The day Nick Makoha realised he was going to become a father, he also realised he had no idea how to be one…
This is one man’s honest revelation of how pop culture raised him in the absence of his father. We follow Nick’s journey as he discovers what it takes for a man to become a hero, and how a hero can be just a man….
My Father and Other Superheroes is a moving and powerful story about the journey from childhood to fatherhood. Set across continents and eras, it follows one man’s struggle to come to terms with the responsibilities of being a parent and his confrontation with his own father’s absence.
A fantastic piece of theatre…Makoha’s performance is raw and captivating… the trick is to find the human in the hero.
Tuesday 05 January – Bath Spa University – Bath, Somerset 7:30 p.m.
Friday 18 November – Theatre Row – United Solo Festival , New York USA 7:30 p.m. TICKET INFO
There is in Makoha’s work an intriguing balance between the immediate and the stately that fits his material and offers possibilities for expansion and further exploration. All that – his personal history, the history of his country and the leaving of it – suggests to me a talent at the beginning of a genuinely important road.
A word from the director:
My Father and Other Superheroes is about rejection and acceptance, exploring these through three aspect of human psyche: the inner child; the here and now (the present voice); and fantasy.
We as the audience witness the journey of Nick, unpacking his personal history to unlock the keys to fatherhood. We are all heroes and heroines to our children.
Working with Freakhouse Graphics and Madefire, we’ve created an animated version of the popular My Father and Other Superheroes graphic novel. This ‘motion comic’ works a bit like a video game: you control how quickly you move through it, and can stop and start at any point. Make sure you turn the volume up to hear the show music with each panel! (Clicking the image below takes you to the motion comic)
by Jo Beggs
Rating: 4.5 stars
On a dramatically lit, smoke filled stage, Nick Makoha conjours his childhood heroes. These are the mentors that taught him all the important things in life. The Hulk proved you could be tough but still control your anger, Batman taught him not to be afraid of the dark, Superman feared nothing but Kryptonite, Luke Skywalker…well, he just proved it was worth holding out in the long search for your dad.
My Father And Other Superheroes is part of Contact’s Flying Solo 2012 season which celebrates “the ability of a single artist to captivate and hold an audience” through live art, spoken word, theatre, intimate performance and dance. Makoha’s performance does exactly what’s promised. A rare skill, indeed.
22 February, 2012
by Naima Khan
In the second installment of our series on “progress” in theatre, spoken word artist Nick Makoha gives us his take on how to make theatre less elitist.
There are many ways to measure progress in theatre. Here are a few ideas I have considered. One measure would be to ask what kind of show you are delivering. Theatre in my experience is packaged in a way that alienates your everyman. Shakespeare our national treasure is sold as an elitist product. I find this ironic when you find that the bard wrote for the common man and spoke in a common tongue. This fictitious psychological and class barrier seeps its way into the class room. So from a very early age a child is made to feel that this theatre, this poetry, this language is not for me. Theatre is not a political devise. To paraphrase the words of June Jordan (she was talking about poetry at the time but the shoe fits): theatre is for the people. It should not just be a special event, it should be as easy as taking your child to the park or popping down the road to get a paper. It should be woven into the fabric of our society in a more intimate way.
To this end, statistical and anecdotal evidence of diversity are needed to show progress in theatre. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is a business to this art. The artist, the theatre and potential sponsors need to know the numbers. My show is a product of Spoke-Lab which brings together multicultural spoken word artists and as a new artist in the genre I want to explore the art forms of spoken word and theatre to see how the two might collide and inspire each other to create new waves of expressions. Other artists in the process were: Kat Francois whose show Raising Lazurusis about to go on a national tour, Roger Robinson whose show Over the Duneis being developed by the Young Vic, Inua Ellams whose show The 14th Talewon a fringe first at Edinburgh and went on to show at the National. Then there’s my show which went on to be funded by the arts council and is currently on a mini tour before the national and international legs kick off. On a statistical basis all four shows developed in the Spoke-Lab arena have gone on to be developed further. This to me is a green shoot sign. As an artist I am for promoting diversity through discussion and evaluation as long as it is a by-product of developing good work. Work that has symbiotic success for artist/ audience or theatre and artist.
