Spirit Awakening Written & Performed by Akuyoe Graham
In its 34th year, The Whitefire Theatre’s annual Solofest has proven yet again to be more than able to bring the very best of the one person performance to their loyal audience. Bryan Rasmussen, the festival director, has masterfully assembled a delightful balance of work and The Whitefire stage, at once both intimate and spacious, becomes the perfect setting for these wonderfully eclectic and varied plays.
Forty one plays in all, spread over 45 days, Solofest has now become the largest one person show festival on the west coast.
Clearly I am not able to review every single play, although I would dearly love to try since there is a veritable feast of performances to choose from. I was, however, able to select the sublime “Spirit Awakening” as my introduction to this most powerful and moving of genres.
One person shows, especially those performed by the writers themselves, are as close to traditional storytelling as it gets.
Akuyoe Graham has taken her own life story and transformed it into something more than a play, more than prose, more than poetry. The audience is lead gently through her life, from African Princess to bullied child in England and blossoming adolescent in New York. Her journey laid out before us through the words of her family, her mother, her friends, herself and even her enemies.
Akuyoe’s steady voyage of self discovery is as similar to our own voyages as it is different. But whether born in Africa, America, Iran, China or anywhere else on this earth, we are all far more similar than we are not. It is this similarity that moved me the most I think, this very real connection between us. The words of her life still ring in my ears as if they were my own words from my own life. “You are an ancient warrior who knows the strength of each tight curl upon your head.”
Indeed Akuyoe has taken her experience and her beautiful words and made them work for others, creating a ‘Spirit Awakening Foundation’ whose ethos is to reach out and to support young people in their own journeys of discovery. Her inspiration for her own work is able to inspire others, her strength becoming theirs.
It’s a beautiful thing when art can become activism…
Akuyoe’s performance is perfection of course.
These are her memories, her moments in her time and they flow through her as if channelled from a higher power, but with all the earthiness and authenticity that only real life experiences provide.
Akuyoe is simply riveting. The richness of the characters she embodies and the skill with which she flips from time to time and person to person is breathtaking. She incorporates music and dance and the soundtrack of her past lives echo across the stage informing and shaping her every move.
It seems a simple thing, to stand in front of strangers unafraid and open yourself like a book, and it is…simple…but excruciatingly difficult. We are all full of flaws and frailties, and we all keep them hidden away, sometimes even from ourselves, but Akuyoe’s performance is so full of hope and grace that perhaps we can all see, even just a little, how to open up and how to grow through our pain and into something better.
If you ever have the chance to see this play, and I know Ms Graham does perform this from time to time, do yourself the great favor of sitting quietly in your seat and allowing this powerful and inspirational women to show herself to you…it is a revelation.
Solofest runs from January 14th through February 27th 2016. See as many shows as you can, the selection is truly terrific.
The Whitefire Theatre, 1350 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, 91423.