Candy Bowers: Dear Audre

 In Podcast transcripts, Queerstories, Work I create and produce

Transcript:

Hi. I’m Maeve Mardsen and you’re listening to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQIA storytelling night I host and programme in Sydney and Melbourne. This story was recorded at Giant Dwarf, as part of my monthly Sydney event. Next up -Radical black feminist theatre-maker, Candy Bowers. Candy is prolific, both in her work as an artist and as an activist. I’ve been following her career for years, so I was thrilled to have her perform both at Queerstories in Sydney and Queerstories Melbourne.

 

Tonight I dedicate my performance to the black, lesbian, poet and educator Audre Lorde.

*Audience whoops and claps*

1934 to 1992. Many of the quotes in my piece come from her poetry collection, The Black Unicorn.

Dear Audre,
Today, I’m 38 years old. Today, I played Miriam Makeba for my students. I have designed a class called Decolonising Theatre, and I open with the real version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight. In its original context, the song is a mourning song, a message stick, letting the village know that the King has died. The King is dead tonight. For me, the Disney-fied re-appropriation of the song by The Tokens is an excellent case study in how the colonizer took and re-interpreted African culture to put their minds at ease.

 

*Sings softly*

Hush now darling
Don’t cry my darling
The Lion sleeps tonight.
Well, hush now darling
Don’t cry my darling
The Lion sleeps tonight.

 

In this version, we are at peace because the Lion is asleep, the Lion is something to fear. In the original, it is the Lion who is finally at peace and the villager’s weep. Now, sometimes, I feel like the grim reaper, killing my students’ childhood joys, a side effect of giving life to the herstories that have been cast out and left for dead. Don’t get me started on Pocahontas.

*Audience laughs*

My interventions have not always been well received, but you, Audre, taught me to stay the path. “When we speak we are afraid to be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid, so it’s better to speak,” you said.

Dear Audre,
Today I am 21 years old. Today, I was told by a series of agents and casting folks that I will not get work on the telly or the stage because I don’t represent enough of Australia. I challenged them. I said, “I’m a woman and I was born here.” They told me to relocate. Yesterday, I graduated from three years of blood, sweat, and tears at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and today I failed on entry. I have no prospects and no agents want to represent me. It’s 2001, I’m 21, and I am crushed. What am I supposed to do with all of the characters inside of me, like the brown best friend I wish Sally had on Home and Away.

*Audience laughs*

*Imitates strong Australian accent* “Oh, this potato salad’s awesome, Pip.”

*Audience whoops and applauds*

“Me and Sally are just gonna head down to the beach because we’re going to show the boys that we’re just as good as volleyballers as they are. Girls are as strong as boys, you know, Pip.”

*Audience whoops and applauds*

Or, like the homeless woman that I met on Michigan Avenue in the death of winter in Chicago last year.

*Imitates Inland North American accent* “Every time I sit on the North Side, all the South Side buses come. Every time I sit on the Southside, all the Northside buses come. Well, don’t sit on the side I’m sitting on because your bus ain’t never gonna come.”

Or, the Ladettes I met in the toilets when I saw The Lion King in West End.

*Imitates Cockney accent* “Are you related to somebody in the cast? Are you in the show? You’re not in the show? We’re are you from? Are you from Canada? You’re from Australia? No, you can’t be. Are you from Canada? Is there brown people in Australia? I didn’t think that ’cause I’ve seen Home and Away. It doesn’t look like there’s brown people in Australia. Are you related?”

Or, what about that 40-year-old white South African man that I saw in the front of the IGA in Newtown?

*Imitates Afrikaans accent* “Raisins. Raisins, mummy. I explicitly asked you to get me the muesli that was fruit-free. I can’t [inaudible] if there’s fruit in my muesli, mummy. I’m going to have to go in there myself, get the muesli off the shelf, and buy it. I’m going to have to return this pack.”

What am I going to do with that guy? I really need to get him out of my body.

