The stories of the invisible people are the most interesting
Curated by Dalilla Hermans, eight black teenage girls went on a retreat to connect, bond and emote over black consciousness and the issues facing their generation. Us, (K)now tells the story of that weekend, of the girls themselves sharing with the audience what they went through. Very much a sequel to her previous work Her(e), also inspired by a retreat; it will soon premiere at NTGent and Het Paleis. We sat down with director Dalilla Hermans and performer Eva Dries, as they shed light on that weekend retreat, the play and what to expect in the future from activist, writer and director Dalilla.
Why is the title of the performance Us (K)now? Why the ‘K’ in parentheses?
Dalilla: I chose the title a few months ago; after we did the retreat with the girls. I didn’t know what they were going to say or how they were going to feel about all the topics that we brought up during the retreat. The overwhelming feeling I got from them was that they were ready to use their voice. I just kept feeling like we are the ones learning, from them. So there was this really strong feeling of ‘it's time for us now,’ we as older women did our jobs. I put the ‘K’ there because I also was very struck by how much they knew, how much they had studied things like racism and discrimination, identity and black sisterhood.
What inspired you to do a retreat like that?
D: In late 2019 I was given the opportunity to make my first play, and I had been watching Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball. The first thing that popped into my head when I was given the opportunity to do a performance was - I want to do that legends ball. I didn’t know what was going to come of it, but I wanted to invite all of these prominent, inspirational black women in my life that I felt didn’t get enough attention. We only had 24 hours with those women and it was this explosion of emotions; there was a lot of crying, a lot of trauma, even bonding. I was shocked by how impactful that weekend was and one of the things that were said multiple times during the weekend was that we should have done this years ago. This performance was directly inspired by the sentiments of these adult women saying: 'We should have done this when we were young.'
We should have done this when we were young
How did you both come into contact with each other?
Eva: Dalilla’s parents knew my parents and she was searching for young teen black women. They both got into contact with each other and then I agreed to be part of the retreat weekend and naturally the performance.
I didn't know what to expect. I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know anyone there except one girl. But it was really a perfect weekend. There were so many emotions, some hard things to go through. That was the first time in a group that I could talk about racism and black women in that context.
That was the first time in a group that I could talk about racism and black women in that context
For you Dalilla, it seems like there wasn’t much need for involvement. Is that fair to say?
D: I think in a way, of course, we put them in a position where they had to address certain topics that they wouldn't usually address. We wondered whether they would be too shy or awkward, so we prepared some exercises, but we threw all of that out because they were so comfortable with each other and so open so it didn't need a lot of polishing or pushing.
What about you Eva? Why do you feel that theatre performance, in particular, is an effective way for you to showcase these ideas?
E: I’m not so familiar with theatre, this will be my first performance so it’s something totally new for me. I find it important that it is theatre because there is more interaction with the public. It’s a heavy topic, so theatre works with that, you can engage with it.
Would you describe yourself as someone involved in the arts? What are your hobbies/passions?
E: My main hobby is being active in my local youth movement. I also do some theatre, art, singing and dancing at my high school. They are really passions of mine.
Is there anything else you have been working on Dalilla?
D: There is going to be something that is linked; between Us (K)now and elderly black women. I feel like in 10 years, people should watch all three plays again to get the full experience of how it is to be a black woman in Flanders. We have never really looked at Belgium and thought ‘how are black women experiencing life here, with this very clear tie to colonial history?’ The stories of the most invisible people are usually the most interesting to me.