xana is an associate artist at the Ovalhouse Theatre in London. Xana tells Giverny Masso about developing Swallowing Your Idols, a show about accountability, of childhood trauma and loving your younger self…
How did you get into theatre?
I’ve been writing since I was very young. I’ve always been a bookworm. I started making music when I was in Berlin, where I lived in different types of housing projects. I then toured around Eastern Europe doing gigs. When I came to the UK, I kept doing music in spaces that I felt defined who I was. Being in queer spaces and radical creative spaces led me into theatre, as that’s how I found people making that work.
What theatre work have you done?
I’ve done a lot of workshops with young people at Ovalhouse and Company Three in Islington. I worked on Burgerz at the Ovalhouse, which is about is about Travis Alabanzas experience as a trans femme person being harassed in public. I’ve worked on Hive City Legacy [at the Roundhouse in Camden] and Blood Knot [at the Orange Tree Theatre], and I’m really proud of both. I’ve also worked with Natasha Marshall on her show [Half Breed] about going through a mixed-race experience living in the West Country. I move towards stories I’ve never seen before and that mainstream theatre considers risky.
Tell me about Swallowing Your Idols.
Swallowing Your Idols is about something we don’t often think about, but that all of us should try to do – apologise to your younger self. It’s about not blaming yourself for things you have no control over, but being accountable for your actions now. It’s about growing up as a black child, because black children have to grow up a lot quicker as they’re not allowed to have vulnerability. This is seen in the way knife crime is spoken about and how missing black children don’t get the same media coverage.
How does it feel to be making your debut theatre show?
Whenever I make anything I always strive to tell the truth, and that always makes me feel vulnerable. I’m not scared of vulnerability though. Sometimes, when you have been in pain for a long time, that’s the only thing you know and it’s about believing you can let go of things. I also feel excited about the wider events around the show, which include workshops with young black people.
What has been your biggest career challenge?
Not listening to that imposter syndrome voice and continuing to believe I’m meant to be here: there is a space for people who, like me, there may not be so many of. The biggest challenge can be being the only person who looks like me in the room. Theatre has a long way to go, not only in involving people of colour on stage, but also behind the scenes. I want want to dismantle what has always been accepted. That’s about setting up more space and opportunities and redefining what sound design and composing can be. There are people like me who are making music in housing projects or in bedrooms, and there is a big space for people like that.
What other projects are you working on, and what’s next?
I’m involved in Afrotech Fest, which tries to encourage black people into tech. I’m also working on an album for next year, and I have made a comic book for kids: Afronaut Squad. I would like to continue doing a mix of everything. I’d like to continue doing things in sound and I’m interested in theatre that’s about hitting the senses we’re not used to. I want to play around with smell or vibrations, or how we could set speakers in people’s chairs.
First professional role: Salt by Selina Thompson (2016)
Xana is working on Grey and Just Another Day and Night in Ovalhouse’s current season. Details: ovalhouse.com