Interview: Mika Johnson

Mika Johnson is soon to head up to Edinburgh with their show Pink Lemonade, which is co-produced by The Queer House and Hightide.  

“Poetry and original beats underscore this story about learning to accept yourself and saying goodbye to a love turned sour.” 

We caught up with Mika last week to find out more about their process, the show and what it’s like to head to the Fringe for the first time.  Interview by Amie Taylor.  

AT: To start with, please could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself as an artist?

MJ: I moved to London just over a year ago, because there was a huge lack of opportunity in Nottingham, which is where I’m from, and I think as a trans artist and a person of colour I wanted to find a community and be able to embrace myself a little bit more. So I moved to London and was given an opportunity by Talawa Theatre company to develop an idea for a show, which is where Pink Lemonade grew from. Before I moved to London I’d done youth theatre and stuff like that, but nothing on this scale. 

AT: And you mentioned Pink Lemonade, which is the show you’re taking up to Edinburgh, can you tell us a bit more about that? 

MJ: Yes, so I think my work right now is centred around identity; I think it’s quite hard to make work outside of that, because when you’re a marginalised person you’re constantly trying to navigate the world in a certain way. I wanted to write about my queerness in some way and so initially the inspiration came from a story my grandma told me about some butch women that used to sit in this pub in the 50s and it really inspired me how these women were making a statement in the way they presented themselves. So I started writing the show. Then recently I came out as trans, so I wanted to weave that in to the story as well. The show is about accepting yourself, and growing from past love and relationships. For my character, it’s about them navigating their masculinity, which is something I’m definitely still working out for myself, because masculinity means different things to different people and I feel that socially we need to reframe the way we see masculinity. 

AT: The Queer House are producing on this –

MJ: Yes they produce me, but they also represent me as well, as an agency. 

AT: And how do you feel the course of your career has changed by working with them?

MJ:  I think that The Queer House has given me a platform, and given me a voice, and support.  I feel like I can work with them and that I’m in a safe space. They’re here trying to lift unheard voices, from queer and trans artists. They’ve come at a really great time, and they’re so important because there is still a lack of visibility in the arts. They’re great. And Hightide are co-producing as well. 

AT: So it’s your first time going to Edinburgh –

MJ: Yes, it is my first time.

AT: And how are you feeling about it?

MJ: I’m super excited, because I think it’s going to be great for the show and give it a whole new platform and there’ll be lots of people that get to see the work. I’m also super nervous, because  it’s my first time going, but I sort of feed off the nerves, it helps me onstage and gives me that buzz. I’m also excited to connect with other artists. 

AT: It’s a solo show isn’t it?

MJ: Yes –

AT: How is it making a one person show?

MJ:  Emily Aboud is my director, but she’s only recently come in to the process. Making solo work can be a difficult process, but it’s important to collaborate with other people, even though it is a solo show, because otherwise it can get quite lonely. And I think if you’re the writer and the performer, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming and can get a bit stagnant, so it’s good to have people in the room with you to have some fresh eyes on the work and sometimes other people will see things that you can’t. I also think with the work being so personal, it’s good not to be in that bubble all the time as it can become very overwhelming.

AT: And what do you hope people will take away from experiencing your show?

MJ: I think art can really create change, even if it’s slow change. I’d like people to see the show and maybe it will change their opinions of how they view certain people in society. I also think someone going away and having a conversation about the work that they’ve seen could implement some change, in the way people stereotype marginalised people and how sometimes you can be dehumanised; I hope people will go away and realise that we are all just people. The show has a sexiness to it, but also I am talking about problematic issues, I think what would be amazing is if when people come and see the shows there is a solidarity beyond that, I hope these shows can influence people to do a bit more work outside of the theatre, in terms of being allies. 

Pink Lemonade will be performing at Edinburgh Fringe 1st Aug – 25th Aug, 15:45, alternate days @ Assembly Roxy Downstairs. Book now.

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