After being disheartened by the artistic spaces she found herself in, Koko Brown sought to carve out a space of her own, through the form of non-traditional theatre and poetry.
“It was a no brainer for me. It’s always been inside of me… I love music. I love writing poetry. I love theatre. And I was really fortunate to be able to experience work that combines that in some way.”
Koko remembers her entry point to this being two theatre productions. The first was The Ugly Sisters, which depicts the untold story of Cinderella’s step-sisters. “It had a live band and they sang through it, and it was loud. It wasn’t your traditional song, speech, song. It was amazing.”
She then went on to watch actress Micheala Coel’s Chewing Gum Dreams at the Royal National Theatre.
“I had booked a ticket to watch it really randomly - at the time, as a young person, I got cheap tickets for the National Theatre. I went by myself, which I think also shows my theatre privilege; a lot of people wouldn’t do that.
I watched this Black woman on stage for 70 minutes telling a whole story by herself, and it wasn’t in Olde English. I saw these two pieces of work and I was like, okay, so I see that it's possible. How do I do that?”
Koko stresses to me that she was really fortunate to have support when she first started out. Venues, she tells me, such as The Roundhouse, Lyric Hammersmith and Brixton House, were all willing to let her come up with “crazy ideas”. She hadn’t performed on stage in around two years, and in all her years on stage she’d never done a solo show. But she wanted to try.
“I grew up wanting to do music and theatre and was really fortunate to say that in the right room.”
Since then, Koko has showcased her talents in a number of creative spaces. Through combining her unique talent for vocal looping and accessible theatre, Koko has performed for the likes of Sofar Sounds London. Her heartfelt piece ‘I Was a Tree’ is available to view on YouTube and speaks to the experience of growth in a relationship. Koko’s play GREY, the second in her Colour Trilogy is fully British Sign Language integrated, and blends spoken word and vocal looping together to discuss Black Women's mental health in a frank and hyper-realistic way.
The pandemic has stopped Koko from completing the trilogy, but PINK (the final in the trilogy) will focus on “gender, sexuality and what it means to be a woman”.
Koko’s love is still theatre, but she’s expanding the use of her voice into new spaces. Her new podcast, Black in Power is a platform which she hopes will be able “to blow away a bit of the smoke that stands between people who have done two to three shows and being an Artistic Director, for example”.
Koko has worked to integrate a strong soundscape into her podcast, as well as a sense of movement. The entire series of episodes will be underscored with original music produced by Latekid and WeirdToday. Each guest has designed their own unique sound profile which suits them and Koko’s overall desire to be as inclusive as possible to her guests.
She wants her listeners to be assured that the journey into the theatrescape is accessible to them, if they want to pursue it.
Koko is a big advocate for accessibility in all its forms and hopes that including transcripts with her new podcast will allow for even more accessibility with the series. She discovered this when connecting with the deaf community for her other bodies of work, and expresses that she often thinks about those “who sit outside of my community” thinking, “how can I make this work for them?”.
Koko is also a firm believer in accessibility through the theatre space and endeavours to share the names of others doing good work in the industry. From the likes of Talawa - who champion Black Excellence in the UK theatre space, through to Matilda Ibini; a playwright championing disability, Koko seeks to uplift and reflect on names in the industry in her newsletters and now with the aid of her podcast.
“You have to keep an eye out because there are people who are just doing amazing work.”
Koko is one of those people, and I’m excited to see what she has in store for us in the future and in the podcast arena.
Black In Power is available now on all streaming platforms with new episodes weekly.