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

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.

madjesty-14

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
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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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There’s nowhere to hide (apart from in a cupboard!)

From Represents…. to The Pleasance: playwright Sarah Davies on how her short, Grit, has been developed into a full lengh play.

‘She deals with the world now with a grimace that to her looks cheerful, and to everyone else, looks like the final stages of rigor mortis setting in. She puts it on as she reaches the school gates and leaves it in her lap-top case at weekends. Pupils go out of their way to let her pass now in corridors, heads respectfully bent to the floor. Because she never checks her reflection she can’t see their view; that carnival mask grin and her eyes like dead things that float in ponds. Belly-up and sweetly rotting she goes about her day, the coffee-prep-register-teach-coffee-prep-teach-mark-coffee-mark-never-finish-coffee-mark day that stretches into months’.

Colleen Daley as Val

Colleen Daley as Val

I love the fact that I live in a world where I can say ‘Ok, I’ve written this play about a school teacher who has a breakdown and decides to secretly live in a cupboard’ and there are people who will help to develop it! My play Grit centres on long-time teacher Val. She can’t remember yet what she has done, but she knows it is bad. Bad enough to lose her job, and bad enough to reduce her world to the size of the school stationery cupboard that she decides to hide in whilst she tries to work it out.

Originally written as a novel, I adapted a section of Grit for Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…. (April 2015) and having seen it successfully up on its feet, was convinced that it could be developed further.

Simply, I LOVED director Marc Kelly’s take on my play. Usually in the process, the playwright will have the chance to attend rehearsals, but at the time, being based in deepest Kent under a pile of marking and only surfacing for occasional caffeine shots made this impossible. So I turned up slightly nervously on show night and downed a glass of wine so quickly that I fell up the stairs of the auditorium into the lap of a random man in a stunning display of clumsiness wholly unfitting to a night of feminist theatre!

BUT my nerves were unfounded; Marc and his cast fully captured my concept for the piece; hanging as it does on a Brechtian style including narration, freezes and multi-rolling , making me certain that there was scope for much more.

Rachael Olivant, Ian Curran, Miranda Dawe and Colleen Daley in Grit by Sarah Davies

Rachal Olivant, Ian Curran, Miranda Dawe and Colleen Daley in Grit by Sarah Davies, directed by Marc Kelly

Excitingly, Grit was seen by a producer from The Pleasance Islington, who was open to discussing possible avenues for development. With her encouragement, I began the process of developing the play in to a full length piece for a rehearsed reading with them. I decided early on that I wanted to retain the style, and I had a good idea of the overall narrative having already written most of it in novel form. There was simply the small matter of changing the protagonist from a 6ft 4 man into a middle aged woman, adapting the novel in to script form and cutting about 70% of the description. Easy!

Actually, despite these challenges, the task was incredibly enjoyable! Writing with a specific remit, cast and director in mind, using material that you have already created in another form, is a very different experience. On the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, playwright Simon Stephens would often refer to the concept of ‘killing your babies’, getting rid of those lines that you love but that just don’t work. This resonated with me particularly as  I went on to perform a metaphorical infant massacre just to get an outline for this script! I couldn’t afford to be precious if I was going to even approach the idea of ‘showing not telling’, and so vast swathes of description were replaced with action and sub-text.

I also had to tread what sometimes felt a fine line in using my own experience as a teacher. It goes without saying that this is a work of fiction, exaggerated for theatrical effect, yet I still feel a strong moral impetus to make that clear. After twelve years and at times LOTS of pressure, I still genuinely love teaching. I relish the fact that every day I get to explore theatre and plays with enthusiastic students (and sometimes as a bonus canter around a room under the guise of a ‘warm up!’). But as in any job, I see the flip-side too, particularly having worked in a school environment, which was a markedly different experience for me. In the process of developing my play, I’ve discovered the reality of something that I’ve long advocated to my own script-writing students; the importance of real truth in writing. Here I am now, a female teacher, writing a play about….a female teacher. There’s nowhere to hide (apart from in a cupboard!) and that’s scary. And exciting!

So, I dashed off a first draft to Marc and the cast, roughly 45 pages long (I generally go by a minute a page for timings) and….found out that I needed to cut roughly a quarter of the play or the audience would need to bring thermos flasks and sleeping bags! That in itself was a challenge, but I enjoyed having to be ruthless, and I think that the script is stronger as a result. Now, we are at a more manageable length, and I have very high hopes of developing this play; simply, there is so much that I want to say through it.

Writing for theatre is like nothing else; you have a live audience right there, with the opportunity to create a specific atmosphere solely through action and words. There’s an element of risk that appeals hugely to me, and the director has patiently responded to me enthusing that ‘in my head…the whole stage is a giant cupboard, right, with different compartments that ping out at key points’. To be fair, he didn’t even blink an eyelid about the scene where Val is force to defecate in a box file……! Of course, his task now is to bring all this to life within the confines of an empty stage, and I have every faith that this will be achieved brilliantly! I WILL get that cupboard eventually though!

So, next week it is! The purpose of the rehearsed reading is to share the work, invite feedback and to secure a producer.  It takes place at 3pm on Thursday 29th October at The Pleasance Islington in London. If you’d like to come along, or are interested in hearing more, please email me to be put on the guest list – I’d love to see you there! : sjd_@hotmail.com

Sarah Davies is a drama lecturer, playwright, director, and reviewer for Total Theatre – follow her on twitter @TallTalesSarah

“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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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.

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Sharon Maughan talks to the Huffington Post about Whoop ‘n’ Wail.

Acclaimed actress Sharon Maughan talks to Carrie Armstrong about her involvement in Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

Sharon Maughan, The Bechdel Test & The Glaring Gender Equality Gap in British Theatre by Carrie Armstrong

Two female characters. With actual names. Talking to each other about something other than a man.

Not exactly shooting for the moon. Is it?

Read the full article here.

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

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Ali & Debs feature in Female Arts Magazine

Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman: Whooping and Wailing on the Road to Gender Equality

Read our feature in Female Arts here.

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