Lowell native opens PAB Art Exhibit in NYC with her improvisational monologuePerformance No Comments
Obehi performing an improvisational piece about her first experience in NYC in December. Video Credit: Paul A. Notice.
It’s a beautiful, sunny day at Brewd Awakening Coffee House in Lowell, Massachusetts. My friend Obehi sits quietly sipping her chai tea. She is one of the first people I met when I moved to Lowell.
We met in Cambridge at Fire and Ice during a snow storm last year. I saw her perform a reading of Double Falsehood, one of Shakespeare’s unpublished works after my Speech and Movement Professer Jennie Israel mentioned the performance. When we met, neither of us knew we lived in Lowell. In fact, well into the first 20 minutes of our conversation, we still didn’t know. She was about to take the train back to Lowell, but I insisted we ride back together. We talked acting the whole way home. She mentioned she was writing a one-woman show. The snow kept coming down. I didn’t notice it.
Nearly six months later, I was producing and house managing her play, fufu & oreos, at the 119 gallery. Today I find myself sitting with her, laughing about old times and her most recent experience of performing in New York City. A native of Lowell, Obehi recently performed a new improvisational monologue at Black Ink Gallery, the first black-owned, black-run artist gallery in Harlem. Her performance was part of Michael Dailey and Gilbert Gandia’s opening art reception for “730 DAYS” (P.A.B.). “I had no expectations because I’m always improvisational, but I found the space itself was really intimate with a very Harlem-centric crowd,” Obehi recalls.
“A lot of the people from Harlem were taken by the fact that we were from Lowell, Massachusetts.” “That question came up a lot, she says.” “Not so much–who are you, but what is “Lowell?” Even my working artist friends from New York City asked how I met Mike Dailey and Gilbert Gandia and were impressed at how awesome it is that artists in Lowell are so tight-knit. “It was an awesome evening, “she reminisces. “Gilbert and Mike performed and I performed with them. I sang the hook and they looped it while Gilbert did some crazy, performance art with Mike. It was a fun, crazy evening and it went on forever. I feel like when you’re in New York City, you just meet awesome people and there is this convergence of different things and different people immediately. It doesn’t take long for stories to arise,” she muses. Obehi also explains how nice it was to see so much interest in Mike and Gilbert’s artwork and remembers being excited to see copies of Lowell Anthology at the Black Ink Gallery.
“I made contacts with artists in Harlem who were interested in my work. I always feel like I learn a lot when I’m there, “ Obehi explains. “Performance is all about atmosphere. It’s a learning process. I’m finding out now that I can do a stripped-down version of my play with just me and a microphone so I’m going to be contacting different venues in Boston. I’m sort of being a comedian who sings, as a friend put it.”
“I never thought of myself as funny until a friend of mine told me I was,” she continues. “Like, when did you know you were a writer? How did you know? “ she asks me. “When my high school English teacher read my journal,” I responded. RIGHT, she told you. Half of my play is comedy, she says. I found out I was a writer only a year ago when I was at an actor’s training workshop. We were journaling and the head of training said I was a great writer. A professor once told me in college, but I didn’t really believe him. But for this person to say my creative writing was good–it blew my mind. So now I’m a writer and I didn’t realize it, Obehi explains.
Seeing Obehi’s 119 gallery performances for two straight weekends and her rehearsal methods, I realized quickly that every performance was different in it’s own, unique way, incorporating life events such as things that had happened that morning. She creates every performance in a way that allows room for constant evolution within the play, while always sticking to a similar theme—”who am I and where am I from?”
I find the beauty of Obehi’s work is that it is never the same, yet it always conveys the human experience in an honest, humorous and humble way.
“There’s also a word for the withdrawn sigh that girls say, she exclaims.” “It’s called the “frog” and I do it all the time she says. Linguists have deemed that it’s not a speech impetiment. Like when Kim Kardashian will be like “Oh really? Uuuuuuhhhhhh”. We both laugh. I lose my contact lens laughing. This is how our conversations usually go.
You can catch Obehi in Medea with the Actors Shakespeare Project February 8, 2012 – March 4, 2012 at the Multicultural Arts Center of Cambridge (www.actorsshakespeareproject.com) and stay updated with her one-woman show at http://www.fufuandoreos.com.
You can catch Michael Dailey and Gilbert Gandia’s newest exhibit at Heath Gallery in NYC on February 4, 2012 from 7-11 p.m, along with musical performances by Streight Angular, Please Melt and PABXMFDJR: http://heathgallery.squarespace.com/