Personal | Political | Performance

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The one-woman play stuck, like writer and performer nah-ee-lah’s other work, is rooted in the conviction that the personal is the political.

Stuck is the story of a young woman whose sense of comfort and certainty are upset by her father’s death. For solace and peace of mind, she turns to the cure of cures: the herb. The herb becomes a crutch, and she soon finds herself “coping instead of dealing” with her grief. She is stuck, and she is further questioning herself and her environment: class, colour, gender, sexuality, family, and love.

Stuck is an intimate account of a young woman of colour’s movement through grief and uncertainty toward knowledge of her identity.

The Public and the Personal

Identity, or an individual’s concept of self, is at the core of the relationship between personal and political. nah-ee-lah’s characters often speak in first person. They articulate their inner troubles, while relating these inner troubles to existing social conditions and current events.

nah-ee-lah says the surrounding world “completely influences our perception of who and what we are. It’s as though we spend the first sixteen to twenty-three years absorbing indoctrination and the next twenty-ish years trying to deconstruct all that we’ve swallowed. It’s a continual struggle. We do not exist as abstractions. Once we acknowledge that, we then have to choose to be vigilant in an effort to out our prejudices, phobias, complexes and deal with them.”

Though nah-ee-lah’s writing comes from the personal, she doesn’t believe that one must write solely about one’s own experiences. “I write about / through experiences I’ve physically and emotionally lived, as well as experiences I’ve created in the reality of my imagination. I don’t want to be confined to writing solely about what I’ve lived or am living. There are times when I need to jump into someone else’s skin.”

When asked what resemblance stuck bears to her personal life, nah-ee-lah answers, “It comes as the first solid writing since my father’s death in August of 1999.”

As there is no single, easy-to-follow cure for bereavement, Stuck’s cathartic drive travels a variety of literary media: prose, dialogue, journal entries, and previously performed spoken-word pieces. This variety complements the range of emotions that the play’s character experiences: grief, anger, depression, fragmentation, confusion.

In the words of the official write-up: “Walking the tightrope of sanity, alive on the outside, dying on the inside, suicide not a far cry.”

Bending the Rules

In keeping with Stuck’s use of various literary media, nah-ee-lah expects to move further into music and theatre. “I’m excited about the one-woman show because I can go further and longer than a spoken-word set and audience would likely tolerate."

nah-ee-lah is also releasing her debut album, free dome, which features collaborations with members of Montreal reggae institution The Determination Band. free dome fuses reggae, funk and r&b with poetry. It’s delivered in nah-ee-lah’s trademark style — a slick fusion of dub, hip-hop, singing and speech.

Seven years ago, in her native Toronto, nah-ee-lah started as a solo spoken-word performer. Since then, she has relocated to Montreal, performed in New York, entered theatre circles and nurtured her interest in dub poetry — a form that easily fits into her repertoire.

Dub, which originated in Jamaica in the 1970s, is written and spoken in Patwa and fused with the reggae rhythm. Dub poets are known for addressing immediate social concerns in language that is unflinching and accessible.

nah-ee-lah’s acquisition of dub pays homage to her Jamaican roots, while increasing her versatility in performance. Versatility and genre bending inform nah-ee-lah’s work. With Stuck, she is reaching into the three art forms that inform spoken word: literature, music, and theatre.

Further Reading

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