The Feminist Activists Using Theatre to Create Change
Meet Michaella, a feminist activist working with the Drama Queens, a theatre nonprofit in Accra, Ghana. As a collective, they bring to life stories that center women in Ghana creating plays that tell the stories of revolutionary figures who contributed to independence and feminist movements. Alongside their theatre, Drama Queens also provides community engagement through their speakeasies and by facilitating creative writing and consent workshops in schools as well as docuseries and films.
Having connected with Drama Queens on the dancefloor in Accra, our founder Bethany Burgoyne was eager to learn more about the community of feminist-minded creatives on a mission to liberate and support women and the LGBTQ+ community. We're grateful that Michaella offered to come on the podcast to discuss her journey to joining Drama Queens and the activist role that she embodied today.
Tune in to learn about the reality of politics that go alongside protests in Ghana and the global movements that Drama Queens aligns itself with. Get inspired by collective action and expand your brain today by listening to what Michaella has to say.
Michaella's journey to joining Drama Queens began with her being a consumer of the arts "I love theatre, I love visual arts...the wordplay in poetry. I've always been a wide eye wanderer consuming everything around me, every since I was a kid". This eager observation led Michaella to follow Drama Queens on social media before responding to a call out for a filmmaking workshop they were running. "I really wanted in... It was interesting to see people teaching film along the lines of intersectionality but specifically for minority groups such as women, queer people, and disability rights."
We're committed to rewriting, documenting and bringing to life the stories of women... being as inclusive as possible for all the minorities that exist within Ghana; queer people, trans people, and nonbinary folk
When talking about Michaella's upbringing, she explains how her sense of adventure was shaped by growing up with a lot of male cousins and experiencing health conditions that resulted in trips to the hospital and needing to stay inside recovering. However, the barriers in her way only seemed to perpetuate an even keener rebellious streak. "That's when my sense of adventure peaked; sneaking around, following my cousins and wanting to do all the things the big boys did but being told no, I can't do that because I'm a girl and frail, and I have to be home in the kitchen". Defying these expectations is something Michaella credits to her love of reading and the lack of policing from her parents over which books and information she consumed. "I was an avid reader, I read everything!... I think reading so much, so early was how I was introduced to so many diverse ways of thinking and so many different worlds. Which is a huge influence on how my unique view has developed because I wanted to do all the bad naughty things everybody else could do [and] I knew that in a world somewhere I could do these things so I wasn't content to stay at home... I wanted to climb the trees and chase things because in the books they got to go to space and have all these adventures!".
I describe my path into feminist activism as a desire to be a naughty child
It was when Michaella was in high school that she witnessed her first protest from her fellow students who were dissatisfied with the food being sold to them. "This was the first clear instance of demanding accountability and actually seeing results from what you're demanding". This example of collective action in order to create change was of huge inspiration to Michaella who went on to work on campaigns and protests with her fellow students all the way up until she finished University by being part of advocacy groups, campaigns and providing people with resources so they too can take action.
When discussing the reality of protesting in Ghana, Michaella tells us how citizens often don't know their democratic rights; "Ghanaians don't realise that aside from voting they have other ways to demand accountability and I don't blame them because the system has been rigged in a way that we don't know our rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democratic country." However, when discussing the reality of protest, Michaella reflects on the threats and violence that governmental forces use in the face of public action, even when it's peaceful. This is the case for the majority of countries around the world, limiting freedom of speech, specifically against those fighting the system.
There are different kinds of people and all of us deserve to live full quality lives in Ghana because we are all Ghanaians
When talking about feminism and how Drama Queens embodies the movement's mindset in their community, Michaella explains how "there's a social component to feminist activism which is 'we do not exist in a void', because the feminist struggle is reliant on the work done 10, 50, 100 years ago. It's a base for the work feminist activists are going to do next year, next month - working together for all of us." For Drama Queens, intersectionality is at its core. They welcome people who are cis het persons to whatever it is they are working on collectively. Michaella tells us that "regardless of who you are, the feminist principles that we invite ensures that you are safe and your opinions are valid and you're able to confidently and objectively express yourself in that space". This security and encouragement to speak out is something that Drama Queens nurtures, defying the demure expectations of women. "We're expected to be smaller, to not be angry, to not express our less-than-ladylike" opinions. But at a Drama Queens speakeasy or play... you allowed and encouraged to express in the most vibrant and dramatic, loud and colouful way as you would like". Michaella tells us how fortunate they are to have an audience in Accra who respond well and contribute to making the space progressive for everyone involved.
Drama Queens encourages you to speak out... Regardless of who you are, the feminist principles that we invite ensure that you are safe and your opinions are valid and you're able to confidently and objectively express yourself in that space
It is clear to us how Michaella is leading by example and offering a fresh sassy perspective for others to be uplifted by. Alongside the way she will state her opinion and stand her ground, Michaella tells us how "engaging with my sassy side looks a lot like hair dyes, funky clothing, piercings and self-expression and gender expression and that's a huge thing for me because I come very a very politically covert family... Coming into myself was a huge act of rebellion and it is for a lot of young Ghanaian women to cut, dreadlock or dye their hair, to wear short skirts, or to have piercings and tattoos. It takes a lot of defiance to get to that level of self-expression". This is connected to what is considered respectable within the family and "to be sassy and be brave does not fit into those standards". Adding that it's also thanks to the people Michaella surrounds herself with and the content she consumes that continues to strengthen her sense of self, freely.
As we watch Drama Queens online facilitating workshops and speakeasy's, we're filled with a sense of solidarity, championing the work that they do collectively and the agency Drama Queens are bringing to so many. We look forward to seeing the exceptional work touch more people within Ghana as well Michaella's own individual journey as an activist.
Being Sassy is a journey and its one I'm looking forward to leaning more into
When do you feel most confident?
In a Drama Queens space, at a speakeasy amongst my friends having progressive and feminist conversations.
What key experience has shaped you positively?
Protest - I have a strong belief that Ghanaians are becoming too apathetic for their own good. So I love to see people take charge and do things about the things they care about.
One law you want to change?
The Ghanaian government are currently contemplating an anti-LGBTQ+ law so stopping that law from being passed
One dream you wish to come true?
For every single person in Ghana, however they identify, wherever they live, to have access to a full and unrestricted quality of life.
What's the best thing about being you?
Regardless of how bad a day I've had, how shit it's been, I always see the optimism in it - there's always a silver lining, a rainbow.
Name your Sassy soundtrack?
Poor Poor Fool - Ruby Amanfu
Wo Fie - Angel Maxine
Sability - Ayra Starr
Suffer Suffer - Lady Donli
Lumumba - Baaba J
Cancion Sin Meido - Vivir Quintana, Mon Laferte
Follow The Sassy Show playlists on Spotify and get all our guest's fave tunes in one spot.
Interview by Bethany Burgoyne @bxsassy2