And as an artist in the modern age, I think, you have to consider yourself as a brand. Your brand like your word should have integrity. You have to defend against the trend to be portrayed as just an ethnic entity. This is cliche and does great damage to your longevity as
an artist. Pigeonholing will always be an issue as long as I am in this skin. It is the way of the human to categorise things. It is just a label. My job is not to fight labels but to make great work. If the work is good enough it speaks for itself. If not they start speaking about
you. Press is like going to a dinner party you want to be seen in your best light, as someone who stands out from the crowd.
As a career theatre is not an easy door to walk through. No clear signposts to success. The time given to work produced and to profit gained is ambiguous, so initially it can be off putting. You really have to let your passion guide you if you want to make it and build a will of steel. You have to be a servant to your craft. I don’t know why I am stepping on this yellow brick road. But I do know this: every time a new artist steps in the arena they make it easier for the next one. I have many artists to thank for the doors opening for me. Nick Makoha’s My Father and Other Superheroes runs at Albany Theatre on 23rd February.
by Elisha Owen
FEB 6 Posted by uoblogfest
My Father and Other Superheroes is a one-hour, one-man show written and performed by Nick Makoha. With recent events such as Hit the Ode and Poets’ Place, it is no secret that Birmingham has well and truly come alive with spoken word. It is very fitting therefore that mac should not only host but also produce this fantastic piece of theatre. Described aptly as ‘one man’s honest revelation of how pop culture raised him in the absence of his father’, Makoha bravely confronts his personal struggle with abandonment and, in turn, questions the role of fatherhood in society. First and foremost, Makoha’s performance was raw and captivating. His characterisation was consistently authentic, whether he was playing The Incredible Hulk, his eleven-year old self, or his Ugandan mother. Even with the complete absence of props, the BMX he was riding or the baby he was holding seemed completely tangible.
At one point Makoha re-enacted a scene from a Superman film, as he daringly walks along the edge of a building. Although on stage he was only a few inches off the ground, his physicality, and the plumes of smoke billowing from off-stage, effectively captured the ‘reality’ of such a scene. Indeed Reid’s masterful use of staging and lighting successfully created the other-worldly sense of the ‘Superhero’ genre, whilst avoiding cliché and slapstick acting. Even before one watches the play, the cathartic nature of the piece is clearly evident. Telling such a personal story could have run the risk of alienating an audience that might not entirely relate to him. However, Makoha’s use of humour and emotion, forced the audience to move from observing to psychologically engaging with the piece with highly successful results.
In the post-show discussion, both the writer and director gave a moving insight into whatthey had set out to achieve. As fathers themselves, they discussed how this was as much a play about learning what it is to be a father as well as letting go of past resentment. Nick Makoha considered the poignant saying, ‘if a child survives childhood, they can survive the rest of their life’, and it was clear that this was a story that touched the audience members in many different ways. In playing witness to Makoha’s personal quest for forgiveness and redemption, the audience were called upon to think about what it means to love your parents, not just as hero-figures, but as adults and humans who are liable to make mistakes. It is a story that remains extremely relevant to society today and will thus continue to bear value and importance.
by Melissa Rynn
My Father and Other Superheroes is a one man piece by spoken word artist and performer Nick Makoha. StageWon’s Melissa Rynn speaks to him about his work and what it means to him.
“There’s a lot of work to do but I’m in a good place and I’ve got a great director” beams Nick Makoha prior to our interview. The artist, whose piece My Father and Other Superheroes is about to open at Birmingham mac prior to touring the UK, takes a deeply personal approach to his work and examines his own experiences to create moving thearical pieces.
