Hysteria: A Conversation
Friday. 16th April 2021
Photos: Justin Laidlaw &
Hysteria: A Conversation
Established in 2018, Hysteria is an Aberdeen based arts platform that showcases women, non-binary and gender marginalised creatives. Over the past three years, Hysteria has facilitated various events and projects including performance nights, protests, a poetry slam, writing workshops and zines. What started out as a monthly performance night featuring music, spoken word and comedy, has grown into a close-knit community of artists who gather to support, empower and uplift one another. The following is a conversation between Hysteria co-founders Hanna Louise and Mae Diansangu.
M : When you think of spoken word and slam poetry, you think of New York, Chicago, London… You don’t really think of Aberdeen, do you?
H : Definitely not. I moved here from London, and there’s no way I would have expected to get into spoken word in Aberdeen of all places.
M : So if you weren’t looking for it, how did you get involved with it?
H : Well, I had always written, but I thought of writing as quite a solitary pursuit, not something I would ever share with anybody else. But I went with a friend to an English Lit Society performance night - that’s actually where we met, remember? - and seeing everyone up on the stage, performing their written work, it inspired me to give it a go. Pretty soon after that I found Speakin’ Weird [monthly open mic at Spin bar organised by Orla Kelly] and it occurred to me that oh yeah, there’s this whole thing happening - in Aberdeen of all places!
The first time I got up on stage was at Speakin’ Weird. Spin is so cosy - with the fairy lights and the candles, and all the small tables so close together - that it didn’t feel half as scary as I thought it would. It also helped that Orla had created such a warm, encouraging space. It was like she had the audience on your side before you uttered a word. So yeah, that’s how I got started… What was your experience like?
M : Well, it was sort of accidental. A friend of mine pulled out of an event he was going to perform at, and I took his place last minute
H : What event was that?
M : A fundraiser for food banks, organised by Molly McColl. I’d never performed poetry before, didn’t even have a regular writing practice, so I don’t know why I thought “oh yeah, I’ll just give that a go”. I started writing a couple of days before the event, and all this stuff was just coming out and when I said it out loud on stage...the connection between myself and the audience was palpable. It was really raw and exhilarating.
H : I think that connection you’re talking about is an integral part of spoken word. That’s what makes it more than just a performance; it’s an experience shared between poets and the audience.
'Art is the perfect vehicle for building community and I feel the Hysteria community has grown from the responsibility of holding that space for each other. - we all owe each other that space to be seen, heard and to feel connection.'
M : Yes, exactly, it’s like an exchange. You know, it’s funny that you mention us meeting briefly at that English Lit Soc night. I have a vague recollection of you being quite steaming and being like “Hi, I’ve just come back from Norway, and I had to wear all my clothes at once because it was freezing” . And at no point during your drunken ramblings did I think, “I’m absolutely going to marry this woman.”
H : [laughs] yeah, I was pretty drunk, my chat wasn’t great...
M : But it worked!
H : It did! We started seeing each other soon after, then a few months later I remember we were talking about how male-dominated we felt open mics often were, how sometimes it didn’t feel like such a safe space for sharing creatively if you were non male… and it was like we simultaneously realised we could do something about that.
M : So that’s when we organised an all women performance night for International Women’s Day. We booked Spin, found performers on Facebook and asked everyone who came along to bring sanitary products for the food bank. I don’t think we anticipated how busy it would be - or how many tampons we would end up with! There were so many people that first night. And it was just so empowering to see women encouraged to take up as much space as possible and say whatever they wanted.
H : I remember being surprised at how many people were there - I was worried nobody would come! But everyone was saying how necessary it was and that they wanted it to be a regular thing. We couldn’t not put on more events after that… but in making Hysteria a regular night, we made the stage inclusive of non binary folk and anyone marginalised because of their gender - not just women.
M : Mhmm, I think it was important to do that, because people often forget the patriarchy doesn’t just hurt cis women. But yeah, there definitely was a demand. I think people were just as fed up as we were suffering through performances from the archetypal Man Poet™. You know, the fake deep guy whose cringey poetry is just thinly veiled misogyny.
H : Yeah, I remember hearing a lot of men describing women through poetry in a way that was just…
M : Horrible?
H : It was awful, yeah, like [puts on Man Poet™ voice] “I craved her like a cigarette, I thought she was my heroine, but she was more like heroin”. And I guess we just thought it would be nice to have one performance space where we could have a night off from that.
M : Not the heroin analogies! But Hysteria really isn’t just about excluding cis men for the sake of it...
