'You are not alone in the world': Octavea LaToi's 'i see you. you're seen.'
When asked to introduce herself on tape, Oktavea LaToi describes herself as the writer and performer of the new one-person show i see you. you’re seen., and also as “a happy, jubilant, excited human being.”
You don’t have to spend too much time in LaToi’s presence so see that that’s an accurate description, but it might seem a surprising fit with the serious issues that inspired her new show, which she began writing during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. “A whole bunch of people were dying,” she says. “And I found myself reaching out to folks and being like, ‘I know we haven’t talked in a while,’ or ‘I know we broke up a long time ago, but I just really wanted to tell you that you’re important,’ or ‘I’m thinking about you, and I hope that you’re okay.’ And then with the protests happening in the streets, with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor… it just seemed like everything was accumulating on top of one another. It really was some kind of spiritual awakening, because I wouldn’t say that I am normally a writer – that’s not normally my trade – but I felt like I had a message to get out and I really just needed to make my voice be known, and that was my way of protest, I feel like.”
LaToi says i see you. you’re seen., which has evolved and changed over the past few years to become the show it is now, mixes those heavy topics with her upbeat and positive personality. “I think a lot of the topics we talk about are super intense, and a lot of this is my story. So [I’m] talking about things that are super intense, or things that have happened to me, especially when it comes to sexual trauma or racial trauma. And, you know, being happy and having a smile on my face and being excited and jubilant, I feel like it’s definitely a tool for survival,” she says. “And I think, especially in the Black community too, dance and laughter and making jokes about everything – it really is a tool of survival. And I think [in the show], they definitely come together for sure.”
LaToi describes i see you. you’re seen. as a choreopoem. “And it really is a coming-of-age story about Black girlhood and really coming into your own and finding self-worth and really healing from a lot of things,” she says.
The title of the piece, LaToi says, is directed at audience member but also at herself. “I find that a lot of my journey has been super foggy and super unclear,” she says, “and [I'm] finally being able to see myself. But [I’m] also talking to youth and Black youth and Black girls, you know, that you are seen. Especially in a world where you feel so invisible, or so hyper-visible, both. [I wanted] to really tell people that I see you. That representation is super important. You’re here. You’re here for a reason.”
LaToi was surprised to find that her very personal story seemed to resonate with many people, and with many different kinds of people. It’s a discovery she made while performing workshop versions of i see you. you’re seen. under the working title How to Heal, When the World is Killing You Harshly. “People started to come up to me after the show,” LaToi says, “and they would say ‘oh my gosh, this really resonated with me.’ And it was then that I realized oh, this is not just my healing process. It really made me realize how connected we all truly are. It really surprised me how universal a lot of these stories were. Because although I wrote this with my perspective being a Black, cis-identifying woman, there were people of other identities coming to me. I have friends who are white, cisgendered men, and they were like, ‘I really felt this piece.’ A lot of people were able to connect. It really surprised me and it really made made me happy and like warmed up that so many other people were able to identify with it as well. Because I think at the end of the day, all anybody wants is to love and feel loved back, you know? Or to feel seen, to feel like you matter and that you are not alone in the world. We deal with a lot of that in the piece, and I think that is what really connects everyone.”