Whether it’s emotionally, viscerally or politically, there’s not much left to the imagination with a production like Hot Brown Honey.
And that’s kind of the point.
Equal parts burlesque, hip hop and political manifesto, Hot Brown Honey kicks off the Cultch’s second iteration of Femme January when it debuts Jan. 9 at the York Theatre.
Leaving the term “femme” open to interpretation does two things: it empowers women and invites all others into a wide array of conversation starters.
“It does mean different things to different people and some communities have very specific meanings for the word. This is why I like it,” said the Cultch’s executive director, Heather Redfern. “It encompasses a lot of a different possibilities on the gender scale.”
The show is produced, written and performed by women from Indigenous cultures spanning Aboriginal Australian, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Indonesian and South African backgrounds.
The Courier caught up with show co-creator Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers to talk about both fighting the power and taking it back.
The name Hot Brown Honey — why was it chosen and what is the name’s significance to the performance?
The name is based in pop culture playing on hip hop/urban and burlesque references as well as our research on the matriarchal nature of honey bees and the concept of the Hivemind as a unified consciousness and collective intelligence. We had to keep it real as we are all hot, brown and honeys, but we are interested in flipping the script on preconceptions of what people might think it means. This is the foundation of the Hot Brown Honey live experience.
Where did the inspiration for this performance come from?
The intention of Hot Brown Honey is to shine a light. We look directly at our stories, our voices and our bodies. We use familiar devices and forms that we are highly skilled in and rolled them into cultural expressions that speak to us. As theatre makers we use the idea that theatre is a place we know audiences come for artistic connection. The stage has been a sterile and uninviting for us, as women, as women from global First Nations heritages, as black and brown women, as women of colour, as intersectional feminists, as culturally and linguistically diverse peoples as well for our audiences who reflect us. So we get right in there and create our world within the space — loud, vivid and unapologetic with a booming soundtrack that stems from our own cultural backgrounds, experiences and intersecting lives, coming from the stolen land known as Australia.
Reading through the press release, this performance strikes me as being like a balance of education and almost catharsis. As the performers/directors who are intimately involved with the production, what does the production bring out of you emotionally?
Honestly, it’s emotional but it is more than that. In performing this work we continually acknowledge the process of decolonization and therefore how our lives are effected by colonization daily — from structural oppression, racism, stereotypes and micro aggressions that follow us, as well as the actions of the powers that be. The personal is political and we carry the load. By performing in Hot Brown Honey we and our audience get to experience where we intersect, and that makes us powerful. The spark where our pathways connect and combine gives us strength. We are resilient. We are creative. We laugh in the face of adversity. We celebrate our similarities and differences. We are unapologetic in our joyous rage. It’s all about decolonization — one stage at a time. And moisturizing [because] self-care is key.
Is there a specific message you are trying to convey to audience members or is this a case of “take from it, what you will” and leave the message to the individual viewer?
As with all great art, there is an intended message. Of course it is dependent on the audiences to a point however it has been noted that we are not subtle. We know that audiences want to see more of their communities reflected on stage. It’s a given. From the feedback, the mix of art, politics and culture is exciting to audiences. People are coming away feeling empowered to do something. While we use this platform to tell our stories, we are also inviting audiences in, teasing them into interrogating their own views. We ask them to stand and shout, to make noise, to make change. And they do! It even shocks us when we see an entire crowd on their feet shouting, dancing, and celebrating with us - celebrating representation, diversity and our intersecting identities as empowering, fierce, talented phenomenal women. Together we make noise!
Hot Brown Honey runs Jan. 9 to 27 at the York Theatre. For info on other Femme January offerings, see www.thecultch.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed.