SPOKEN word artist and theatre director Deanna Rodger was named Cosmopolitan’s “most trailblazing woman” in 2016. She tells EDWIN GILSON about her production Earth and why people still ask her where she’s from

THE inspiration for Deanna Rodger’s new show came from a moment that we’ll all remember with a mix of fondness and fear. Leaving home for the first time.

Earth, created with Gemma Rodgers, is a theatre production based around an existential hypothetical question: what has your experience on Earth taught you, and how would you apply that to Mars?

Taking influence from the real-life Mars One project, Deanna and Gemma position themselves as the ideal candidates to start a new community on the red planet. According to Deanna, Earth is both a response to the teenage issue of flying the nest and today’s wider social context.

“At the time me and Gemma were both thinking about leaving home,” says the Londoner. “We took that to the extreme of leaving the planet and what that would entail. We wanted it to be personal and political.

“We both cringed at the idea of it being a pure personal story but we didn’t want to stuff the ‘what are we doing on Earth?’ question down people’s throats.”

Deanna and Gemma were highly intrigued by the Mars One initiative, whose founder Bas Lansdorp had plans to film applicants to the programme in a form of reality television programme.

“We saw an interview where he said that and we were like, ‘well, we’re entertainers, what skillsets could we take to Mars,” laughs Deanna. “We’re breaking the fourth wall in the show by reminding people that this is theatre but it’s also really happening in real life.”

Earth has changed considerably since Deanna and Gemma debuted it at Battersea Arts Centre in London, and the nature of the production means spontaneity is normal. This has resulted in some bizarre incidents on stage, as Deanna explains.

“There is a part where I have to make a rocket while Gemma holds her breath under water until I’ve done it. It’s super risky.

“Another time we performed at a venue in London where audience members had to get across the stage to get to their seats. After we’d started the show my mum started walking across the stage.”

Quick as a flash Deanna said “I was born from that chaos” to laughs aplenty from the crowd. It’s the kind of quick-thinking you’d expect from a wordsmith whose spoken word renditions are as free-flowing as they are hard-hitting.

Her poetry has tackled issues of race, identity and even the housing crisis. Deanna says her political focus and social awareness is a result of her background in West London.

“I was seeing my friends being stabbed as a teenager but on television I was seeing people being sent to war with guns,” she says. “That made me think, ‘what are we saying is ok, who are we criminalising and why?’ It’s about exploring how political systems affect everyday life.”

One of Deanna’s particularly evocative pieces is Being British, in which she discusses the strangeness of being asked where she is from.

“I’ll answer ‘Fulham’ and they’ll ask where I’m really from,” she says. “I just think, ‘man, why aren’t people confident enough to ask about what our ethnic origins are, or how we feel about the migration of your black family from Jamaica to the UK?’ Those are the kinds of conversations we need to be having.”

When Deanna was first told about a youth theatre group at the Battersea Arts Centre, she was too shy to attend. “I never thought I was allowed in places like that,” she says, “but you have to realise the importance of saying, ‘yes I can be here’”.

She still gets nervy before certain performances but what gets her over the butterflies is reminding herself how “lucky” she is to have a “space to say something”.

Of the acclaim and profile she has received from the likes of Cosmopolitan and Elle magazines, she says “it’s good and bad. Part of me doesn’t like being seen”. One suspects this exciting young performer will have to get used to that feeling in the years to come.

The Basement
Brighton, March 2, 7.30pm. For tickets and more information visit brightondome.org or call 01273 709709