As children we're encourage to embrace escapism through fairytales and conditioned to chase our happily-ever-after destinies. But, what happens when we grow up with the reality that people and situations can be less than charming? Is denial of reality where our salvation lies, or do we become disenchanted with life on a grander scale? The two characters in 50 Shades of Fairytales —a whimsical and quirky song revue, performed by Titilayo Adedokun and directed by Heike Brunner— explore how our perspectives shifts as our personal experiences of love (and its challenges and consequences) impacts on our lives. Adedokun and Brunner share some of their 50 Shades of Fairytales thoughts before the show hits the stage again at Alexander Upstairs on 21 September 2018.
Adedokun (who moved to Cape Town four years ago from Munich with her family) shares that she was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to parents of Nigerian origin —‘born into a musical family, but not a family of musicians’. ‘My mother sang; my father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket if his life depended on it, but he loved music.’ As the daughter of a music-loving Baptists Minister she grew up surrounded by 'gospels, spirituals, and church hymns. and sang in every choir she could get into. However, as a young songstress Adedokun didn't see herself making a career or it. ‘I went to college to study law, because that was what we were supposed to do in my family: doctor, lawyer, you know’. Yet, even as a law student she could not go without music in her life, so she joined the college choir.
‘I audition for a solo and before I knew it —a week later— they called me and, with the whole music department there, offered me scholarships to become a music mayor. I really was not convinced that music could be a career, but I heard scholarship and just went, “Where do I sign?”.’ ‘Thank goodness they didn’t offer me anthropology,’ she heartily admits, ‘because I’d be an anthropologist today —I just went after the money’. That monetary appeal to her younger self aside, Adedokun does believe that performing music was what she was supposed to do with her life, even if she did not know that from the start. ‘I think sometimes that life chose the path for me, and here I am.’
Reflecting on her own theatre journey, Brunner says, ‘I’m an actress and I’ve never wanted to be anything else’. That certainty in focus does not mean that life has not brought unforeseen yet great opportunities her way. ‘Moving into directing is new for me; that’s very exciting.’ Having acted and produced (‘to put on stuff I really enjoy’, Brunner qualifies), ‘directing has been the next thing that’s opened up’.
‘Actually, when I approached Heike to direct me in this, I didn’t really know whether she was a director,’ says Adedokun. As someone who embraces and cherishes personal collaboration that uncertainty didn’t stop her from wanting to work with Brunner on the development of her 50 Shades of Fairytales vision. ‘I knew she was an actress, but I really didn’t care, because I thought, “If she doesn’t direct, then she will now!”. My idea was just that we work together and see where it goes. I wanted to complement the side that I was maybe lacking by having her profession as an actress merge with my music background, and see what comes out the other side.’ What came out on the other side was a very tongue-in-cheek, catchy, cabaret with a lot of subtle (and powerfully, not so subtle) subtext that have captivated audiences.
For Brunner an understanding of where Adedokun wanted to go with this production started taking shape when she told her that there were a number of songs that she could not sing at professional gigs —either because the opportunity had not presented itself, or because these were ‘rude and a little bit outrageous’. ‘But I wanted to sing them all,’ Adedokun adds. Ultimately, they brainstormed to figure out how to pull it all together and the narrative started taking shape around the music.
‘We had to change a few things, tweak a few things, take a couple of things out because it didn’t really fit,’ Adedokun explains the creative process, ‘but basically most of the songs stayed and we made it work’.
‘The original title was 50 Shades of Fairytales: the non-political(ly correct) Song Revue (No Zuma, no Trump, no kids….unless you want 'em to grow up to be gun-wielding, lace-wearing feminists. The girls too!’.' But, to be honest,’ Adedokun continues, ‘when I think about it, what really summarises the end product is the consequences of expectations and the consequences of the roles we assume when we are born’. 50 Shades of Fairytales is ‘about what we expect, and how we get disappointed (or not disappointed), and how we go about that’.
For Adedokun two things stand out about the show: ‘Firstly, we talk about very serious things and we laugh about it (everyone is laughing about it), while you think “Oh my god, that’s really rude that you’re laughing!”. Secondly, no matter who you are (woman, man, anybody over 16) there’s something in it you can relate to, a song that makes you go “That’s me, oh no!”.’
Although the show mainly focuses on women and their reaction to the fairytale-life we’re encourage to pursue since childhood, both Adedokun and Brunner agree that men get something out of the show too.
Yes, says Brunner, ‘it does speak to this sort of stereotypical thing that women are pushed into. The one woman [character] follows the stereotype expectation of the fairytales —the weddings, that all girls naturally love pink, want to look like a Barbie doll, and love high heels’. That character then transitions into another that reflects ‘the realisation that this is not fun all the time and comes to a different conclusion that you don’t have to want that life if it’s not working for you’. ‘That’s the big thing: the very narrow view of fluffy girl is very limiting. But, the other thing is that men have a great response to the show too: they don’t feel beaten over the head by the strong character. Titilayo and I were saying that the humorous aspect of it is that some of the lyrics actually do take a club to men, yet men come out saying that they had a great time —that’s what the humour can do. That’s the joy for me [in this show], that it’s not a show where the women all go “YEAH!” and the men feel like they’ve been lectured. The men in the audience are as enthusiastic about the show as the women.’
‘You can come and get empowerment or you can come and get a good laugh’, adds Adedokun. ‘I think in life when we have questions we get answers. If you’re a woman looking for answers, you can get 10 different answers from the show. We don’t just say one thing, and we don’t draw conclusions. In fact, thinking about it, if we were to say that we draw conclusions, then we draw really bad conclusions.’
50 Shades of Fairytales may not be focussed on giving answers, but it is strongly informed by Adedokun’s observation that ‘women don’t talk to one another’. ‘We go through life, through things, and then only later do we find out that our neighbour or a friend we’ve known for 20 years went through the same thing’. Adedokun hopes that the show shows women that their 'not the only one; everyone who’s here of this age has gone through certain things, but it’s just laying it bare and we’re able to laugh about it’. In fact, because 50 Shades of Fairytales isn’t trying to be politically correct ‘it makes it ok to laugh about it, while still dealing with the disappointment or the pain or whatever it is that you’re dealing with’.
Brunner agrees with this as the central focus that informs 50 Shades of Fairytales. ‘For us there are two women,’ she elaborates, ‘but for people who have seen the show there are fifty different women or one in each song, because everyone has lots of aspects’. ‘So, if you’re sitting in the audience it comes down to your experience, where you’re at. It’s that Gestalt theory: you take from it exactly what you need. So, when we’re saying we’re not necessarily going to commit about it being about one thing, it doesn’t really matter.’
‘It’s like a work of art,’ Adedokun brings it all together, ‘you look at it and many people have a different interpretation of it and it should be that way’.
50 Shades of Fairytales is back at Alexander Upstairs (having debuted there in January) from 21 to 30 September 2018. You can book your tickets online at www.alexanderbar.co.za.
All photos are by Candice van Litsenborgh and used with the permission of Canned Rice Productions. The photos remain their property. Permission must be obtained from Canned Rice Productions before using these photos in any capacity that goes beyond the sharing of this online article.