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Why we all need to address the Elephant in the room by Lanre Malaolu

[Image credit: Camilla Greenwell]

Lanre Malaolu is a London-based director, choreographer and performance artist working across theatre and film. Lanre’s choreographic work merges hip-hop & contemporary dance with physical theatre to create work which aims to enhance and challenge our social and political worldviews. He was the winner of the Zealous Emerge performance prize, a nationwide search championing the UK’s best-emerging performance artists in 2018. His work has featured at venues such as Sadler’s Wells, The Place and The Old Vic, as well as roster of international shows and screenings of his work.

Fusing physical theatre, hip hop dance, and featuring a live musical score, Elephant in the Room is an explosive solo that explores the mental health crisis and the phenomenon of toxic masculinity.
For a lot of young, black men who have had mental health problems, they either don’t know that they’re experiencing it, or just brush it off, put a brave face on and keep going. I think an element of that is a cultural thing. Any talk of depression or anxiety is met with a downcast eye of avoidance. We often avoid the things we know nothing about, or stray too far away from a societal “norm”.

Additionally, there is a stigma, a stereotyped image, of a person with mental health problems shaking in a corner, wearing a straitjacket. There’s also another layer which is perhaps more insidious and just as destructive, the fear of losing your sense of self. If you admit that you have depression or anxiety, do you change in the eyes of other people? Do you change in the eyes of your friends, your family? Can you still be the wife, the husband, the artist, the guy on the road who’s chilling with his boys?
It’s almost like you are tainted. You’re seen as damaged, different, weak.

I aim to deepen the narrative of mental health issues from the perspective of a young black man, to spark conversation and touch those who may have different backgrounds but share common experiences.

[Image credit: Camilla Greenwell]

In regard to the construct of the piece, I started with a very simple idea, something that every single human being on this planet does. This was linked to the simplicity of everyday life becoming something else when experiencing mental health issues. I developed that into a movement/text sequence. As I developed the piece further, I started to not only deepen that idea, but to also explore different characters, physicality and where sound/music lives in the piece.

I was also very keen to explore where comedy fits within the show. I’m a firm believer that the best way to get to an audience’s heart is to make them laugh first. I wanted to make sure I explored as many light shades as the dark as, essentially, we’re talking about life. I’m talking about life. And if I’m talking about the darkness, I’m going to talk about the light – I want to bring those out through physical moments, in the absurdity of the simple things.

It’s been a challenging but insightful journey bringing this show to life. On the one hand, I’m exploring pretty personal experiences and emotions within myself and those close to me, so I’ve had to understand the level of sensitivity needed in doing that. But on the other hand, it’s been an exciting journey of trial and error in fusing movement, words and sound in a unique way within the show.

This semi-autobiographical work, written and performed by Lanre Malaolu, will premiere for a three-week run at Camden People’s Theatre from 02 - 20 April 2019. Following its run at Camden People’s Theatre, Elephant in the Room will be presented at the Surf the Wave national dance showcase event at Poole Lighthouse on 17 May, and at DanceEast, Ipswich, as part of a double bill with dance artist Mohamed Toukabri on 21 June.

Elephant in the Room received Camden People’s Theatre’s Home Run Commission which is supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

The development of the work has also been supported by Talawa, The Wellcome Collection, MGC futures, Arts Council England, Trinity Laban, The Place and Battersea Arts Centre.

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