Riot Response: Performance art and politics after the August riots

pic: Koos Couve

Riot Response, featuring a mix of conversation, spoken word performances, dance and music, organised by film and theatre company The Red Room came to the Albany in Deptford on Saturday night.

Guests included representatives of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, media workers, entrepreneurs, musicians, poets, writers, journalists. Their views and perspectives mixed with those of ordinary Londoners investigating the causes of the riots, stop and search police tactics and inequality in the UK.

Entrepreneur Samantha Sutherland of Bovell Enterprises and Stephanie Hernandez of Exist Media spoke of their journeys to success. Hernandez emphasised the importance of young people finding organisations and like-minded people for themselves.

She said: “We need to adopt the philosophy of getting out of life what you put in as individuals and share that as a collective. Let’s shout about the positive things happening at a grassroots level.”

MCD on stage pic: Koos Couvee

Performing artist and co-organiser Shabnam Shabazi, who also teaches at the department of theatre and performance at Goldsmiths College said: “After the riots happened I was very disappointed with the level of racism and prejudice towards young people in the media and I felt like we had to do something, so I approached The Red Room because we had previously organised an event together. I had started to analyse the riots as a form of action, and I hope this ‘firestarter’ event would allow us to go further beyond talking.”

Dean Atta told EastLondonLines: “I work with young people and I know lots of artists who produced work about the riots so when I got a call from The Red Room I put forward artists that were part of the event today sharing their art and their opinions. These events are intended to light a fire, so people will network and link up with other organisations. The dialogue will continue.”

The debates were chaired and co-organised by Topher Campbell, artistic director of The Red Room Film and Theatre Company, writer and poet Dean Atta and actress and performer Zena Edwards.

Each long table session was followed by a number of performances. The event featured spoken word performances by Deanna Rodger, Sean Mahoney, Ben Cawley, Bridget Minamore & the Run Dem Crew Youngers, as well as music by afrofunk band Yaaba Funk. Rapper MCD closed the event with a 15-minute showcase, including the track ‘What’s Your Line of Work’.

Attendants were repeatedly encouraged to join the long table and speak from their own experience. The long table discussion was suggested by Queen Mary University lecturer, writer-director and activist Lois Weaver. According to Weaver, unlike most public events where a panel of expert speakers is separated from the audience, the aim of the long table discussion is to move the ‘dinner table’, where everyone is considered an expert, from the private into the public realm.

Jim Pope, co-artistic director of Playing On Theatre Company which works with young offenders, said: “You have to allow for people to speak from a point of feeling and need, as well as a point of fact. I think the structure of the event loosened everybody up and made for a very real conversation that deserves to be listened to by many more people.”

The Red Room is a theatre and film company funded by the Arts Council and the event was part of a series of long table platform events. Previous topics included deaths in police custody, the mythology of youth crime and masculinity, and the human cost of war for British families.

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