FESTIVAL REVIEW: Before I Step Outside (You Love Me)

Before I Step Outside (You Love Me) combines powerful spoken word poetry with hallucinogenic animation in an incredible show that both rages at the injustice and hypocrisy of racism and transphobia systemic within society while simultaneously celebrating the joy and defiance that can be found in the face of adversity and through survival.

Both performers challenge the audience’s perceptions and notions of race and gender through their poetry and highlight the difficulties and discomfort people can have around such topics.

Subira Wahogo opens the night with a series of razor sharp poems that deal with the type of subtle everyday racism people of color experience such as being compared to food as a compliment and constantly being asked ‘where are you from?’ The work is performed confidently and with fantastic comedic timing, there are multiple times when the audience is laughing which given the gravity of the subject matter is not an easy balance to accomplish.

Travis Alabanza takes to the stage to perform work from their recently released poetry collection ‘Before I step outside (love me)’ which deals with the complexities and struggles of visibility within public space as a trans person. Against a backdrop of glitchy CGI animation by Daniel Braithwaite Shirley, Travis performs a number of illuminating and emotional poems that deal with the violence inherent in navigating public spaces, particularly transport, as a black gender non-conforming person. Pitch shifted voices and drone like soundscapes give the work an almost overwhelming vibe, a feeling of being both alone and surrounded which serves to reinforce the material performed as uncomfortable as it may seem.

Around halfway into the show Travis engages in a more improvisational engagement with the audience discussing their thoughts and experiences all delivered with a level of hilarity and charisma that I didn’t expect from a night of poetry. This culminates in Travis inviting trans and gender non conforming people onstage to dance with them to Janelle Monae while the cisgendered audience are asked respectfully to close there eyes for the duration of the song. There is an inherent feeling of vulnerability in closing your eyes in a public space and a frustration in being excluded from a party that is happening in front of you and this seemingly simple reversal of narratives offers a taste of what is a daily experience for many trans people and people of colour.

Travis closes the show with the titular poem from their book, a poem that simply asks for love, love that is separate from acceptance, love that can give somebody the strength to step outside and to feel as though they matter. It is this passionate empathetic appeal that the audience is left to consider and that underscores much of the performance. Before I Step Outside (You Love Me) is both challenging and affirming and an essential work of performance art.

By Jack Coulston

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