Having lived a varied life in Uganda, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and London, Nick is, what he calls, a product of inter-culturalism, something which gives his work a unique voice. Residing in London, however, he is a firm supporter of the Olympics and was even chosen to assist the capital’s bid for the sporting games for Kensington and Chelsea.
He speaks to Melissa Rynn about his work, the Olympics and what being a father means to him.
The piece was originally called Milestones and it came into being as I looked at the big events in my life and spoke about them. The biggest event for me, however, was having my daughter and becoming a father, so the idea began to revolve around that. Amanda Roberts, who is Arts Development Director at mac, had wanted to work with me after we’d met before and so the show became a coming together of many things. SpokeLab produced a lot of different work; Inua Ellams’ story 14th Tale for example, as well as work by Kat Francois and Roger Robinson. Our pieces were originally intended to be scratches, but we all ended up thinking ‘why bother with a scratch when you can do the whole thing! Let’s just put the energy in’. It was hard work, but people really enjoyed it – they came expecting a scratch and got a whole show! I got some feedback from the audience which was really useful and, after the show, we did a Q&A and nobody wanted to leave which was quite overwhelming. A few days later we did another Q&A that a lot of people came to again and many started saying My Father and Other Supermen definitely has to be made into a show. This inspired me to apply for some funding to get it forward which was accepted and since that initial showcase in 2009, we’ve given to developing it. The show today is the outcome of that. It hasn’t yet toured, but it has been shown and one version was shown for the British Council in Norway.
How did you then develop it?
The core story was there from the start, but my directors have helped me pick it out. It came from the idea that I’m now a dad, but I don’t know how to be one because my father wasn’t around when I was growing up. It made me realise that a lot of the sign-posts of what men should be come from fictional characters in comics and on TV. It is a true story; there’s very little that’s been tweaked, but I ultimately had to delve into my imagination about my childhood. In many ways it’s a gift to my daughter; she’s the source of the story so it’s something to show her how much she means to me.
How do you feel about being directed in something that is so deeply personal to you?
The first time around was very hard; there’s things that the director sees that you don’t. When I was working with my original director, Dawn Lee, during SpokeLab, it was very emotional, there were times I’d be in tears over things that I hadn’t even realised affected me in that way. She was very astute about how to pull out the material and about making me realise the importance of it all and she helped me create enough distance so it wasn’t just therapy on stage as that’s not what it is at all. I hope the piece’s message extends beyond just me; I work in schools and with many different organisations and there’s boys who don’t have a father figure. I am not telling this story for me. If anything I want it to belong to the world and I want it to be hopefully good enough that someone else will want to perform it so it will be shared. I’d love someone to find their own truth in it; I think it’s universal.
There was a time doing the piece was hard but I think going through the application process gave me time to go over the material and see what can come out of the play. One of the things I found I had to do was to have a call of reconciliation with my dad; something I’d been avoiding. Even during the first take I didn’t actually call him; I had a conversation but it had a lot of blame in it. I had to forgive my dad as that’s ultimately what’s behind the play; it’s all about understanding the importance of fathers, what a family is and what a man is. As the title suggests, fathers are always looked at as heroes, but there’s a curse that goes with that because you’re always expected to save people. Men are men and you have to accept a man for his flaws. It’s a logical lesson that you have to accept but for me it was also an emotional and spiritual lesson that I had to go through and appreciate. The reason I did it was because I want to be a better father to my daughter and be the father she needs.
How is doing the piece the second time round? Is it the same emotionally?
