Experiencing misunderstanding and disrespect regarding her ethnicity and sexuality for most of her adult life, Ariane Barnes has a lot of experiences to draw from. Born of parents from British-Mauritian parents descent, Barnes is hard to pigeon-hole. Not that anyone should, of course, but actors in general get labelled and put in boxes – especially when they have to use ubiquitous sites like Spotlight to reach every possible demographic.
As a way of celebrating diversity in all its forms, Barnes has set up the Different Women Project (DWP). Through it, women of all backgrounds can reclaim their inner 'Diva' and not settle for being sidelined or worse. Her one-woman show Diva addresses this and the litany of other issues, all with good humour.
The salient characteristic of anyone being a 'diva' is being outspoken, something that is generally frowned up in girls from an early age. As a polite and articulate young 'woman of colour' who returned to Britain after living abroad for seven years, Barnes' experiences were far from rosy and had to deal with the animosity of her peers at school.
Barnes' show is very candid. In some ways it had to be, as half-measures would rob Barnes' message of its power. Some of the unenlightened comments regarding ethnicity that she recalls is sadly unsurprising (given the plethora of sexist criteria advertised for women's roles). Even though the comments aren't necessarily of malicious intent, the ignorance behind some of the assumptions is mind-boggling in this day and age.
If the assumptions by the entertainment industry about Barnes' acting abilities and ethnicity, then her bi-sexuality has always engendered curiosity and fair share of comment. The most persistent question about it has been 'its true nature' – is there really such a thing, or is it just case of not fully coming out? As for solidarity, Barnes relates how she found the least acceptance from the last place she expected...
While Barnes' one-woman show touches on serious things, the show is littered with amusing remarks and her own unique catchphrases to describe heightened states such as when she's starting to get angry or her sex drive (akin to the flavour of the Vagina Monologues).
The Q&A session after the official show was particularly entertaining. Barnes was answering questions about herself, but often her answers dovetailed into the audience's own experiences and anecdotes of race and sexuality. If this evening proved anything, it's that the Diva show is a true catalyst for 'real discussion' with the audience about not only Barnes' experience, but the way women in general have to contend with assumptions about themselves and their sexuality.
© Michael Davis 2016
Ariane Barnes' Diva will next be performed at Live At Zedel (Piccadilly, London) on 7th November 2016. As a 'transmedia' project, Barnes will launch 'Diva' a (music) single and as a series of performance lectures.