I met up with Chanje on a chilly morning and it was really exciting as well as intimidating to meet her since she seems to do everything an artist could do. She is originally from Zambia and moved to Manchester when she was seven, where she was the only black child in her class. She later studied in Canada and spent one year in Amsterdam which inspired her to write a poetry collection published by Crocus Books. Her upcoming innovative show Amsterdam is a mix of various different performance styles. We talked about the city of Amsterdam, poetry and society pressure.
She lived in Amsterdam for a year and loved the proximity to the water. “I got to live on a house boat and through those circular windows, I could see the light reflecting on the water and a duck gliding by. Sitting on a deck on a canal surrounded by all those bridges was gorgeous.
“Amsterdam is a story of love, I met a man there and he became my lover. Before I went to Amsterdam, I owned a car and a house. I left my house and everything and moved there. It’s about abandoning your responsibilities and chasing your dreams.”
When I asked her if her dreams ever turned out to be nightmares, she laughed and meant that I have to see her play to find out. “I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s an adventure.”
“When I decided I want to be a poet, people said to me ‘you can’t be a poet because it is not a job’. When anyone tells me I can’t do anything, it annoys me. I make a living with being a poet. But a careers advisor would never suggest that.”
She then tells more about her past: “I was just a bit wild anyway and left home when I was 16. I was partying and later went to college and university in Canada and studied theatre and music. I never wanted to do anything else than performing and did it regardless of what other people thought. I’ve been self-employed as an artist for over ten years—I’ve never had a proper job.”
In her poetry and website, she talks about how women should be free to explore their sexuality and not to be objectified and I wondered if she targets especially women when she teaches at schools through the Global Link programme. “When I do my performances for young people, I don’t do anything related to gender. But because I’m a woman and I’m doing performances and not being at home in the kitchen or a pop star wearing revealing clothes, as often represented in the media. When they see a woman who is passionate, creative, thought provoking and inspiring it already shows a different way of representation.
“Crocus books first didn’t like the manuscript I’ve sent them and I wrote a journal in Amsterdam and he found it really interesting. It is like a part of my life, it is autobiographical and about my experience in Amsterdam. It was quite scary because there are very intimate parts in my journal. I then dramatised it and made it into a play.
“I was working with Juliette Ellis and she comes from a life art background and her directorial style is very pictorial and abstract and the language of my poetry is also very abstract and we used to really marry together. And by working with her, I became more interested in life art and received life art training. It’s quite unusual because you don’t normally see poetry combined with dancing.
“She is amazing and incredible, especially because she worked in film, she has a strong visual style. In poetry it’s all about the meaning of words, with her it’s more about visual poetry and creating pictures with your body. It’s like creating a world on stage, a visual world. which is really exciting. I also have a set and costume designer and I can put a more visual aspect to it and also with a choreographer, it’s very physically intensive.”
I asked her if it was difficult to talk about intimate topics on stage and she said that the abstract style makes it more beautiful and gives people a different perspective on intimacy. It is a contrast to media, where it is more superficial and clumsy and she hopes to establish an emotional connection with the audience. From the videos I’ve watched, her interaction with the audience seems very refreshing and I wondered if she’s got a stage persona, but because of her autobiographical story, she performs her ‘past self’ instead of someone different.
“When you do a performance, it’s about your imagination, you’re imagining you’re Romeo or Juliet or Macbeth. When I’m performing a piece, I’m there in Amsterdam and I can see how it was. I’m in my imagination, I’m having an experience and going on an emotional journey.
“I feel a lot of gratitude because I’m living my dream, but it takes a lot of stamina. It’s good because I’m building towards something.” She doesn’t feel it is very straining because she sees it as an adventure—like climbing a mountain, about to reach the summit, having a goal to get there and she will probably feel tired after reaching the top, but she never feels empty afterwards. She is momentarily focussing on her national tour and putting a lot of work into it, but she’s hoping to do an international tour in the future.
To wrap up, I asked her why students should see her play: “The play is something very innovative. This style of performance is very progressive by putting different art styles together. You’re going on an emotional journey, the sound design is amazing and with the theme, it will really stay in the memory. It is relatable because everyone has probably been in love before and it’s about following your dreams and going on an adventure. And the closeness to Contact Theatre of course!”
See the play at Contact Theatre on Friday, 3 or Saturday, 4 October at 7:30pm