Emily Aboud on Bogeyman: ‘I don’t want to traumatize the people I’m trying to empower’ | Edinburgh Festival 2022
IIf a zombie uprising were to happen tomorrow, Emily Aboud wouldn’t care at all. “The fear of a zombie only exists if my line has stolen something from his line,” she says nonchalantly. “They wouldn’t come for me.”
Aboud, who uses the pronouns she/they, is a Trinidadian playwright, director and drag king. His latest piece, Bogeyman, explores the question of what we fear and why. Its history is rooted in the story of the Haitian Revolution of 1791, when the people overthrew the French colony to free themselves from slavery. “Nobody knows about the uprising,” she says, “and I want them to know.”
Unlike British schools, Aboud’s Trinidadian upbringing taught the importance of the Haitian Revolution. “It was the story of the victory of the underdogs.” But the spiritual aspect of the event was missing. At her Catholic public school (she’s now “a furious atheist”), she was never told that the uprising allegedly started with a voodoo ceremony in Haiti’s Bois Caiman, the alligator forest. “There’s a whole wealth of community and spirituality that made this revolution possible,” Aboud says, “and we haven’t learned any of it because it’s considered ‘demonic’.” She wonders about the story that she and her classmates have heard about voodoo, the same one that proliferates in the world about this very misunderstood religion. “Is it considered demonic because that’s what defeated the oppressor?”
Growing up in Trinidad, Aboud attended Lilliput Theater, a theater group that has been around since 1975. Aboud is kinetic when she talks, and never more so than when she talks about this group, which has ingrained in her a complete belief in the power of community. “It’s the best thing on the whole planet. I sincerely believe that bringing people together to talk and create stories together saves the world. This training, which she later took as a theater student at the University of Edinburgh, now informs her process in the rehearsal room, where she prefers to write, discuss and design with actors and crew, before returning to writing. She has just been shortlisted for the JMK 2022 prize, an annual prize awarded to young visionary directors.
Soon heading to the Edinburgh fringe, Bogeyman sits somewhere between ghost story and thriller. “I don’t want to scare the jump, and I’m not in the blood and the guts,” says Aboud. “I don’t want to traumatize the people I’m trying to empower.” She is much more interested in the origins of fear. “There is a doctorate to be written on the Haitian uprising and horror.” Zombie itself is a Haitian word, she points out, with roots in Haitian folklore and the injustices of slavery.
Oscillating between 18th century Haiti and present-day London, Bogeyman explores how many modern fears are rooted in the lingering legacy of racism and empire. In discussions with its actors, they shared the feeling of living in a haunted city. “Looking at the Tate Modern, the Bank of England – they’re built with slave money,” she says. “I can’t even watch Downton Abbey. I just want to burn it all down.
For Aboud, the revolution is an inspiration, but also a warning. In order to become independent, Haiti had to reimburse the French for their loss of “property”. This debt, repaid in 1947, amounted to billions in today’s money and prevented the country from becoming economically stable. “The oppressed won,” Aboud said dryly, “but they’ve been punished ever since.”
So Bogeyman must be a celebration as much as a mourning. This double-edged approach was evident on his previous show, Splintered, which both applauded the creation of Trinidad’s carnival and embrace of the queerness event, and lamented the homophobia and misogyny many face. the rest of the year. “I think you have to have a sense of cynicism,” Aboud says of his feelings for Caribbean culture. “Nothing is black and white. It’s layered and complex. That’s why Aboud named his theater company Lagahoo, after the shapeshifter from Caribbean folklore. “Having the right to be two things at once is really important to the work I do.”
Navigating the historical legacy of the Haitian revolution and the ripples of empire in present-day life, Bogeyman encapsulates Aboud’s desire to use storytelling as a tool for empowerment and understanding. “We are heading towards fascism right here in the UK,” she said, her voice a mixture of desperation and disgust. “I feel really hopeless about it all the time. For me, the Haitian revolution is an incredible inspiration. They literally abolished slavery, on one of the most profitable colonies in the new world. Aboud wants this story to serve as a reminder. “We can get rid of the oppressor. It is done.”
Bogeyman is at the Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh, from August 3-29.