It’s funny you should say that. When I think of the first time I did the piece, I don’t remember the amount of words I said or anything, it’s all a blur. I had some footage from my rehearsals and there were so many different ideas, what came out was the best version of what could come out at that time. The second time around, my director, my producer and everyone involved is helping me hopefully lift up the story to have a stronger narrative. The more I grow as a father, the more I see in each scene and so it goes on. It was a great show originally, but it needed distance; I needed to see myself as a character. When I was close to it, I was just playing myself. Now the director is really helping me to see beyond it and see myself as a character in a play. You have to learn how to play the character; when you play a character, you’re not trapped. When you’re playing it as yourself, you’re limited by your own thoughts and you straight-jacket yourself as it’s such an important matter. What I’ve noticed is that the word ‘father’ is almost taboo, it brings up many different issues for people. The distance was important for me to free myself from the taboos I have around the word father, the taboo of my own story of father, and the taboo of what I think a father is. I think my director, Benji, is trying to make me experiment and play with the piece with this freedom. Ultimately what I want is for people to have a conversation about it; a lot of the conversations people have about ‘fathers’ are quite negative. I can’t transform it, but if I can at least get people talking about it then people can make a change on that.
Would you like to see someone else do the piece so you can see their interpretation?
Oh yes! I’d love that – one of my favourite one man shows is Swimming to Cambodia by Spalding Grey who has sadly passed away now. It’s one of those shows I would have loved to have done and it would be great to produce a body of work that someone else would be willing to do because it stands beyond the artist.
How did you first become involved with youth work and poetry?
That’s an interesting question. Poetry has always been in my life, I didn’t realise how much so until I bumped into an old girlfriend. I asked her if I used to write poetry and she looked at me like I was an idiot and said I used to write poetry everywhere. We used to be watching a movie and I’d pause it and write poetry, but to me it didn’t seem like poetry; I was just writing my thoughts down. I have two early recollections of writing poetry; one of them was at school when I was six years old. I was told to write a poem about a butterfly and my mum had it framed. I’ve stolen it now as it reminds me that this journey started when I was at least six years old. There was another poem a few years later when I was at boarding school in Kenya and a Maths teacher who was almost like a father figure to me died suddenly of a heart attack.
What it made me realise is that poetry is always there and it’s always been there to help me understand my feelings and how I look at the world. I know the power of poetry so it became a natural fit when I became an adult and asked myself what I would do with my life. It’s always been said that the best thing you can do is to do something you love and do it well. I knew it was a risk, but poetry is what I love to do. When you have a child, you do everything you can for them and so this is my passion and I work hard for her. I’d love for my daughter to one day be more successful than me and have someone say to her ‘man, you really worked for it’. What I hope she can say is that she saw her dad go for his dreams and that helped her realise she could go for her dreams too. Whether I crash or burn, fall or reach for the highest heights, what I want her to know is to just go for her dreams – I think that’s one of the gifts I can give her.
How have the various places you’ve lived in influenced you?
I think it gives you an international sensibility. When you’re born in one place, you see the world through just that keyhole – I’ve seen the world through at least four. On the one level it gives you an appreciation and on the other you feel like an exile; the poetic term is metic. You live in the country of your origin and it’s almost like you’re a translator of culture but at the same time you’re an exile. I didn’t know I thought like this originally, what it took was a course I did called The Complete Works where someone told me I wrote like a writer in exile. When I understood what the term meant, it helped me establish what my voice was; I’ve always had the voice of someone who doesn’t come from here and that’s how I’ve always felt. I’d always hear ‘you’re not from around here are you’, you’re always trying to translate yourself to the world you’re in.
Do you feel your voice belongs to one place or is it a fusion?
I think on a subliminal level it’s a fusion but what you’d call my external voice has a British sensibility. A lot of my development years were here and it’s where I’ve lived the longest so my mind thinks in a western understanding but it has African roots, an Arabic sensibility and an European accent; it’s an amalgamation of all those places. In some of the countries I grew up in, I attended American schools so there are just so many flavours to my thinking.
Do you think language affects thoughts?
It’s funny, people have so many thoughts and if we were to convey all of them we’d spend all day just talking. Whatever language you’re speaking in, you have a multitude of thoughts all at once. I think language is a device of bringing the inside out and the outside in – language is to understand but you also have the higher purpose of going past meaning. There are times when a poem might move you; you didn’t just understand it, but it meant something to you on an emotional and spiritual level. It can happen in any language but all different ears have different ways of registering that emotional, spiritual and historical scale; language is almost like an archive of history. Through language you can find out how civilisation existed by looking at the words that crop up and thinking about what they mean.
