Interview with Emily Aboud
Emily Aboud is the writer and director of SPLINTERED, a carnivalesque cabaret that was performed at the Vault Festival in February 2020 at the Bunker Theatre.
Based on interviews with queer womxn in Trinidad and Tobago, SPLINTERED is a ‘form-breaking, joy inducing cabaret’ that celebrates and unpacks what it means to be queer in a homophobic culture.
Aboud speaks to Heather Marks about SPLINTERED and its cabaret origins.
SPLINTERED is described as a ‘form-breaking, joy-inducing cabaret’. Why did you choose the cabaret form for this play?
Cabaret is a really interesting theatre form. It’s fun, subversive and hilarious, and I just wanted to play with it. Also, by and large, the most affecting piece that I’ve ever seen on Black Lives Matter was a drag king act, and equally the most affecting scene about sexual assault has been a burlesque act. Often drag is very, very funny, and it’s the best way I have found to talk about misogyny in the Caribbean. From that knowledge, and knowing that cabarets are really exciting and can be very political, I thought, ‘This is the only way that I can tell this story”.
You have many directing credits, but SPLINTERED is your professional writing debut, based on interviews with queer womxn in Trinidad and Tobago. What was your writing for this play and how does it feel to be directing it as well?
Some subtext. I’ve never written before. When I have interesting conversations with family and friends, I usually just write that down or send a voice note. So, I signed up to the Soho Writers Lab with a bit of dialogue of me and my mum talking about homophobia in the Caribbean, and it got in.
I wanted to write a play about homophobia in the Caribbean, but was also aware of my privilege. I’m mixed race but I’m white-passing and I’m not really out at all in Trinidad, so I wanted to speak to people who had different experiences to me. A lot of workshops helped to make a narrative out of these raw interviews. July 2019 was probably the most stressful time of my life because I was in a rehearsal room with my play, trying to direct my own work for the first time. The amount of self-doubt was insane.
This is the inaugural production from your theatre company Lagahoo Productions, which is focused on creating ‘formally innovative new writing’. Why the focus on form?
Growing up in the Caribbean, the theatre education is quite minimal: Shakespeare or Shakespeare. I found it quite hard because my first language is Creole, not English. With moving here [to the UK], becoming older and decolonising myself, I realised that Carnival is the greatest theatre production on the planet. It’s a two-day long production where everyone takes part. Everyone has a role to play and even as a spectator you are part of the festivities. So, with that knowledge in mind – and knowing that theatre can take a thousand different forms – it doesn’t necessarily have to have the five-act structure.
As well as being a theatre director and writer, you’re also a drag king who runs workshops teaching drag kinging. What are some common myths you find persist about drag kinging?
That we’re not as good as drag queens, or as important.
If you could invite anyone to your show, who would it be?
My mum and my dad would be first, because they’re in Trinidad. I’d like to invite my two mentors who got me into theatre: Wendell Manwarren and Noble Douglas. And David Bowie for good measure because I want him to see me in drag.
What’s next for Emily Aboud and Lagahoo Productions?
After SPLINTERED, I’m going to have a very long rest, then focus on directing and keeping our eyes peeled at Lagahoo for more interesting queer stories from the Caribbean.
SPLINTERED was at the Vault Festival in February 2020.