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. 

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“Acting is the reality of doing”

This month, Sienna Miller revealed that she turned down a Broadway play, a two-hander, because she was being offered less than half the pay of her male co-star. Turning down an opportunity like this is a brave move career-wise, and revealing the fact braver still.

As we well know there are far fewer roles for women in theatre, film and TV – and as a result, actresses can ill-afford to be turning any roles down, even if you are a Hollywood star. Emma Thompson acknowledged that, at the age of 56, she took the role of a 77 year old woman in the film The Legend of Barney Thomson – even though it would have been nice for a 77 year old actress to play it – because it was ‘a wildly comic role and I couldn’t resist’. And having been told by a producer that, at 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was too old to play a romantic counterpart to a 55 year old man, she apparently felt sad, then angry and then laughed.

Well, perhaps if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. How should we respond to this?

Legendary American acting coach Sandford Meisner said “Acting is the reality of doing”. He was talking about an actor’s approach to their craft – living truthfully in the imaginary circumstances of the play. Should not a play then live truthfully within the world in which it inhabits, in order to reflect and engage with the audience, no matter what the imaginary circumstances? So, if it’s all about the ‘reality of doing’, let’s do it!

As Viola Davis accepted her ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama’ Emmy, the first African-American to ever receive the accolade, she made a point of thanking the writers of How to Get Away with Murder for being the people who “redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black”. On the same night, Orange Is the New Black star Uzo Aduba became the first actress to win both a drama and comedy Emmy for the same role. She expressed her gratitude to show creator Jenji Kohan, thanking her for “making this show, for creating this space, for creating a platform”.

At Whoop ‘n’ Wail HQ, we are very proud of all the writers who have risen to the Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… challenge since it’s launch in 2014 – because it is that very reality of doing, and of having a space and platform, that will make real change in the future.

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Preview: My Mind is Free by Sam Hall

The fantastic Sam Hall (17%) brings her new play to London!

17percent

My Mind is Free imageAs regular visitors to this website will know, 17Percent’s founder, Sam Hall, has been working on a play about human trafficking, which tours in October 2015. The play has been cast and rehearsals are about to begin. 

The main aim of the play is to raise awareness for World Anti-Slavery Day (18 October 2015). There are an estimated 30 million slaves in the world, with approximately 13,000 in the UK. Modern day slavery victims include: women forced into prostitution, imprisoned domestic staff, and workers in fields, factories, building sites and fishing boats.

Jude Spooner, founder of London-based Rah Rah Theatre Company, commissioned playwright Sam to tell stories of human trafficking in a play, which tours venues in London and the Southeast this October, supported by Arts Council England.

Jude and Sam were inspired to team up on the play to raise awareness of this injustice in the UK. Sam was first…

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Don’t mention the M word!

Film director Georgie Weedon’s journey into feminist theatre.

As a director of factual movies (I have stopped saying documentaries following Michael Moore’s recent brilliant advice), the opportunity to direct a play was thrilling and a little terrifying.

I met Ali and Debs for the first time, in a cafe in Covent Garden in March. I had seen an advert calling for directors for a night of new plays that would pass the Bechdel TestWhoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

To me the appeal was two-fold: I am dazzled by Mark Rylance’s performance in Wolf Hall but bored by the number of male characters wafting about the screen in some kind of Tudor stag night saga; And then those ugly stats about the dismal number of female directors and lack of trust in female-led films and theatre.

Ali and Debs weren’t just ruing the situation, they were doing something about it. I wanted in.

I was given three plays to read and chose The M Word by Brian Redmond. In the world of the play, women are not allowed to talk about men at all and a KGB-type surveillance drops in when our two lead characters wander into what seems to be a conversation about a man. It had humour and a point.

Now the task was to get the play on its feet, to find the right actors to bring the characters and tone of the piece to life, to push and tug at the script until we had found its shape. I cast Sharon Maughan, Amy Cooke Hodgson and Jonah Fazel.

The M Word by Brian Redmond. Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan

The M Word by Brian Redmond                           Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan

Sharon’s career was somewhat terrifying to a newbie stage director. She has starred with Hayley Mills in Flame Trees of Ithaca, countless other stand out films, performed at the National Theatre, the Royal Court and also for the Queen alongside Helen Mirren and Joan Plowright.

Equally daunting to me was Amy Cooke Hodgson, a comic genius and star of the sell-out improvised comedy group Austentatious, as well as being an accomplished director herself. And to cap it all, both dazzling performers were to be interrogated through a megaphone by the brilliant Jonah Fazel, comedy actor and artistic director of Forked Path Theatre.

All in all, they were theatre gods to me and at the start of the rehearsals I did that thing where you pretend you have it all in hand when deep down you can’t quite believe this is happening.

We had three days to rehearse at the storied Troubadour pub in Earls Court, which has a legendary artistic history of its own and it felt like the right place for our project to take shape. I had read all the books I could on the rehearsal process, from Katie Mitchell’s The Director’s Craft to John Caird’s Theatre Craft, but now it was time to do it for real.

Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan in The M Word

We were opening the show, which was scary but a brilliant programming decision by Ali and Debs. Our play talked about the Bechdel Test head-on in a playful tone, and the cast’s electric performances got the audience laughing and comfortable to open up to the five excellent wide-ranging pieces which followed.

Perhaps the hardest part of all, coming from directing film, is learning to accept how transient a theatre production is. You can spend months shooting a film and many more in the edit suite trying to create an atmosphere or an argument which will be watched again and again.

Theatre actors create experiences of the same intense fascination and watchability, but when the run is over everyone disbands and moves on to tell other stories. But there is a huge positive aspect to this: the constant re-engagement with texts and fellow theatre-makers means that your own imagination, and those of audiences, are challenged and delighted in new ways over and over.

I’m thrilled to have been part of Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and highly recommend you pop along to their next festival to get your hit of powerful, perspective-changing entertainment.

Georgie Weedon is a filmmaker, author and emerging theatre director. She runs Gingerwink Films and is a founding associate for the global arts initiative @ProjectARIADNE, profiling female theatre makers working in conflict affected areas around the world. 

My worst nightmare!

Preparing to go on stage as Katie in Madjesty for Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday, I put the finishing touches to my make up. Lipstick on and dabbed, I stood by the wings and waited for my cue. The opening music, The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, fired up and on stage I went.

As the lights went up there was a howl of laughter, screams and wolf whistles from a packed house. What was so funny? We hadn’t even started yet. Why were people laughing?

And as I stood there, bemused, I felt an uncomfortable draft. With horror, and hardly daring to look, I went to place my hands on my stomach, now sick with nerves. My hands were met not with the soft cotton of my blue wrap around dress but the synthetic polyester and elastane silkiness of my big black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants. I stood there, the bright stage lights staring into my blinking eyes, heart pounding and sweat slowly inching down my back.

Taking a deep breath to calm my thumping chest, I slowly opened my eyes. I found myself, rigid and slightly sticky, looking at the streams of bright sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. It was Monday morning and I was due at the theatre for the tech rehearsal. With a huge dose of relief, I chastised myself for not managing a more original anxiety dream. I am a playwright after all!

Madjesty 11

Ali Kemp, Ian Crump & Tom Neill in Madjesty by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman

Thankfully Represents…Mayday went without a hitch. We had packed, appreciative audiences on both nights; six, fantastically interesting plays, all including fully rounded female characters; wonderful performances, beautifully directed;  and although I did flash my big, black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants from under my cobalt blue kimono, it was rehearsed and a part of my character choice!

Debs and I would like to extend our thanks to: Writers Brian Redmond, Paul Howard, Sarah Davies, William Patterson and Lizzie Bourne; Directors Georgie Weedon, Alice Bonifacio, Marc Kelly, Janet Palmer, James Callas Ball and Paul Kevin-Taylor; Actors Sharon Maughan, Amy Cooke Hodgson, Jonah Fazel, Chinwe A Nwokolo, Bronte Tadman, Coleen Daley, Miranda Dawe, Ian Curran, Rachal Olivant, Laura Garnier, Anna Brooks-Beckman, Roberta Morris, Sophie Mackenzie, Lydia Huhne, Gerri Farrell, Tom Neill and Ian Crump; Technical support Tom Neill, Paul Kevin-Taylor, Eirik Bar and Gareth Radcliffe; Photography George Riddell; Graphic design Stewart Calladine @artystew; Waterloo East Theatre Gerald Armin and staff; and Sam Hall with 17percent for continued support.

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

Still some tickets for tonight’s show…but there won’t be for long.

Well here we are. At Whoop ‘n’ Wail HQ we can’t quite believe that we are about to head to the theatre for our third Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents….

As always, Debs and I have not seen what the actors and directors have been doing with each piece of writing; during the tech day today we will meet a lot of the actors for the first time; and this evening will be the first time that we see the fruits of all their creativity. We can’t wait!

We have a busy day ahead, coordinating 6 technical rehearsals with 6 directors and 6 casts, so, as always, Ali is on her way with a batch of those all important WnW Caramac cookies to keep everyone going.

There are still some tickets left for both shows but we are selling well, so if you are planning to come tonight or tomorrow, book in advance to make sure you don’t miss out.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday
Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th April 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 / www.waterlooeast.co.uk

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

PREVIEW: Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… Mayday

The Play's The Thing

I reviewed Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s inaugural ‘Represents…’ showcase back in November 2014, in which the variety of works all had to pass the Bechdel Test. The series of showcases has continued, and for this new Mayday production, the rules are the same: each short play must include at least two named female characters who, at some stage, talk to each other about something other than a man.

Represents MaydayFounders Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman will once again include one of their own works in the show, as their piece of new writing Madjesty will round off the evening. Other writers in the showcase include Lizzie Bourne, who starred in Three Women in a Music Box in the launch of ‘Represents…’ in November, and Sarah Davies, whose short work Dust  was for me a highlight of the first showcase. While the Bechdel Test is associated with feminist theatre, Kemp and Klayman highlight the importance of…

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