Is that what you mean when you say ‘language is a rosetta stone between langauges’?
Yes completely – you’re very good! You’ve done your research!
You helped with the initial bid for the Olympics. Are you looking forward to the games?
I have been looking forward to the Olympics for a long time! I knew when we did the bid that a lot of people didn’t think we’d get it, but I had every faith. Regardless of what people think about how the bid went, this is a moment of joy! The Olympics are a device that empowers people and we need something to be proud of, especially in the times that we’re going through, regardless of the cost. It’s like when you have a big wedding; if you worry about the costs, you’re kind of missing the point – it’s a celebration of life! I’m very much looking forward to it. Ideally if it plays out right, I’d love to take my family there; I don’t know if it’s probable, but that was my dream at the time of the bid – the whole city together. Something might happen, I’m putting it out there that someone might give me a ticket (cough, readers, cough) or two or three or four so I can take members of my family to the games. If Boris is listening, I’ll write you a poem for some?
What is in the future for you?
My Father and Other Supermen is currently on a mini-tour, the bigger tour should be happening toward the end of the year or early 2013. We’re in the process of developing where we’re going and it’s hopefully going to be nationwide as well as possibly going to Europe and other places. I’m also working on my first poetry collection; the manuscript just needs typing and it documents the last year of my life. I envisage a year ahead that is hopefully a good one but I also envisage a busy few years. I’m looking forward to it, this show has taught me a lot about myself and how much my family means to me; it shown me things I already knew but I didn’t know how much they meant. I know I love my daughter, I know I love my family and I always knew I wanted to be a father, but this is really showing me because I’m investigating how important that is.
Do you think exploring how much things mean through art is important?
I think art is a science; just like people say they’re going for counselling. I’m not saying it’s a counsellor, but it has many rewards. One of the rewards is that it shows the beauty of the world and I guess that’s what I’m conveying to you. It’s really allowed me to see the beauty of my child, my place in life, of my partner and of my father! Sometimes you can just complain in life, what art does is allow you to appreciate the beauty in places you might not always know.
Born in Uganda, Nick Makoha fled the country with his mother, as a result of political overtones that arose from the civil war during the Idi Amin dictatorship. He has lived in Kenya, Saudi Arabia and currently resides in London. He has presented his work at many international events and toured for the British Council in Finland, Czech Republic the US and the Netherlands. In 2005 award-winning publisher Flippedeye launched its pamphlet series with his debut The Lost Collection of an Invisible Man.
As a former writer in Residence for Newham Libraries he wrote the poem ‘Promise to my unborn son’ which was published in the anthology Out Of Bounds (Bloodaxe 2012). The venture conceived by Spread the Word and Newham Libraries aimed to increase the number of residents in the borough of Newham actively involved in creative writing and literature. He represented Uganda in the Poetry Parnassus as part of the Cultural Olympiad. The poem “Vista” was used as part of a video installation to promote the Turner prize in 2008 for Tate Remix. His poem Beatitude is the newest addition to Being Human the third book in the Staying Alive poetry trilogy. Staying Alive and its sequel Being Alive have introduced many thousands of new readers to contemporary poetry. His poem ‘From The King”, got shortlisted for the Coffee House Poetry Fourth Troubadour International Poetry Prize and his poem “Stone” has been shortlisted for the 2010 Arvon International Poetry competition.
As a resident artist of Spoke-Lab (Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Spoken Word development programme) he developed a one-man show “My Father & Other Superheroes” One man’s honest revelation of how pop culture raised him in the absence of his father. Nick has gone on to develop the show, working with an exciting creative team to take his work from the page into the performance space, exploring the relationship between poetry and theatre.
