Q&A with Candy Bowers of One The Bear

Hot Chicks with Big Brains are incredibly excited to be partnering with La Boîte Theatre Company for the duration of their 2017 season. This year’s performances promise to be as engaging as they are diverse, with a whole bunch of incredible women helping to ensure their success.

Ahead of Black Honey Company‘s One the Bear, which runs from the 10th to the 21st of October, we caught up with writer Candy Bowers to learn more about her, Black Honey Company, and the production we can’t wait to see next month.

Please can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I’m a lyricist, playwright, performer, poet, producer, and I’m the Co-Artistic Director of Black Honey Company. I had classical acting training at NIDA, and I’ve written hip hop and spoken word theatre since graduating in 2001. I’m best known for comedy, and my latest TV stint on Get Krack!n ABC TV recently went viral after airing in August. I’ve been multi-skilling for some time and trip across comedy, theatre, and music with the odd Circus show now and then. I’m currently building my screen writing and producing skills to unleash my black girl magic on the cinema too.

How did Black Honey Company first come to be?

Black Honey Company is more than a theatre company, it’s a movement. A global promise to ruckus and make noise in the face of adversity. Our chosen weapons? Tongues, afro-punk poetry, humour, and infectious beats.

Black Honey Company was established in 2012 by me (Candy B) and my big sister Kim Busty Beatz Bowers after a decade of making theatre and music together (Sista She/Who’s That Chik?/Australian Booty).

Our work delves into the heart of radical black feminist dreaming and gives voice to untold herstories.

We have had an incredible trajectory touring shows across the country, from the Sydney Opera House to basketball courts in the NT. In 2016 we took our landmark collaboration with Lisa Fa’alafi, Hot Brown Honey, to Edinburgh Fringe and won the Total Theatre UK Award for Experimentation and Innovation of the Form. The world opened up! Since then, Hot Brown Honey has toured Europe, New Zealand, and Japan, and picked up a swag of trophies, including the incredibly auspicious Helpmann Award for Best Cabaret Performer.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome throughout your career so far, and how did you do it?

Ha. Racism, misogyny, white supremacy, colonisation, fat-shame-culture… The small stuff. Honestly, I am a wonder to my own self because times have been so tough. It often feels completely hopeless, particularly in the current zeitgeist of global bigotry.

Moving back and forth around the world and home to Australia has hurt. In Reni Eddo-Lodge‘s book, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, she describes racism has as prejudice plus power. For me, that relates to the lack of opportunities I’ve had for casting. When I finished NIDA (Australia’s elite drama school) in 2001 I was told by Agents and industry professionals that I simply did not look Australian enough to be cast. This was a heinous blow; my parents came from Apartheid South Africa as political refugees, and they brought me up to believe Australia was an egalitarian meritocracy, and definitely not racist. It was an awful awakening and terribly painful to be rejected based on my aesthetic at the ripe old age of 22. I looked on as my class mates nabbed adverts and bits in TV, bigger and bigger roles at Bell Shakespeare and Sydney Theatre Company, while I couldn’t even get a casting.

I think my determination, resilience and self-belief came from a mix of support through my upbringing: my killer feminist high school (St Patricks Ladies College in Campbelltown), my South African sense of justice, along with my Aussie sense of entitlement. I learned courage from the women around me, and the women inside of me.

Can you tell us a bit about the ideas, and the writing process, behind One the Bear?

The ideas are vital, rooted in my ancestry and herstory.

One the Bear is an allegory, an extraordinarily layered allegory. Colonisation is a huge, spiky topic for everyone in Australia; it’s particularly difficult for indigenous peoples worldwide.

Australia and South Africa have particular connections. For example, the White Australia Policy and treatment of Aboriginal people inspired some of the laws of Apartheid; the Prime Minister BJ Vorster visited Queensland in the early 1940s and was impressed with what he observed.

Black women’s bodies have been treated as objects for a very long time. In One the Bear I explore how contemporary versions of cultural appropriation and commodification relates to the way our bodies were viewed in human zoos, or body parts kept in jars on the British Museum’s shelves.

The fascination with “hottentot” (large bottom, big lips, large boobs) Sarah Bartman connects to Niki Minaj and Kim Kardashian for example. So deep are they in the white male gaze. There’s also the pain of skin whitening and generations of young black women feeling their African features are ugly; the cosmetic surgery of Micheal Jackson and Little Kim also greatly influenced the play.

I was deeply concerned by the sort of media young women in particular consume daily and how it effects their sense of self-worth.

I worked with around 100 students and young people form marginalized backgrounds in Western Sydney (my home town) over 2 years to find out how the likes of Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus personas were effecting them. Once the themes and characters arrive on the page, the next step is writing tracks and making music with Busty.

The music is the heart of the production, and everything moves like liquid until the beats are set.

Busty and I have been working together for some time, so it’s probably very strange and coded from the outside. We are obsessive about the lyricism and musicality of our work. Oh, and of course, then there’s the humour! A balance of pathos and comedy is something we’ve been perfecting throughout our productions. 

One The Bear is where imagination, radical black feminist dreaming, and black girl magic collide.

What’s given you the greatest sense of achievement throughout your career so far?

Talking to young folks after shows.

Hearing women of colour who have never seen themselves rejoice and weep because we exist.

Who are some of the writers and performers that inspire you most?

Maya Angelou, Suzan Lori-Parks, Lucille Ball, Lebo Mashile, Inua Ellams, Nova, the cast of “The Fall” from Baxter Theatre (South Africa), Lupita Nyong’o, Deb Mailman, Viola Davis, Issa Rae, Micheala Coel, Susan Wokoma, Nancy Denis, Maria Bamford, Busty Beatz, Lisa Fa’alafi, Hope One The Beat Boxer, Odette Mercy, Juanita Duncan, Crystal Stacey, Ben Graetz, Victoria Chiu, Merlynn Tong, Leah Purcell… And my number one Poet saviour, Audre Lorde, who said “If I didn’t define myself for myself I would be crunched into other peoples fantasies of me and eaten alive.”

What’s next for you and your career?

World tours, my own TV series, a couple of big International collaborations and some stints in LA and the UK… Pretty much doing what I do here but with loads more opportunities! More black girl magic! Keep your eyes peeled.

Get your tickets to One the Bear here!


Answers by Candy Bowers

Images by Hana Schlesinger

Questions and Edits by Emma Kate Lewis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *