Winners of the Cambridge University Press “Channel the Bard” competition!

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In 2016, as part of their Shakespeare 400 commemorations, Cambridge University Press invited submission of short plays inspired by the works of the Bard. Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman of Whoop ‘n’ Wail Theatre Company submitted their short play, My Bloody Laundrette to the “Channel the Bard” competition, and were delighted to win!

The full interview and playscript can be found here.


 

An Interview with Whoop ‘n’ Wail Theatre Company

Deborah Klayman and Ali Kemp (L-R) photo credit -Gianluca Romeo 1

Deborah Klayman & Ali Kemp (L-R). Photo credit: Gianluca Romeo

You can read their winning play entry for free here


In this interview we talk to Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman, the co-founders of Whoop ‘n’ Wail Theatre Company, who won our competition with their winning entry My Bloody Laundrette.

CUP: Why did you decide to set up Whoop ‘n’ Wail Theatre Company back in 2011?

Ali Kemp: Well, first of all Deborah approached me because she had an idea of something that she was really burning to write, and you really wanted some help to get that going, didn’t you? That was it really, that was the birth of our first play, eXclusion in 2011, and we’ve carried on working together ever since.

eXclusion by Ali Kemp Deborah Klayman Photo Credit Rakesh Mohun

eXclusion by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman. Photo credit: Rakesh Mohun

Deborah Klayman: We enjoy writing plays that are funny (we hope!), but they do tend to have a bit of black humour.

AK: Yeah, we’re kind of drawn to social issues.

CUP: Why is Shakespeare important to you?

DK: We’ve got a very particular affinity with Shakespeare because, as actresses, Ali and I actually met working on King Lear.

AK: So Shakespeare is fundamentally important to us!

DK: That was in 2006, so it may be Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, but it’s the 10th anniversary of us working together. That year we did a world tour of King Lear and we really hit it off straight away. That led us down the path really.

AK: We’ve worked together many times as actors, but also as a writing partnership and subsequently as producers, so Shakespeare gets the credit for that, I guess!

DK: One of the things we are drawn to in Shakespeare’s plays is that he writes quite black comedy at times, and that’s something that we like to do with our writing as well.

With some of the tragedies you also find that, whilst there are obviously some upsetting moments, you do have moments where there are quite ‘light’ parts (for instance with King Lear). Even in the comedies you have some quite dark moments. Twelfth Night is a good example, where you have comedic scenes and then you have what happens to Malvolio.

AK: Although it depends on how it is played and how it’s produced, how it’s interpreted by the actors and director.

DK: Yes, and implicit in the text there is quite a lot of scope for that. With other writers you don’t necessarily get so many options for how to play it, and I think Shakespeare really gives a lot of different opportunities, it’s got that light and dark, which is reflective of all people.

AK: And I suppose that never gets old, because of the endless numbers of possibilities for interpretation.

DK: Yes, I think people always talk about the themes being universal and relevant, but I think the characters are intrinsically like that as well because they are so rounded.

Shakespeare really gives a lot of different opportunities, it’s got that light and dark, which is reflective of all people.

CUP: What inspired you to write My Bloody Laundrette?

AK: It was a response to a shout out for short plays by an organisation called 17Percent for their SheWrites Showcase –

DK: On the theme of ‘What is art?’

AK: Yep, and we had quite recently been introduced to ‘The Bechdel Test’ when we’d started thinking about the play, and thinking about the number of roles for women in the Shakespeare canon. We found it interesting to think about the role of men creating art that is telling female stories, so that’s kind of where it came from initially, and then it developed. We started looking through Shakespeare’s plays to find the characters, and settled upon Juliet.

DK: I think our original concept actually was that it was going to be three Shakespearian women, so they needed to be really recognisable. Juliet was an immediate choice because she’s such an iconic and well known character.

AK: It seems to me that so much happens to her – instigated by men – so she was a really good choice to start with.

DK: Yes, and everyone talks about her and makes decisions for her. And obviously she does talk quite a lot with the nurse and so on, but again, generally speaking it’s about men.

AK: Hm.

DK: Yeah.

