When All Is Said is a collection of 5 short plays, written by 5 Black trans people, in their own voices and delivered over the phone. What secrets would you tell a complete stranger? Would you accept an invitation to listen instead?
Travis Alabanza, writer and of “None of the Above”, has curated the 5 stories written by Travis Alabanza, Felix Mufti-Wright, Octavia Nyombi, Ebun Sodipo and Campbell X. Directed by Emily Aboud and Leian John Baptiste, When All Is Said “offers you the opportunity to sit back and listen, as these worlds and journeys are brought to life.”
Ebun Sodipo, who wrote one of the pieces for When All Is Said has given us an interview about the production. mandla writes;
mandla: Hey Ebun, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Who is Ebun, what does your name mean and what do your days look like when you’re not creating?
Ebun: Ebun is a Yoruba name, from West Africa, and it means gift – the full name is Ebunoluwa which means gift to God. Yoruba is not a genderd language, my name is gender neutral which is affirming for me.
I’m 29 years old, I’m a Virgo, I’ve lived in London for eighteen years and before that I lived in Nigeria. I’m a trans woman and I love cats and plants.
In my downtime, you’ll find me in the bath or in bed reading some reincarnation manga or anime and playing “brick breaker” on my phone.
mandla: Can you tell me about your creative practice? What inspires you to make?
Ebun: I work across a broad range of mediums: I make videos, sculpture, I write, I perform, I do installation, I do workshops – a range of things. But the main core of it is trying to produce or excavate Black Trans Women’s history.
I read a lot of academic text when I was younger, a lot of Black feminist writings motivate my practice and the way that I think and I try to resolve questions by using a Black feminist lens/praxis. Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Sylvia Wynter, Tina Campt; They’ve inspired me in how they write and the questions that they evoke as well as the different worlds they paint.
mandla: Your website talks about an attempt to fill in gaps which are so common in Black, Trans and Queer history. You mentioned your search to create moments of pleasure from the archives of these people. Can you talk about that need to create pleasure?
Ebun: Our encounters within history from as early or as far back as we can go is painful. The most accesible forms of history for Trans people are monster-like depictions. The easiest places to come across ourselves will leave us feeling like we’re not important to what it means to be alive.
Some of the places that we find ourselves in pre-modern era/early modern history are court trials, the psychiatric ward. Campbell X says this really well: “we find ourselves in the underside, the underbelly, the criminal, the people who were going to be hurt or killed for some reason”, whereas there’s obviously a richer history than that.
When I’m finding Black Trans people in archives, I’m asking questions about our lives beyond that singular moment that we were recorded. Often the reason that we’re recorded is because the state is coming to a negative interaction with us so I want to think outside of this moment of violence.
mandla: For you, what was the heart of your piece in When All Is Said?
Ebun: It came about because I grew up reading a lot of slash romantic fanfiction. I also read a lot of Danielle Steel when I was younger. Love and romance are an easy way of feeling joy.
The heart of it is trying to drive home that Black Trans Women have always found a way to live, even before hormones, even before the definition of Transness, we always had this desire to live as women.
Queerness historically has been something that’s so hidden away and I want to bring back the possibility of going against the histoical record and not just reclaiming, but troubling the idea that identity worked as a binary. That actually, there might have been a lot of subterfuge, a lot of closet work and unknowing.
mandla: Did you always know this piece for When All Is Said was going to be a written piece or does it exist in several different versions of your practice?
Ebun: When it comes to telling these historical stories, writing is the most comfortable form. This work requires a concrete-ness to it. I want people to be able to imagine this woman. I needed it to be more immersive and familiar, so writing is important.
When I’m thinking more about emotions or sensation then I move into the more poetic, abstract register, but when it comes to “you need to hear this story, you need to know” – writing is the best way for me to do that.
mandla: How does it feel to give away your words to an actor?
Ebun: It was scary but also exciting, I’d never done that before. When All Is Said is my second foray into theatre, so it was good for me to see how things work, it became a text for me as well.
I’m used to collaboration, and theatre is a collaborative effort, the product isn’t wholly just my idea. It’s someone having a conversation with it, the final piece is a response to what I’ve given.
mandla: Who are your Black Trans heroes, past and present?
Ebun: Marsha P Johnson, obviously. Tourmaline, who also has a beautiful and poetic archival practice. Juliana Huxtable for what she’s done in the art space. Kuchenga is a vision of possibility in terms of the scope of what one can do.
In historical figures, Mary Jones or ‘Peter Sewally’ for the sheer fact of existing, and there being a record of her.
Also a woman called Vitoria whose life I’m exploring and building a performance in response to. She lived in Lisbon in the 16th century. There’s a court trial where she says “I am a Black Woman, not a Black Man!”
She lived in town as a woman and when she was taken from Benin to her master’s home, he tried to give her a new name and garment to wear and she rejected both of them, stated her own name and made her own clothes.
mandla: Thank you very much for sharing all of that with us, Ebun!
When All Is Said is will be re-opening today (26 June 2023) for it’s July run between the 24th and 28th of July with timeslots between 6pm and 9:30pm. Peformers include Alexis Meshida, Kenya Sterling, Libra Teejay, Tyler Luke Cunningham and Ishmael Kirby perfroming Ebun Sodipo’s piece.
This article was funded by LGBT+ Futures: Equity Fund is a two-year £786,000 partnership between Consortium and The National Lottery Community Fund, designed to help community-led and grassroot organisations supporting some of the most under-represented and marginalised LGBT+ communities. Read more here.