He uses poetry as a Rosetta stone and is keen to investigate the relationships between sounds and the meanings they convey through language. Moving through many tongues he has acquired a special sensitivity to this relationship. The loss of his mother tongue is what separates him from his heritage. This theme of loss is expressed in his new poetry collection. He was one of ten writers on a programme called The Complete Works: A national two year development programme for ten advanced Black and Asian poets. During the programme he has been mentored by eminent poet George Szirtes, both writers in exile. The Complete Works culminated in September of 2010 with an anthology “Ten”: New poets from Spread the Word [edited by MBE Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra] on Bloodaxe press. George Szirtes’s description of Nick’s poems offers an excellent insight:
There is in Makoha’s work an intriguing balance between the immediate and the stately that fits his material and offers possibilities for expansion and further exploration. All that – his personal history, the history of his country and the leaving of it – suggests to me a talent at the beginning of a genuinely important road. George Szirtes
Benji Reid is a award winning creative producer, devisor and director. His Theatre performances have played to sell out audiences in the National Theatre Of England, Saddlers Wells, Sydney Opera House and Greenwich Village theatre New York He trained as a dancer with the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and as an actor with David Glass and Double Edge Theatre. Following his years as a freelance performer he formed BREAKING CYCLES.
Benji’s dance background includes; 1985 GLC Break-Dance Champions with Broken Glass Street Crew, European Body-Popping Champion and 2nd in the 1986 World
Dance Championships. In 1989 Benji worked with the legendary Soul II Soul as the main dancer and choreographer for their world tour, appearing on the Arsino Hall show and playing at the Soul Train Awards.
In theatre Benji has worked widely with such highly regarded companies as the David Glass Ensemble, Trestle Theatre, Theatr Clwyd and Black Mime Theatre. It was with Black Mime Theatre that Benji first became interested in directing.
In 2005 Benji received the NESTA Dreamtime Fellowship, awarded to prestigious artists for their outstanding achievements and continuing development and was also nominated for the Art05 award for his work in the North West of England.
Created in 2006, Nimble Fish is led by Greg Klerkx and Samantha Holdsworth. Passionate about the potential for the arts as a catalyst for social change, Sam and Greg have evolved a unique method of working that focuses on the creation of high-quality artistic events via deep and meaningful community engagement.
Initial Scratch performed at Spoke-Lab presents My Father & Other Superheroes Stratford theatre royal | 9 Sep
MS Innvik in Oslo to open African History week: Norway for British Council | 14 Sep
mac birmingham | Wed 1 – Sat 4 Feb, 8pm (Matinee Thu 2 Feb, 2pm) | Tickets £10 (£7) Post show Discussion 2 Feb
The Albany, London | Thu 23 Feb 7.30pm
ARC, Stockton | Wed 29 Feb 7.30pm
Contact, Manchester (Part of Flying Solo Festival 2012) | Tue 6 & Wed 7 Mar, 7.30pm,
Ilkley Literature Festival | Thursday, October 11th – 12
Podium Mozaïek Amsterdam | Thursday 31 January at 8:30pm
Nottingham Playhouse | Friday 1 – Saturday 2 March 2013 at 8pm
Southbank Centre, London | 31 May – 1 June as part of London Literature Festival
Unicorn Theatre, London | 16 June, special Father’s Day show and Superhero Brunch
Ilkley Literature Festival | 17 October
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff | 24 October
Stahl Theatre, Oundle, Peterborough | Wednesday 28 January
Brent Civic Centre and Library, London | Wednesday 18 February
Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre | Tuesday 17 March
Polka Theatre, Wimbledon | Thurs-Sun 19-22 March
Carriageworks, Leeds | Saturday 11 April
New Art Exchange, Nottingham | Friday 29 May
Soho Theatre, London | Monday 6 July
Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead:Friday 2 October 8:00 p.m.
Pegasus Theatre, Oxford | Thursday 15 October 7:30 p.m.
Hillingdon Literary Festival, London | Sunday, 18 October 5:00 p.m.
Download: My Father and Other Super Heroes.pdf
from Nick’s Tumblr