CAT: Before the performance I was slightly apprehensive as to what to expect. I am relatively new to spoken word, and after Skyping to Leo Kay in one of the earlier Collective sessions, I realised that I’d never really experienced anything like his work.
However, when Baba visited the Next Gen ‘How to budget and project manage’ we were all blown away at his quick, witty stance on the subject. I knew the performance was going to be special.
As we, the audience, arrived into the theatre space, he and Yako welcomed us with open arms and a delicious hot vegetable soup in a cup. It felt like visiting an old friend, very approachable and caring.
Sarah: Yeah, I remember picking up one of the spoons and he said “Thanks for helping me out with the spoon!”
CAT: The Spinning Wheel takes you on a journey following his father’s footsteps (Steve Ben Israel) and how this has reflected on his son. Baba uses the archive of his father’s writings, recordings, interviews and performance footage. Starting in 50’s New York, around the world, the prisons of Brazil and coming back home again. However, we realise through the journey, home has changed, as well as America and his father.
Sarah: His father was a spoken word Artist, Activist and Anti-Capitalist. Money was tight and his parents argued a lot. Culture of the time included Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, sex, love, hedonism and music; everyone out for a good time basically. These images were projected onto stacked up empty boxes on stage which made you think of an archive which, to me, was what the performance was.
CAT: The set was dressed very thoughtfully with 3 tall stacks of cardboard boxes, reminding me of tower blocks. It creates an interchangeable space that provides the surface to create beautifully projected scenes. Whether it is a film of Steve, an animation of a dove, or his father’s den, it creates an extra layer to the piece. When the performer physically interacts with the visual projection, it was particularly powerful.
Sarah: He once collaborated with his father beat boxing. He was sad that he never had a career talk with his dad, who just didn’t want to know.
CAT: The scene where he tells of his father’s and his fellow performers’ experience of the terrifying imprisonment in Brazil I found particularly moving. The use of the projection, flashing lights and audio symbolizes the time very well.
Sarah: I actually found that part quite frightening, the flashing lights, his eyes were so wide and his mouth hung open. I could almost feel his terror.
CAT: The story is very moving, especially when he describes the passing of his father in 2012. Steve Ben Israel was an important part of ‘The Living Theatre’, a New York based avant garde theatre company, aiming to revolutionise the way that theatre performed the spoken word. However, over time it shifted into a movement for social and political change. The performance also uses the birth of Hip Hop in the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx, that Baba has grown up within, to shape the piece.
Combining rhythmic, beat boxed, performance poetry, mixed music by Yako 440 and projection, you become transfixed in the story of his father, his hopes to brighten the world, ideas of looking for alternatives for the future, and the hopes and fears of Baba himself.
Sarah: Later on into the performance he spoke of people on buses with their closed minds, lack of eye contact and fear. ‘It was as if they were thinking constantly the words “Shit”, “What”, “Fuck” over and over again’. One day Mexican musicians entered the platform, but no one paid them any attention except his father, who joined in by beat boxing. So the next time his father travelled he paid everyone a dollar for their attention, including a man hiding behind his newspaper. His father simply threw a dollar bill over the top of the newspaper, let it drift down and then just stepped off the platform afterwards.
Baba got married; it was raining. He was pushing his buggy through crowds of people in the streets and they wouldn’t move aside. One man even had a go at him. A group of tourists, however, did move aside.
CAT: Baba is very natural and frank in sharing his upbringing and the problems he faced. His presentation of his father’s stand up is hilarious. However, it is often surpassed by the more serious message of how capitalism is destroying the planet, and how revolution starts from within us. The audience and performers united near the end with the ‘Unfucking’ section.
Sarah: Yes, the ‘Unfuck it’ section, was where the audience contributed things which they wanted to ‘Unfuck’ and the performers improvised it in their song.
CAT: We basically put the world to rights. As we shouted out our particular bug bears, like UKIP and tuition fees amongst many others, Baba and his friend then improvised a rap around the issues mentioned. During this sequence I found it clear to see Baba’s gift, which is astonishing.
Sarah: His father was up for an award after he died which they wanted his son to accept. His mum, who always looked younger than she was, went with him for the award. He was worried about being late to the awards ceremony, but he realised there was no need when he arrived, as all was chaos.
His father always finished his performances in the same way, and The Spinning Wheel of Life finished their performance as he would have. You will have to go to a performance if you want to see how it finished – and everyone really should go to see it. The audience were then given the chance to leave with a pound coin in honour of his father.
CAT: I left the show feeling exhilarated and ready to take on the world. ‘The Spinning Wheel’ is a beautiful piece and has left me really excited to see what the Collective can achieve through working with Leo and Anna.