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Ali Kemp, Gerri Farrel, Tom Neill & Ian Crump (L-R) in “Madjesty” by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman. Photo credit: George Riddell

AK: So originally we were thinking that we were going to write about three Shakespearean women, but then we kind of threw it out a bit further –

DK: I had watched something – because we’d been looking at The Bechdel Test at the time – and somebody had talked about the fact that Princess Leia represents everything! She’s a fantastic female character, I mean she’s a wife and a mother at various points throughout the Star Wars canon, however she’s also a senator, she’s a politician, she’s a rebel, she’s a fighter, she’s a general.

AK: She’s a sex object!

DK: And I think if you read about Carrie Fisher, who played her, she seems to have felt the burden of that representation. So she’s definitely an interesting character in that regard because she’s such a strong, such a positive female character, and yet she’s the only one.

AK: And being everything to everyone.

DK: And so differently from Juliet we felt almost that she was over burdened with all of the things that she was being.

AK: We felt actually that you could have had five female characters, but with Princess Leia they were all rolled into one. We felt that she had a very different burden on her.

DK: So, we then thought that if we have these two characters it would be quite interesting to have three different art forms, and the most iconic woman we could think of in Fine Art was the Mona Lisa.

AK: There’s been so much speculation as to what she’s thinking, what’s she’s doing –

DK: And I mean the attacks that she’s suffered over the years!

AK: They’re for real!

DK: She’s even had paint thrown on her.

AK: It’s quite interesting that a painting could generate such a response from its viewers. So, she was the obvious third choice for us.

DK: And once we had the three characters the play kind of wrote itself.

You could have had five female characters, but with Princess Leia they were all rolled into one. We felt that she had a very different burden on her… she’s such a strong, such a positive female character, and yet she’s the only one.

CUP: What projects are you currently working on?

DK: We have quite a few things in the pipeline, we haven’t written a full length play since eXclusion because we have been focusing on new writing, The Bechdel Test –

AK: And Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… which is ongoing.

DK: Absolutely. Represents… is quite a time consuming venture because Ali and I do all of that. We manage open submissions for plays – which, as I’m sure you know, takes a lot of time and reading! Once we have the scripts then we give two to each director to choose between, and we give a female writer to a male director and vice versa.

AK: Because it’s a gender equal showcase.

DK: So all the plays have to pass The Bechdel Test, but we have three male writers and three female writers.

AK: And we have three male directors and three female directors. It makes the whole experience very much a gender equal collaboration.

DK: Then the director will do the casting and will invite the writers to be involved in the rehearsal process. We normally do two nights of the production (six plays). They are quite work intensive but we have got a huge amount out of doing it.

AK: Personally, but also in terms of working with talented writers, directors and actors – and there’s been a lot of ongoing collaboration between them, so that’s really exciting, introducing artists to each other, which has been very gratifying for us.

DK: We’ve also had feedback from some of the writers that the remit we’ve set has actually influenced them and their craft as well.

Heart's Desire 3

Jonathan Akingba & Caroline Loncq in “Heart’s Desire” by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman. Photo credit: George Riddell

AK: Alongside Represents… we are also writing our second full length play which we’ve been researching and it’s now starting to take shape now.

DK: We can’t say too much more about it now – it’s at a very early stage.

AK: So watch this space!

CUP: What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

AK: King Lear because we met doing King Lear!

DK: Aw! Well sorry, mine is Macbeth! Firstly, it’s ‘the Scottish play’ and I’m Scottish, but also because I find the characters and the themes really interesting, and it’s the part I’ve always wanted to play – as an actor, Lady Macbeth is the part to play! I do also like Henry VI Part III, which may be a little obscure, but there are some really great speeches for Queen Margaret.

We have quite a few things in the pipeline… so watch this space!

Check out the interview at: www.cambridgeblog.org

Charlie Brooker on Gender Equality

We were delighted to hear Charlie Brooker on Absolute Radio last night talking about equal representation of women in his writing (at 16:30) in his interview with Geoff Lloyd:

” I felt it would keep things fresher and more interesting if I thought well, what happens if  I just default to it being a female protagonist instead, for a while, to see what happens. I think it probably just freshens up your writing a little, so even just in that respect it’s worth doing”

We couldn’t agree more, Charlie!

Break ups, lesbians and procrastination

Friend of Whoop ‘n’ Wail, Lizzie Milton, tells us all about her playwrighting debut, female-centric comedy, and the importance of paying her actors:

Lizzie Milton

Lizzie Milton

The Breaks in You and I is a lesbian break-up comedy. It is my debut production. It has a cast and crew comprised exclusively of women and I am paying all of them.

We are watching TV and it happens. It drops. All inside of me. I do not love you. In fact, I think you repulse me a bit. You know what triggered it? You farted. Right in that good bit in Being John Malkovich. And I know it seems like a little thing, but it becomes this whole big metaphor for our relationship. You, my darling wife, are dispersing your shit molecules all over the good bits of my life.

I started this piece during my MA in Writing for Performance and Dramaturgy at Goldsmiths in 2015.  About two weeks before the first draft of my dissertation was due, my partner of three and a half years broke up with me, whilst I was simultaneously going through the worst period of depression of my life thus far.

So as far as I could see it I had this choice. I could crawl into a cave of sadness and not come out for three months or I write a goddamn play about it. In the end, I did a bit of both. I didn’t really know what the play was going to be – I was scared it would be an hour of me rolling around the floor crying out ‘why did you do this to me?’ and ‘why am I so alone?’ and ‘will there ever be enough pizza to feel this hole inside of me?’ Thankfully it wasn’t. What came out was a very rough version of the play that will be staged in September. It was painful and funny all at once, as most bad things are in my experience.

Nina Shenkman and Charlotte Merriam

Nina Shenkman and Charlotte Merriam

Chloe sleeps spread out like a starfish every night. Her life is full of yoga, wine and definitely not missing Joanna. Joanna hasn’t changed her pants in ten days, because she can’t work out how to use the washing machine. Oh, and she’s starting to suspect Chloe’s controlling her mind. A grotesquely comic account of breaking up, amid fried chicken, conspiracy theories and a lot of alcohol.

Chloe and Joanna came out quite naturally as a way of expressing the dichotomy of feelings I had during this period. I suppose, maybe that’s why they’re both women – in a sense, they’re both me. This of course meant that my play was a lesbian comedy about breaking up, and I honestly didn’t realise how significant this would be until we did a rehearsed reading of an extract at the Soho Theatre in June 2015. Talking to audience members afterwards, the same themes kept emerging: ‘I’ve never seen a play about lesbians before’ ‘Finally, a play about women like me!’ ‘I love that you’ve written a play with gay women without addressing their sexuality’. It’s funny really – to me it isn’t a play about lesbians, it is a play about breaking up. It just happens to be a break-up between lesbians!

Six months later, I have agreed to debut my production at The Hope theatre. As mentioned, we are paying all our cast and crew – credit has to be given to The Hope on this one, it is part of our contract with them that we pay our actors equity minimum. We’re very glad they have that policy, primarily because we strongly believe in paying artists for the work that they do, but also because, with the funds currently available to us it would have been tempting to compromise. Now we’ve done it once, it would feel wrong not to continue to, so a huge thank you to The Hope for making Dogfaced Boy a better employer!

Beause the production is unfunded – and I don’t have a spare £2000 lying around! – we’ve had to do some fundraising to get the Breaks in You and Me to the stage. We ran an amazing LGBT variety night to help raise funds – it happened just after the attacks in Orlando so ended up being a really powerful and heart-warming night.

The rest of the fundraising has been done online at https://www.gofundme.com/dogfacedboy. We’ve had some amazing donations so far and so many friends and family have been really generous. We’ve still got a way to go yet, but I’m optimistic.

So here I am now, a month before opening night. I don’t really sleep much anymore with all the work I’ve got on and I have a really tidy bedroom from all the procrastinating I’ve been doing. In a few weeks we go into the rehearsal room and I’m really excited to see what Nina, Charlotte and Holly are going to create! We hope this will be the beginning of a long life for our theatre company Dogfaced Boy, creating theatre about women, by women, for everyone.

the breaks

The Breaks in You and I is written by Lizzie Milton and directed by Holly Robinson. Set design by Fié Neo. Starring Charlotte Merriam and Nina Shenkman. 

