Caro Meets Comedy Interview Festivals Interview

Maria Oshodi: Eye Say, Eye Say, Eye Say!

By | Published on Friday 9 October 2020

Readers may well be aware of the Bloomsbury Festival, which happens this month and features a range of digital, live and socially-distanced events taking place over the course of ten days.

One show taking place as part of it really piqued our interest: ‘Eye Say, Eye Say, Eye Say!’ is a live-streaming comedy night from a collective of visually impaired performers, staged by the excellent Extant.

To find out more about it, and the company, and how things are going in the light of COVID-19, I spoke to Artistic Director and CEO Maria Oshodi.

CM: Can you start by telling our readers what format to expect from ‘Eye Say, Eye Say, Eye Say!’
MO: We will be live-streaming the show from the beautiful William Goodenough College on 17 Oct. We intend to create a comedy club atmosphere, which we hope will relax our performers and enable them to deliver a cracking show! We just want everyone, audiences and performers alike, to just have a good laugh – that’s something we all really need right now!

CM: Can you tell us about the performers involved?
MO: We are proud of our brilliant line-up of performers, and our two fantastic visually impaired MCs, professional stand up Georgie Morell, and newcomer, Tower Hamlets’ answer to Cilla Black, Ashrafia Choudhury!

CM: How did you go about finding and selecting the acts who are performing?
MO: In mid-2019, we started a monthly improvisation club for visually impaired people living in London, called ‘No Dramas!’. It runs every month and has really taken off, attracting a range of exuberant characters!

We thought we would harness some of the natural comedy arising from the group and offer people an opportunity to work on their own stand-up act in a safe space.

We invited visually impaired professional comedian Georgie Morell, who we have worked with on various projects in the past, to mentor the performers and offer them editing and delivery advice from her years on the comedy circuit.

CM: What inspired you to create a showcase along these lines?
MO: After six months of meeting, making and presenting through digital means, we are gagging to get out into the real world again. ‘Eye Say, Eye Say, Eye Say!’ is our attempt to do just that!

CM: What are the challenges of creating an event like this for online consumption rather than for a live venue?
MO: We have had to negotiate our own anxiety and caution in order to build our confidence in beginning to get out again, assessing what feels right for us as individuals and as an organisation.

There are additional issues for visually impaired people in lockdown and attempting to get out and about with social distancing measures in place makes things like physical guiding incredibly hard.

We have offered performers the opportunity to present their acts over Zoom if they wish; the majority have opted to perform live.

CM: This is on as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, isn’t it? How did you get involved in that?
MO: Yes, we’re delighted to be part of the Bloomsbury Festival this year. We put out an open call through our networks for other ‘wannabe’ visually impaired comedians to send in their acts or ideas for consideration, and held an invite-only launch on Zoom back in June, which went down so well – and the Bloomsbury Festival producers were there.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about Extant and what it does?
MO: Extant is a dynamic, political space to articulate and celebrate what visual impairment brings to the performing arts. We are a company that have been going since 1997 and create innovative touring shows, skills training for blind artists, and awareness training for the rest of the theatre industry, as well as rolling out grass-roots participatory projects.

CM: What were you doing as company during lockdown?
MO: In Spring 2019, Extant created and toured a production called ‘Flight Paths’. The multimedia show incorporated music, projections, storytelling, surround sound and aerial choreography and uniquely weaved audio description into the sequences.

We applied to The Space for a commission to make the most of the modular nature of the production. Using its component parts, we re-told the story for an online audience, using material created as part of the original production alongside brand new animated elements.

Work was due to commence when lockdown hit in March. Luckily, apart from some adjustments such as working across Zoom rather than face to face, we managed to successfully achieve our goal on time and on budget.

CM: What plans do you have for a post-COVID future?
MO: We are interested in exploring how to manage a hybrid of both working remotely and within a live space more, so that we can accommodate the different needs of our artists.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
MO: We hope to have an outdoor collaboration up our sleeves connected with the 40th anniversary of a big event in Brixton! We will be moving to the new Brixton House in 2021 and are very excited about being part of this new creative hub. We’re celebrating our move with this potential new production!

‘Eye Say, Eye Say, Eye Say!’, taking place as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, will be livestreamed from William Goodenough College on 17 Oct. See this page here for more info and to book tickets.

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