The Activating Captions magazine features texts by art writers, scholars, and poets that reflect on captioning from a range of personal perspectives and experiences. Read more.

Selected article:

Raymond Antrobus

The Royal Opera House (with Stage Captions)

A play. An all black cast in a South African Township: we see them sing their songs and play their instruments. We follow a boy through the townships, we see his mother killed by rebel soldiers, a new shore of blood pools on the floor, the boy sleeps next to her corpse.

[sound of speechless poverty]

We see the boy saved by his uncle who also ends up shot trying to protect the boy, we see the boy find his cousin (a woman) who does things on her own and helps the boy reluctantly. We see her shot too.

[sound of blood in the air]

We see the boy grow up on the streets and learn all the languages and have him become a hustler, a man about town, we see him marry a woman who only wants him for money. We don’t see where the woman comes from or what she is escaping or what she could be a prisoner of.

[sound of newer emptiness]

We see the boy marry the woman because he’s all flash and hustle, we see he works hard and dreams harder, we see the boy cross borders, trying to get to this gloss, this one spec, one atom on the glazed surface we call America.

[sound of mirror refusing reflection]

We’re asked to have more compassion for the man who makes it out alive than anyone poverty trapped, we see his best friend stabbed to death in a robbery, we see the boy huddle over his friend’s corpse, we see all these bodies in the Royal Court near the British Museum where black and brown bodies have been historically exhibited in human zoos.

[sound of English sharpening]

We don’t see the oil or the Coca-Cola Company or land rights or coups or the arms industry or the drug companies. We don’t see who owns the ships, who owns the land, who owns the business, who owns the road. We don’t muddy ourselves with details that complicate, we don’t see whose body is left in the desert, or a city street or an ocean. We see men on the stage become criminal by yanking hoods over their heads.

[American music]

We see them hide their face, we see them keep a gun or a knife in their pocket or a gold tooth in their gums. We see all the black bodies in this play hide the white man who wrote it.

[sound of the future working]

The writer, educated at Rhodes and Oxford University has somehow freed himself from his own history. We hear a line in the play that has the boy, older now, say, just before entering the American border, I will write my own story

[unstoppable singing]

and this is where everyone in the Royal Opera House, Black, white, whatever, rises to their feet and shouts and hollers and claps and cries and none of the silences, none of them are filled.

Raymond Antrobus was born in London to an English mother and Jamaican father. He is a Cave Canem Fellow and author of The Perseverance and All The Names Given both being published in the US this year by Tin House. His first children's picturebook Can Bears Ski? illustrated by Polly Dunbar is published by Candlewick Press. His work has been featured on NPR, BBC, The Guardian, Lit Hub, POETRY Magazine among others.