In Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery, Sneed (right) distils the black American experience into a fusion of gospel songs, narrative and poetry, leading the audience through her protagonist's brutal history and contemporary life in the Big Bad Apple.
Her striking physical presence and energy on stage reflect her passion for the subject. 'I'm committed to writing, not about what's trendy, but what deeply concerns me. When I create a story, the only person I can represent is myself and I think that's where the truth of experience comes out. All I do is bring to the surface who I am.'
Sneed's first UK performance of Mayla Berry profiles three neglected black heroines close to her heart: a blues singer, a lesbian recluse and a 13-year-old girl struggling with the twin burdens of hardship and prejudice.
As a child, Sneed's earliest exposure to possible black female role models was through the fashionable deification of the blues divas. 'That whole image has been very perplexing to me. There's this romanticism about the blues singer tradition. Like the Billie Holiday story - you drink, take drugs and fuck yourself up and great art comes out of that. For a while I think I really tried to be like that, but now I'm older I'm trying to figure out another model - how to be an artist without recreating that same old tragic legacy.'
A veteran of the Gay Sweatshop theatre company, Sneed is familiar with the rewards and responsibilities of communicating across cultural divides. 'Anytime somebody on the margins gets up and assumes a certain amount of power that means an awful lot to people. It's beyond me as an individual, it's a whole struggle for visibility.'
'Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery' is at the ICA, The Mall, SW1 (071-930 3647) on Sat, followed by 'Mayla Berry' on Sun
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