Playwright Mojisola Adebayo explores orgasms, Afrofuturism and intersex identities in her latest work ‘STARS’

Playwright Mojisola Adebayo explores orgasms, Afrofuturism and intersex identities in her latest work ‘STARS’

Playwright Mojisola Adebayo has showcased groundbreaking theatre globally for decades. 

In her latest work, she takes over the ICA ahead of a national tour: STARS is a new play exploring pleasure, all performed by actress Debra Michaels alongside DJ Bradley Charles. Over the ninety minutes show, the audience follows Mrs, an old lady going into outer space in search of her orgasm. Three encounters spark her pilgrimage: a young neighbor who discloses a secret, an old friend who reveals she is intersex, and a would-be lesbian lover in a launderette. 

Actress Debra Michaels by Ali Wright

GUAP: How did STARS come to be?

ADEBAYO: The deep truth is that I’d been thinking about orgasms! It’s something I’d been wondering about secretly in my own little queer shame probably most of my life. I was thinking that, surely, I can’t be the only person on the planet that struggles with the fullness of pleasure. Then I did a three month long residency with an organisation called Idle Women where you float on a boat and come up with an artistic idea. I took that moment to start thinking about and researching the politics of pleasure and the different ways in which pleasure is repressed as a result of trauma, and things started to make sense. Eventually, I started to find some joy in the subject. I came up with this idea of an old woman who goes into space in search of her own orgasms and that put a smile on my face, so I thought that’s a good place to start!

GUAP: In the play you also bring in an intersex storyline – how did you make that decision?

ADEBAYO: It first started when I was looking at traditional harmful practices also known as FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and connecting them with the inability to orgasm from trauma. Then I started thinking about the fact that there are also non consensual surgeries on intersex people as children, but they are very medicalized in the West and within a particular kind of category of surgery. I realised there’s more in common with those subjects than there is difference and It’s been really amazing to have conversations with FGM campaigners and intersex campaigners and for them to have the opportunity to talk together. 

The character is based on someone who hasn’t undergone surgery and is actually very celebratory of their body. It felt important to challenge narratives that leave us feeling like victims, and actually create something that lifts us up.

GUAP: The play is described as an ‘Afrofuturist Odyssey’; how does afrofuturism manifest in the show?

ADEBAYO: I wanted to draw on forgotten cultural history from the African continent. Particularly from the Dogon people in Mali, who have an extraordinary knowledge around astronomy and astrology. Their origin story is also a queer one. Their belief is that we came from the Nommo: ancestral spirits who are both male and female. I wanted to reclaim this mythology in STARS.

GUAP: STARS is also experimental in its format. Could you tell us more about that?

ADEBAYO: I wanted to break with ideas of what a play is supposed to be like, which is where the musical element really came from. On the one side, theatres become dead spaces after 11 o’clock, which is where the club gets going, so I wanted to have a DJ all the way through. But it also relates to the theme of orgasms. Being on a dance floor with my friends to me is orgasmic. On top of that, there’s also a beautiful animation film running throughout.

GUAP: What was the biggest surprise in making STARS?

ADEBAYO: I’ve never made a piece of work before where each art form really has its full place. It’s as much a piece of animation film, as it is a play, as it is a DJ set. It’s my most collaborative project ever.

GUAP: And what do you hope audiences will get from it?

ADEBAYO: I want people to really feel exhilarated. I want people to not just cheer on the central character, but for themselves to go wherever the pleasure is. Enjoy it. 

GUAP: What upcoming projects do you have coming up?

ADEBAYO: I have another play touring at the same time called Family Tree, which I think makes me the only living Black playwright with two plays premiering at the same time. It’s a good moment for me, but also for Black and queer artists out there to show that we are taking up space. 

 STARS is running from the 13th of April to 4th of May. Book tickets now.

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