what if i told you

Pauline Mayers on the inspiration behind her brave and fierce blend of dance & theatre: What If I Told You?


Pauline Mayers' upcoming show What If I Told You? gets us up on our feet and invites us to reconsider the stories we tell about our past and the history on which we build our futures. Mayers tells us about her interest in combining movement and theatre, and sharing her experiences as a British Black woman.

Can you tell us what your show, What If I Told You? is about?

What If I Told You? has three themes running through it. My beginnings as a dancer and the subsequent training I undertook at a world renowned ballet school in my hometown of London and how people over the years have responded to me being a black woman. I sit those themes next to experimentation that was forced upon enslaved women in the US during the 19th Century that began the school of gynaecology.

How will the work be staged?

The work has elements of my two greatest interest in the arts, movement and theatre. I’m interested in finding ways of combining the two disciplines that isn’t explicitly the disciplines of physical theatre or dance theatre. I’m investigating ways of finding a third way that speaks to both movement and theatre but isn’t easy to define… a bit like myself really! What If I Told You? is my first experimentation in this new arena I’m creating for myself.

Where did the idea and inspiration come from?

Actually, the piece was my final hurrah. I have been professionally involved in the arts for the last 25 years and I was tired of the feast and famine life I was having as I struggled to have work that would give me an annual income. 

Although I have had the kind of career and experience most would like to have, I was unable to find enough work for me to be able to financially sustain myself. Along with this, even though I have had on paper at least a successful career and have worked and collaborated with some incredible dance and theatre companies across the UK, as well as being fortunate to have travelled the world performing and making work, I wasn’t being recognised for the contribution I have made to the creativity of others, and in some circles my contribution has been omitted. I wanted to create something that said I was here and I contributed, something that was undisputedly mine that I wrote, created and performed myself. I wanted for to others to hear and feel the experiences I have gone through being a British Black woman living in contemporary UK.

And underpinning this I wanted for people to think a little differently about skin colour prejudice. If just one person comes away from the experience of the show with a changed world view I know I will have been successful.

Why do you think it is an important story to tell?

We as a society are hardwired to be combative with discussions around skin colour prejudice. The constant pleads of people of colour for the rest of society to understand the systemic racism they face daily is usually met with disbelief, indignation, anger or defence of the same system. Victim blaming is a used as a way to block and shut down such conversations in this country, and this climate has convinced us as a society that we cannot have an open dialogue about skin colour prejudice without it falling into an all out war of ideologies and screaming matches.

My way of combating this is to make a show that has dialogue at the core of the work and it creates a safe space for the challenging conversations to be had. Part 2 of the show is called Koan, which is a Japanese word for public thought. It is here that the space is open for people to reflect and discuss issues of skin colour prejudice in a space that elicits empathy and compassion. Koan is led by the brilliant writer, poet and activist Khadijah Ibrahiim.

Do you agree that the themes of the work appear to be resonating particularly strongly in the public consciousness at the moment, for example the recent comments made by Munroe Bergdorf about systemic racism?

This feels like a yes/no question. So my answer is yes!

What is going to surprise people about this show?

I have no idea what will surprise people about the show. Come along and we’ll find out together.

What If I Told You? is at the Sallis Benney Theatre on Thu 19 & Fri 20 Oct, 7.30pm