Yomi Ṣode is a Nigerian British writer, performer, and facilitator. He is a recipient of the Jerwood Compton Poetry fellowship 2019 and was recently shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2021. He has read his work internationally at various festivals and performed his debut solo show (COAT) to sold-out audiences.
His show and breathe… is playing at the Almedia Theatre until 10 July. Afridiziak editor Sophia A Jackson caught up with him to find out more about navigating the pandemic, the return of theatre and the importance of taking time to just breathe…
How are you and how have you navigated through the strangeness of the global pandemic?
I’m alright, you know, I’m ok. I’m noticing that it’s a struggle to work as late as I used to. I’m a night owl usually but physically, I feel the effects now! My age is kicking in sha. Jokes aside, and in relation to the pandemic also, it has meant that self-care has had to be a priority. Working from home continues to have its difficult moments. I like to go to my writing spot to daydream, people watch, write, procrastinate etc. But I don’t have that luxury now, meaning with the 1-3 hours I have, I need to make the most of it. Tighter pressure but I’ve exercised this muscle over the course of the year and got better.
I’m really pleased that we can enjoy theatre in real life, again. You hosted a poetry night after your event on Saturday at The Almeida. As a performer, how does it feel to know that you are able to perform live on stage?
The Saturday night was important. There were a few things I wanted to explore with The Almeida team in relation to outreach/promotion. I was keen to know the communities being contacted as well as representation on a wider scale, of those communities, the poetry community was priority. and breathe… is a sequence of poems. My work would not be on that stage if it wasn’t for poetry. To host on stage is one thing, I’ve yet to know what it’s like to perform those as I was merely acting as host to a range of amazing poets that night. I missed the applause, laughter and deep reflection of the audience though. Sonically, it sounded amazing in the space.
The title of your latest production is, and breathe.. What is the background to that?
Within this play we follow the journey of Junior, and the many instances of reflection, grief, frustration, pain, laughter and observation. We hardly find space for breath due to the back to back of it all. Miranda (Cromwell, director) was like ‘Yomi, we might need a title at some point.’ Big Mummy, as fitting as it would have been, didn’t really work. I remember sitting and just saying it aloud ‘And Breathe, and Breathe, AND breathe…’ In the end, it was all lower cases with and ellipsis at the end because for one to really breathe in and out, we need to allow time. And unless you’re into yoga or forms of meditation, this is hardly done. Pretty much like my forthcoming book, there’s no time to just stop and take a beat. I look at this title, wanting to do just that.
What can you say to audience members who might not have ventured to the theatre since the pandemic? What does the Almeida Theatre have in place to alleviate anyone’s concerns?
The seats are respectfully spaced out. You still have the theatre feel, but more distanced. The ushers come to you re drinks. You just remain seated and ready yourself for the show. From the point of entering, you are temperature checked. There are masks on hand in the event that you lose yours. Yeah man, they are on it. You’re good. Come through innit.
As a poet, have you felt less inspired or just as creative as ever under the current climate?
More creative! I’m reading books I’ve been meaning to get into for time. You know how much money I saved also in not going to shows every other week? What!!!? I say this but then I remember that I’m also ordering books like every other week as well! Gosh.
As an artist, how did you adapt to everything being online?
The majority of my work is online. I’ll be honest in saying that the socials seem more of a chore now than to chill. I am also trying to spend less time on socials and just do other things. There’s so so so much to take in at the moment that is offline. I hate the fact that my morning/afternoon is running smooth and at any point I could swipe to trauma. Socials come like Russian roulette. Not on it!
in relation to the pandemic, it has meant that self-care has had to be a priority. Working from home continues to have its difficult moments. I like to go to my writing spot to daydream, people watch, write, procrastinate etc. But I don’t have that luxury now
What positives have you taken away from being in lockdown?
Focus, streamlining goals, home life, saving, prioritization
Following on from that, many are seeing the Pandemic as an opportunity for change. What changes would you like to see within the performing arts industry?
More diverse voices and a variety of stories being told. Buildings owned by black people in terms of performing arts.
Why should Afridiziak readers come and see and breathe…?
After alllllll the questions I’ve answered? And your peeps would just be like ‘Nah, I’m good?’ Liberties! Listen, on the evening of December 27th, I wrote this entire sequence baring two poems. I ate so much within three of the 11 hours of writing that day. I sent a text, acknowledging how much I was eating, how I didn’t care and how good it was making me feel. That (I later realised) was grief. I was grieving and I didn’t know. I would hope that those that attend also process in the same way I did.
I’d love to know more about some of the poems that have inspired you personally over the past year. Could you share this with us, please?
Ha! MANORISM is out in Spring 2022! It’ll all be in there. and breathe… is the third section of this exploration. The adaptation Black men/boys, whether physically or mentally in a variety of landscapes. Some of the things I have experienced or read about, shared.