and breathe...: An Introduction by Yomi Ṣode

As much as ‘and breathe…’ explores a loss in the family, I really wanted to investigate vulnerability, pride, and culture. I wanted to dig further into behaviour, and the conditioning of behaviour over time in regard to Black men. I experienced situations on a personal level with little knowledge of knowing how to deal. My coping mechanisms often being tucked away somewhere.  

I was interested in the many ways I adapted to the places and spaces I either belonged to or entered. Each of them calling a different side out of me. This sequence of poems provided opportunities to understand code switching on a more personal and protective level. A level that in some cases can be unhealthy, as well as oddly comforting.  

While sitting through the rehearsals, I begin to relive experiences of the protagonist, Junior by listening to David and Miranda interrogate and question his actions. They wondered why he didn’t say or do something in various situations, they question his motive in relation to his cousin, Ade. The points raised were often mirrors held up to my face. A weird experience in the first instance because should there be an elephant in the room, it was me. And in some cases, they freely asked “what was going on?” This (I believe) was a new experience for all of us.   

and breathe…’ goes further into this exploration. Each poem serving itself as the voice I did not have at specific points in time. Moments that speak for the book, MANORISM. Moments the microaggressions could have been challenged, or moments to contact a family member that could really do with a caring call. It’s one thing to write these thoughts to be read. It’s another thing entirely to write this for a stage adaptation.  

The sequence is very unorthodox.  The team have had to make sense of prose poems and adapt it to theatre, which has been a fun process for all of us. It’s been brilliant to observe as a writer as it’s also shaped the sequence through the editing process. There’s something very outer body about this that is hard to explain, especially speaking from such a personal space, about a family that still feel the weight of the loss.

I guess I want the reader/viewer to process loss differently in ‘and breathe…’ I want to explore grief, whether in laughter, anger, or just utter confusion. I want a very natural response to something that is taboo to think about. I want people that have gone through bouts of grief in waves of guilt, to know they are not alone.  

I have experienced more losses in the last two years than I can remember. One of them being a family member due to COVID, and all of them not given enough room to reflect or mourn. 

Some close friendships are not as close any more. There is also loss there. All these things happening with no pit stops to refuel. It’s just to keep going, running on empty. The more I wrote about this, the tougher it became. So, to watch and hear this back has been difficult. Everything crashing into itself.  

I am thankful to Miranda, David, Ewa, Tony, Femi, and Lorna for allowing space for the many tears and consoling. It’s as if all the venting I needed to do then, I’m doing now.

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