Feminist Play Starring All Women Of Color Is Challenging Australia’s Dominant White Narrative

We’re getting some serious girl squad envy reading up about this feminist play from down under. ‘Hot Brown Honey’ is an Australian production from the Black Honey Company, founded by South African-Australian badass sisters writer/performer Candy Bowers and musician Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers. The company has been bringing their brand of intersectional feminist messages to stages around the world for the past 13 years, and their most recent play has been touring throughout the UK and North America.

‘Hot Brown Honey’ is the brainchild of Candy, Busty Beatz as well as director/choreographer/designer Lisa Fa’alafi. The production bills itself as a burlesque performance infused with hip hop politics and the stage presence of a Beyonce concert. We could end this article right there knowing we have all the info we need to hop on a place and go see this production wherever it is in the world right now. But there are so many awesome things to say about this show and the company behind it, we will continue…

The cast is made up of 100% women of color from a number of different backgrounds which is entirely by design. As Lisa told Canada’s CBC network, “We just kept seeing a lack of brown faces [on the] screen, on the stage, everywhere, so we were like, you know what? It’s time that we write ourselves onto that center stage.”

Representation is one of the core themes running through the aesthetics as well as messages of all their productions, especially giving voice to that of indigenous women from around the world. Most recently, ‘Hot Brown Honey’ had a run during Femme January, a month-long celebration of the power of female and female identifying voices at Vancouver’s The Cultch performance space.

Lisa said the play’s messages will be familiar to and speak directly to indigenous people of Canada, a group of people whose lives and stories have historically been ignored or erased, as in other countries where an indigenous population is present.

“I think a lot of women will understand the pressures that are put on our bodies continuously, and I think if you’re any First Nations people, it’s another level again. It’s very symbolic,” she said.

Collectively, ‘Hot Brown Honey’ is written, produced and performed by women of Aboriginal Australian, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Indonesian and South African backgrounds.

In an interview with the Vancouver Courier ahead of their Femme January debut, Busty Beatz says the intention of this play is to shine a light, to encourage audiences to challenge their own views on issues of race, and to dismantle the colonial mindset that is still very present in a number of countries where European settlers invaded the land and enacted devastating violence on native populations.

“We look directly at our stories, our voices and our bodies. We use familiar devices and forms that we are highly skilled in and rolled them into cultural expressions that speak to us. As theater makers we use the idea that theater is a place we know audiences come for artistic connection. The stage has been a sterile and uninviting for us, as women, as women from global First Nations heritages, as black and brown women, as women of color, as intersectional feminists, as culturally and linguistically diverse peoples as well for our audiences who reflect us. So we get right in there and create our world within the space,” she said.

Her sister Candy has also been outspoken about the way the theater industry, especially in Australia, is very white-skewed and does not accurately reflect the diverse population of multicultural Australia.

“It’s impossible for me to work in mainstages in Australia and not be at a table of all white folks talking about marketing and positioning. And I think that’s really highly problematic for people of color working in the arts,” she told the Guardian‘s Jane Howard in 2017.

Although Candy graduated from one of Australia’s most respectable performing arts institutions, National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA) where celebs such as Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, Sam Worthington and Baz Luhrman studied, “the door was slammed on me for being a black woman” she said.

Coming from South Africa originally, Candy mentions how her family moved to Australia for a more promising future away from the Apartheid experienced there, but ended up being immersed in another kind, and she even uses the same word to describe what she saw in her adopted home. As a result, she decided to create her own theater company, one that would decisively represent the under-served voices, and show the kinds of stories mainstream Australian theater is yet to do on a large scale.

“There are a couple of choices. You just go ‘fair enough, and goodbye’, or you find another pathway…I can continue to produce, I have a body of work and a slate of shows I can do around the world, while they are still waiting to be cast,” she said, referring to the choice not to wait for the kind of opportunity she would have more luck with creating herself.

Clearly this route is paying off, because the plays she is creating, Hot Brown Honey included, are appealing to wider audiences outside of Australia. The show has been seen at the Edinburgh festival and has spent the last few years in international territory. With the emergence of the recent #MeToo movement the artists say that ‘Hot Brown Honey’ is their contribution to the ongoing conversation of women’s voices rising up like never before.

“We can feel the rise coming, we can feel the change coming and people are being more engaged in those conversations, so they are also reading our show better and better each day,” said Lisa.

If you are in Vancouver, catch ‘Hot Brown Honey’ during the Femme January celebration at The Cultch, and keep up with their ongoing schedule (as well as other productions from Black Honey Company) on their website. Watch a promo video of the play below.




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