"THE FIVE IMPEDIMENTS" (formerly "CAN'T JEMIMA")
A hard-nosed mayor in a battle to save her reputation. An outspoken eight-year-old learning to navigate the power structure. A caustic high school rebel armed with a temper and a can of spray paint. An activist on a mission fuelled by vengeance. A burgeoning politician on the verge of being consumed by the system. All five fighting to be heard in a world that would rather subdue than concede. Will they unlock the mystery to self-preservation? Or will their stories go the way of the buffalo?
“The Five Impediments” is a one-act musical that investigates the survival rates of personal and cultural narratives of marginalised communities in U.S. society. The musical utilises the 19th century art of cantomime, in which a performer lip syncs vocals that are being sung by another onstage performer. Originally conceived as a 10-minute monologue and cantomime performance by a white male and black female - to underscore the act of cultural appropriation - the work was given the title “Can’t Jemima”, a combination of “cantomime” and “Aunt Jemima” - the fictional black character of minstrel song and pancake batter fame.
As the script developed, the concept evolved from looking at a single act of cultural appropriation into a wider analysis of narrative as commodity. Which stories succeed in becoming part of the cultural lexicon? Who owns those stories? How does a change in narrator affect the success of a story? As the concept focus enlargened, the work, unfortunately, outgrew its original, very punny, title.
At a certain point during the writing process, I happened upon Dame Eileen Atkins’s performance of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and was presented with several reasons why a woman would be prevented from sharing her narrative. It became apparent to me that it wasn’t just a case of my character’s stories being overlooked or unheard due to passive or aggressive discrimination; each of the characters was somehow being prevented from telling her story. Something was impeding their ability to share their narrative.
Taking further inspiration from Lars von Trier, I decided to give each of the five characters five impediments to the sharing of their narrative. Within each scene the character is faced with one internal and three external impediments. The remaining impediment is universal to all characters.
Perhaps, while attempting to identify the impediments within each scene, the observer will be inspired to consider their own thoughts about cultural appropriation and the commodification of narrative. At the very least, I hope that a reading or viewing of “The Five Impediments” will prove to be as enjoyable as the writing process was.
- Amelia Ray, February 2022
Script development made possible by a grant from Taiteen edistämiskeskus (Finland)