#52playsbywomen (reposted from 17percent)

On Monday, a brilliant new international theatre parity advocacy call to action launches on social media: #52playsbywomen. This international campaign has been started by American writer Laura Annawyn Shamas. Could you see a play by a woman a week for a year and tell everyone about it on Twitter? (Readings count and if there are […]

via Hashtag 52 plays by women — 17percent

“Are women writers making themselves invisible?” asks London Playwrights Workshop

The deadline for submissions has been extended for the Dark Horse Festival. This gives you until Sunday 1st May 2016 – this Sunday so get your proverbial skates on.

Why, I hear you cry, has the deadline been extended?

The London Playwrights Workshop, who are organising the festival, ask: Are women writers making themselves invisible?

 

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A matter of consent

Playwright and long time Whoop ‘n’ Wail collaborator, Dan Horrigan, tells us about his play, Face the Camera and Smile, which features in this month’s 50/50 at the Arts Theatre, London as part of the Women In The West End Festival.

The 50/50 Festival caught my attention because it’s a welcome and required concept – present work where the balance of genders is equal, what you see on the stage is a parity. In it’s way it is contributing to a sea change taking place right now in British Theatre – to do with representation.

I am currently redrafting my play Face The Camera And Smile, a scene from which is part of the 50/50 Festival. It was previously shortlisted for The Kings Cross Award for New Writing in 2009. It was also treated very kindly by Writers Avenue with readings of the first 20 minutes at The Rosemary Branch, The Pleasance, and Soho Theatre.

At the time, there was a lot of pressure to redraft the play for its various readings at each venue. I held off the deep redrafts, providing only a few tweaks and a bit of polish. I have always been fascinated by how things change over time, and at the time the question was ‘how do you end conflict responsibly?’ – we were coming out of Afghanistan and the question seemed pertinent. I wasn’t ready to end the play, because there was no end in sight.

A repeated comment on my play was it may no longer be of interest because the war in Iraq was old news. I knew these comments were hopelessly limited. Sometimes a play has a deeper question than that posed by the buzz of the zeitgeist. Writers are often put under pressure to comment in the present tense.

Coming back to the play I now see that the actual drive for the play was consent.  The fact is we went to war without a mandate, and the dodgy dossier was a pack of lies. The Government did not have our consent to go to war. The people of Iraq did not invite us to destroy their lives.

I hope Face the Camera and Smile will be a salient reminder that when the simple things are not given their due recognition the consequences affect us all. Going to war without a mandate or proper justification is part of a long line of transgression by continuous governments in the UK that led to unmitigated disasters and untold humanitarian suffering.

Working on the 50/50 Festival is an opportunity for me to re-ignite the powder trail that leads to the play’s themes – themes which are played out through consent on a micro and macro level and are gendered. In doing so we hope to inspire our audience to ask questions about what is done in our name, or not, and where it is taking us.

The changes to the script are the result of waiting. As such I feel a deeper commitment to the story and what I am trying to put out there for your consideration.

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Dan Horrigan (@DBHorrigan) is a writer and director working in film and theatre. His play Three Women and a Music Box recieved a five star review when it was performed at Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…The Launch in 2014 and then in 2015 Dan returned to Whoop ‘n’ Wail for Represents…Desire in 2015 but this time, as a director. His work on 3AM by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich was also reviewed with five stars.

Face the Camera and Smile by Dan Horrigan, directed by Zachary James, will be performed by Ali Kemp (Sarah) and Fergal Phillips (Danny) on Wednesday 30th March at 3pm & 7.30pm at The Arts Theatre, London. Click here for tickets and for more information about Women In The West End, head to the Anonymous Is A Woman Theatre Company website.

 

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Let’s talk about female characters, not just the lack of them.

@bechdeltheatre’s Beth Watson meets up for a coffee with Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s Ali Kemp to celebrate the upcoming Bechdel Theatre Festival launch.

So Beth, as a fellow actress and feminist, you wanted to do something about representation of women in theatre – what did you do?

