who let that coloured girl in the green room?

This is me in the Cadbury Schweppes (very) green room at the Arts Centre, Melbourne on April 8 before a collaborative gig with blues guitarist John Norton as pre-show for a group of subsaharan guitar-poets called Tinariwen.

As a child, actors dressing rooms always fascinated me. Visiting sets with my actress mother, these cramped prop and make-up cluttered spaces seemed like magical places full of laughter, drama and possibility: a chaotic mixture of pre-stage-entrance tension and an almost bubble-burst kind of relief as actors flitted to and from the wings during performances.

Now, as a (poet) performer myself, green rooms have started to fill the nostalgic void left by my divorce from the dressing rooms of the theatre world. The green rooms I’ve so far encountered are primarily multi-performer spaces, which I’ve shared with musicians, actors, comedians, other poets and the like. In a sense, these backstage spaces are far wilder than dressing rooms: in a theatre production, no matter the individual politics and tensions behind the scenes, there is that sense of kinship and collaboration which comes from working together toward a common creative goal. In ‘variety’ green rooms, I find generally that, whilst there is mostly an atmosphere of mutual respect, the green room shenanigans become wilder as the evening progresses. As each performance finishes, the room is occupied by more and more post-show performers in wind-down mode, which makes for interesting dynamics indeed.

In a further exploration of my fascination for the spaces performers congregate, I’m working on a play which takes place in a dressing room of a famous play (Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide…). Interesting idea, but it’s proving extremely difficult – due in no small part to the fact that the stage entrances and exits in For Coloured Girls dictate who is permitted to be in each ‘dressing room’ scene. Essentially, it’s a kind of parallel play, which I’m having to write page by page alongside the actual play. Quite frankly, it’s doing my bloody head in.

Anyway, I’m hoping that during the process (it’s very early days), I get to do a little more green room (or backstage space) research. If you are a Melbourne performer and would be happy to let me into your backstage space or green room, or have any suggestions for spaces I should try to visit, please post an invite in the comments section.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian author and slam poet of Afro- Caribbean descent. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2015 ABIA Award for Best Literary Fiction and the 2015 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. Her memoir, The Hate Race, her poetry collection Carrying the World, and her first children’s book, The Patchwork Bike, will be published by Hachette in late 2016.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. My only experience of such things is from writers’ festivals and I always thought the encounters there were intriguingly weird. There’s a strange kind of checking out that goes on when writers meet other writers for the first time, especially in an environment like that where everyone’s already a little nervous.

  2. Well, if you are ever in Brisbane I can show you some filthy toilets, back alleys, the bar manager’s office at the Aussie Nash. East Leagues’ Club used to be wild out the back. Oh and the dressing rooms at Tony’s Niteclub or any Bad Girls (erotic dance haha clubs)are always fascinating.

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