H : True. We joke about bad Man Poetry, but it’s always been about exploring what kind of experience we could have at performance nights, if the stage was just for women and gender marginalised people. It’s about creating a positive space for us, centring our perspective…sometimes, marginalised folk are only seen in relation to what we aren’t. We’re not a “non cis male space”, we’re a pro women and gender marginalised space.
M : Yeah exactly, I never want to describe myself as “non-white, non-male, non-hetero” etc, because it implies a deficit. I think what’s really been interesting about making this space exclusively for people marginalised by their gender, has been the type of subjects people perform. It feels like we hear a lot of stuff on the Hysteria stage that performers might not have shared in a more mainstream space. Like, they know that it’s safe to talk about certain things because everyone in the space has come to uplift marginalised voices.
H : Absolutely. I mean, spoken word lends itself to that really authentic form of self expression where you can share parts of yourself that you wouldn’t share in other contexts. A lot of performers will talk about mental health, about issues of marginalisation, gender based violence...and I think it can be quite damaging to air that work in a space that isn’t necessarily safe to do so.
M : And that’s really the whole point of Hysteria, isn’t it? We wanted to create a safe space for marginalised folk to express themselves
H : I think that’s why Hysteria started to feel like a community so quickly, because it is such a supportive space. I remember several incidences where somebody who has been a consistent audience member for a while has realised that they might like to be on the stage… and they’ve gotten up there and given it a go, and afterwards said that they wouldn’t have had the courage to do that in any other space.
M : I definitely agree. And art is the perfect vehicle for building community. I feel like the Hysteria community has grown from the responsibility of holding that space for each other. Like, we all owe each other that space to be seen, heard and to feel connection. And it’s as you say, the same people come back again and again. There isn’t really much of a separation between audience member and performer; really everyone there is actively participating in the experience…and I think that’s what community is. Do I sound like a massive hippy? [Laughs] Do you know what I mean though?
H : [Laughs] Yes!
M : Yes I sound like a massive hippy, or yes you know what I mean?
H : Both! It does sound a bit hippyish, but it’s also very true. That’s what’s been so hard about the pandemic. Not being able to see each other face to face has made it difficult to maintain the essence of what Hysteria is. I’m really missing all those little interactions at the bar and the smoking area, being able to hear people laugh and sing along...
M : Aw, I miss Hysteria sing-a-longs!
H : Yeah, how many times has Angie Joss managed to get the whole bar on their feet to chant “Vagina! Vagina! Vagina!”?
M : [laughs] I don’t want to give readers any context other than Angie is an absolute icon
H : It doesn’t exactly translate on Zoom though, does it? You’re just left shouting “vagina” alone in your living room...
M : I guess everyone’s suffering the loss of not being able to connect with their communities like before.
H : I think it’s especially tough for queer people, though. Queer people so often face rejection and marginalisation in mainstream spaces for something that is just a part of our identity. That’s why having a network of people who not only accept us, but uplift us too, is so valuable.
M : Definitely. It’s funny, we never set out to make Hysteria a queer night, but by virtue of us being —
H : Massive gays?
M : Well...yeah, Hysteria went beyond being queer inclusive and became an inherently queer space.
H : Straight people who come along say they feel up to 10% gayer after every performance...
M : [laughs] It’s hard not to!
H : We’ve missed seeing everyone in person so much, but I think we’re finding our feet with the virtual format and we’ve had some really nice events
M : Yeah, the online stuff we’ve done has been quite cosy, because we’ve structured it in a way that - if they want to - folk in the audience can still chip in briefly and unmute themselves between performances to chat.
H : Mhmm, so it does still feel like socialising, which has been much needed. And we’re branching out into other stuff too, like writing workshops and we’ve started a book club. Those things work really well online and, again, it’s just a nice space to socialise and feel connected when we’re all completely done in by the current circumstances.
M : Ah yes, the year long “current circumstances” which should be over any time now...
H : [sighs] yup, any time... At least we’ve actually found a way to keep Hysteria going and connect with folk. It’s not perfect, but without having the odd Zoom performance night, lockdown would’ve been so much worse.
M : Oh, so much worse.
H : Apart from Hysteria, what else has got you through lockdown?
M : Um… She-Ra, Drag Race, Jackie Weaver memes…how about you?
H : Yeah drag race… and Tiger King! And that time I put down “quibble” and “undulate” in the same scrabble game was a real highlight. It’s the small things, you know…
M : [laughs] We truly have been livin la vida loca in lockdown. I think I’m going to cry at the first live Hysteria event though
H : Me too! Let’s hope it’s soon!