I set up a Twitter page. I did it while I was in a room full of feminist theatre types. Actually, I’m not sure if it was my idea or not. I raised the idea of using the Bechdel Test for theatre and someone came up with the idea.

I’m friends with the Bechdel Test Fest people and we started making comparisons between film and theatre.

Twitter is a way of spreading a simple one line message and getting people involved simultaneously. The Bechdel Test is perfect for Twitter because it reduces a very complicated argument to a simple point.

So, why not get people to tweet about Bechdel-busting plays?

When did you know you were onto something?

The amount of tweets I got really quickly. Within a month, I had double the amount of followers than my personal account.

With Twitter, it’s a really supportive thing. Before we’ve even seen a play or passed judgement, we can celebrate that it has women in it, retweet and spread the love.

How did you get from @bechdeltheatre to the Bechdel Theatre Festival?

There is a limit to how far Twitter can take the debate.

I started my own blog but I don’t like ‘Here’s my opinion, take it or leave it’. It’s not my natural way of doing things.

I get a lot more from ‘Hey, let’s meet up for a coffee’.

Where did you find people to meet up for coffee with?

Operating as I normally do by going to lots of events, but rather than saying ‘Oh, it’s a bit shit that there are no parts for women’, I was saying ‘I’ve set up at Twitter page’.

As soon as you say you’re doing something, people say ‘You should speak to …’
Amy Clare Tasker from Gap Salon said why don’t you speak to Whoop ‘n’ Wail; director Bruce Guthrie suggested Naomi Paxton’s Suffrage Plays; Helen Barnett from Sphynx Theatre invited me to one of their salons, and Jo Caird from The Stage wanted to write an article.

You’ve really answered my next question, which was: was it a conscious decision to pull together all the great work that is already being done by practitioners in this field?

Initially I thought, I’ll produce a bunch of new plays that pass the Bechdel Test – but then I found out that’s what you guys do with Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and I like it a lot but I don’t want to copy it!

So, I decided I’d be more of a vehicle for spreading the word.

Bechdel Theatre meeting Feb 16
Bechdel Theatre Festival planning Feb 2016. (L-R) Beth Watson, Bechdel Theatre; Lizzie Milton, playwright; Ali Kemp, WnW; Ellie Bland, Siberian Lights; Deborah Klayman, WnW; Sophie Dickson, actor/producer; also present Jen Wallace, Bechdel Test Fest; Karen Healy, Pondering Media

And in doing so, you’ve taken a very collaborative approach to your work.

People were asking me, is it just you? Are you doing this on your own? But I want it to be everyone.

There is a lot of talk about when women make theatre, collaboration is the way we work and I thought this approach was more feminist, but a lot of the people who have been involved with Bechdel Theatre have been men.

Perhaps it’s my social conditioning. Before I do anything, I want to ask everyone else’s opinion. We can see it as asking for permission, and women in particular get slagged off for this, but maybe it’s a positive thing.

If you are doing something about feminism, then it’s about supporting other women and so, how could I do that on my own?

And how does talking about women in theatre connect to women in the world?

It’s the feeling of being welcomed into a room because you share certain struggles or lack of privileges.

That’s what I get when I watch a play that represents women. I want to share what I’ve experienced with other women who don’t usually go to the theatre – it’s a misconception that you have to have a degree to understand theatre.

The best conversations I have about theatre are: ‘Oh my god, wasn’t that woman on stage just like your mum?’ or ‘I couldn’t believe she did that, I thought she was making a huge mistake, but maybe she did it because…’.

How will you know that the Bechdel Theatre Festival has been a success? What does success mean to you?

To get people to see plays with women in them and that someone, if not everyone, brings a friend who doesn’t usually go to the theatre.

I want to bring together theatre buffs and first time theatre goers with the people who make theatre. Not just in a Q&A situation where writers, actors and directors tell audiences what feminist theatre is, but by talking together as equals about how female characters affect them.

And ultimately, I want people talking about female characters, in a way that’s not talking about the lack of them.

tNyDnUIf_400x400Meet Beth at The Bechdel Theatre Festival, which launches a series of pop up conversations on Sunday 20th March 2016 at The Arts Theatre, London;

Or follow the conversation @Bechdeltheatre

See you there!

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