It’s Monday morning.
This time last week, I had a conversation with Pauline Mayers about her currently touring show What If I Told You, perceptions of black women’s bodies in arts spaces and the wider world and, what it’s like being a person of colour in a white dominated industry.
Pauline on… art and defining herself as an artist
I define art as a means of being able to see the world in a different way, to explore the world through a different door, a different approach to life, different places and different times.
Pauline highlighted how art provides the space for you to express yourself in a way that you cannot in other spheres. It creates more avenues and connections, with the self and the wider world.
Regarding defining oneself as an artist, Pauline does not place herself in a box. She is a lover of reading, research, finding things out; she loves to evolve. Pauline describes herself as a risk taker, agent provocateur and artistic revolutionist.
Pauline on…working as a black woman in theatre and dance
Pauline has danced for many years all over the world – she always wanted to express herself. She described the ongoing commentary on her black body and stressed what appears to be the obvious in that, we all have bodies. Change needs to come surrounding perceptions of black bodies in space but we are not yet at that point. The same goes for listening to black narratives, Pauline spoke of the disbelief in her experiences that occurs within theatre spaces and how audiences doubt her truth because it is not within their repetoire of experiences. Pauline owns her story when she shares it in a performance space because it is her truth. It is unfortunate that POC do not get to own performance spaces often.
She shared her refusal to perform for Black History Month and her disappointment at the last minute nature of programming for this month and Black theatre seasons.
We also touched the importance of being able to see yourself reflected in the theatre, especially as it is such a white dominated space and that a change needs to come. Pauline mentioned her participation in Eclipse’s SLATE Project. She described how the focus on process was something she had not experienced in a long time and how such experiences are rarely available for artists of colour.
Pauline on… the experience of POC in theatre and beyond
POC are rarely listened to, when discussing their experiences there is always a caveat of ‘oh yes, but…’ and never a moment of ‘I hear you’. Pauline who has trained as a counselor highlights that POC are less likely to participate in Talking Therapies and that comes from not being able to speak their truth and always being challenged. Their psychological injuries are sidelined.
Pauline on…POC as emerging artists
Pauline described an experience she had when presenting a piece of work and an onlooker expressed surprise that her piece was so well rounded. Having huge amounts of experience, after 30 years in the business it should look professional, Pauline exclaims.
POC are brilliant at doing many things at the same time. However, POC are too frequently boxed off as emerging artists, which creates two problems: a stagnation of progression and POC all competing with each other for a platform. Why are we all fighting for one space? Why are we having to take someone out in order to have artistic space?
Whilst opportunities are few and far between, we then face the battle of longevity and siustainability. Pauline states that theatres need to be talking to artists and finding out what they want. Unemployment is a huge issue for artists of colour – where are the sustained work opportunities?
Pauline on…What If I Told You and what’s next
What If I Told You is a calling card, a reminder that she cannot give up on this artist thing. It’s a part of her DNA. Within this she highlights the importance of accepting the lows but focusing into the work and how this allows you to settle into your calling. She believes it is essential that we spend more time with ourselves and reflect on what it is to be human. By doing such reflections, she wonders if the world would be less divided.
She intends to continue creating work and building the Mayers Ensemble. Alongside this, she would like to continue working collaboratively and venture into directing.
What If I Told You is on at the Royal Exchange on Tuesday 20th June and then moves to Edinburgh Fringe, performing between 11-26th August.