“Black Excellence is a scam.”
Restrain your woke, righteous indignation for just sec, though; let this Black, Muslim woman contextualize her statement.
Fatuma Adar’s She’s Not Special was my favourite entry in last year’s Next Stage Festival. It was one of the few pandemic digital-theatre presentations that didn’t feel desperately cobbled together and depressingly flat. Presented live by Tarragon and Nightwood, this musical-comedy solo confessional feels both flashy and guileless—a giddy blend of pop-star spectacle and intimate, earnest testimonial.
A generous, disarming performer, Adar dismantles the very identity politics she’s expected to negotiate in grant applications and cringy meetings with artistic gatekeepers. She examines the pressure to be an authentic, inclusive and relevant token—the need to check all of our boxes. Is she a worthy exemplar of the Black Muslim Woman Experience? Is her trauma an acceptable form of artistic currency? What if she just wants to, y’know, show people a good time?
Accompanied by a live band, her songs are sharp and playful. She finds space to be self-deprecating without ever undermining the challenge she offers us—to dismantle our perception of who she is supposed to be, to interrogate the notion of Black Excellence, to witness her refusal to win a game that has been rigged against her.
She and co-director, Graham Isador, balance out the sting of her commentary with a laid back, comfy set-up. After a full-on musical number, she’ll collapse onto a sofa, sink into those inviting throw cushions and allow us a glimpse at the Fatuma that is just so tired and untidy and relatable!
One of my favourite segments of the show is the full minute of unstructured, unscripted time with us. It’s mundane, unremarkable, strangely compelling if only for its unfiltered vulnerability.
There are some projected video elements carried over from the digital version of the piece. The hilariously awkward editing of the fake Hollywood Reporter interview—great cameo by Isador!—is a highlight, but this aspect of the show often requires Adar to leave the stage, which is just… UNACCEPTABLE!
Adar is a shrewd writer who wraps her insights in a chill vibe that resonates. She’s Not Special invites us to embrace our varied intersectionalities—not in spite of, but because of their beautiful, exciting contradictions.