*Audience laughs*

Your words always soothed my pain.

“If I didn’t define myself for myself I’d be crunched into other peoples fantasies of me and eaten alive.”

Dear Audre,
Today, I am 34 years old, and I’m creating a new character for my latest radical feminist collaboration called Hot Brown Honey. Play that tune.

*Audience whoops and applauds*

Audre, your poetry is keeping me brave.

*Light, rhythmic guitar music begins*

*Imitates South African accent* Hello. My name is Happy Ma’x’wewe, and I am newly arrived. I see many similarities between Australia and my home of South Africa. I’d like to sing you a classic song, a song that so many of us can relate to. I wrote it this morning.

*Audience laughs*

*Sings along with guitar*

No, it didn’t take long for the Milky man
to get his milk from his milky van,
to spread his cream right across my land.
No, it didn’t take long for the Milky man.

*Audience laughs*

The Colonizer not only wanted our land they also wanted our bodies. They did not ask – they simply took what they wanted, when they wanted it. Are you ready to learn the chorus?

AUDIENCE: Yeah!

HAPPY MA’X’WEWE: All right. Join in when you got it.

 

*Sings*

Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.
Milky, Milky, spread his cream across the land.

Let’s try it!

*Audience joins in*

Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.
Milky, Milky, spread his cream across the land.

 

HAPPY MA’X’WEWE: And once he came, it was plain to see
He came to plant, not to sow his seed.
Back to his own, he would go, and we,
We would sing of the days when we were free.

 

Amandla! To Speak our language! To dance our dances and to walk on our own land. The spirit of our community is not lost. We just have a barrier that we now name the white man. Are you ready for the chorus?

*Audience whoops*

*Sings*

Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.

Everyone!

*Audience joins in*

Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.
Milky, Milky, spread his cream across the land.

 

HAPPY MA’X’WEWE: Now, how this ends is a twist, you know
For the Milkman’s daughters began to grow,
And as they grew, well, their milk, it flowed
And they fed their Daddy’s babies from below.

 

The white man preferred light-skinned women inside the home. We cleaned their toilets, we cooked their dinner, and we fed our brothers and sisters with our breasts.

CANDY: Now, at this point in the show, I did the boldest thing I’ve ever done in my life, which was to ask if there were any volunteers that were hungry of Dutch or English heritage.

*Audience laughs*

We preferred male-identifying participants, and we dressed them as a baby in a nappy, a mop hat, and a bib. I’d bring them up onto stage and breastfeed them while the audience sang the lullaby very gentle.

*Sings softly*

HAPPY MA’X’WEWE: Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.
Milky, Milky, spread his cream across the land.

*Whispers* Gently.

*Sings* Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.
Milky, Milky, spread his cream across the land.

CANDY: And I would say…

HAPPY MA’X’WEWE: Now, Andrew Bolt, before you question a light-skinned black person about their racial identity, and bring up the extraordinarily painful past of assimilation, you’ll remember this chorus.

*Sings*

Milky, Milky, oh, Milky Milky Man.
Milky, Milky, spread his cream across my land.

CANDY: Thank you.

*Music ends*

*Audience whoops and applauds*

Of course, when I did that performance, we were in Darwin and there were quite a few white men that created the hashtag #IdLikeToBeTheMilkyMan, not quite understanding, Australia. Not quite understanding.

Dear Audre,
Today, I am 39 years old, and I’m performing this piece for Queerstories in the Giant Dwarf in Redfern. I just wanted to say, thanks for being my rock, my ultimate lover and protector. Your words have been my saviour, my hope, my anchor, my shoulder, my life jacket, my comfort, and my oxygen. I’m not supposed to exist, either were you. From one black unicorn to another, I wanted to say thank you. You died of cancer just shy of your 60th birthday. You said, “Life is short, and what we have to do, must be done now.” Thank you for keeping me alive as an artist inside of the white supremacy of the Australian industry. I am fearless, whole and real because you were Black. Lesbian. Poet. Educator.

Thank you.

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