Roy Alexander Weise is a director in demand. Immediately after press get a first look at this production of Br’er Cotton at Theatre 503, he starts rehearsals for Nine Night at the National Theatre.
When I met him during the final week of rehearsals for Br’er Cotton, Weise was clear about why this particular play spoke to him and why the opportunity to direct it was one he couldn’t turn down. Starting from a place of “real rage and real pain” in response to police brutality and the killings of black people that sparked the flames of the Black Lives Matter movement, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s play is both grand and intimate, specific and rich in language.
Weise is clear that having black actors on stage cast in a role is different to having black characters in a production: there is now a history and lineage of black actors taking on some of the canonical Shakespearean roles for instance, but, Weise suggests, what is often lacking is an understanding of the habits, physicalities and considerations that would ground that character as a member of a given community. After bathing or showering, we as black people moisturise as part of our regular routine, but as Weise points out, it’s a fact of our lives rarely seen on stage.
It’s something I’d not thought about before – so often, as a theatregoer there are aspects of my life I do not expect to see portrayed, and ashy legs is one of them – and is particularly interesting given the scene I was watching them rehearse some moments before. While the Southwark skyline is intermittently blocked by snowfall, inside the rehearsal room we are losing ourselves in the online world of Virginia teenager, Ruffrino.
In the public, offline streets and roads near his home, Ruffrino, like so many young black men, is in danger, facing the probable and unignorable risk of facing a potentially fatal alteraction with the police force. Online, the fourteen-year-old boy is drawn to games involving missions and shootings, yes, but crucially there is a degree of agency when he’s playing that he doesn’t have, unarmed in the real world. The physicality and actions of the cast, shaped by Weise and movement director, Vicki Manderson, are both playful and precise, reflecting the way we can become deeply invested in our online lives, but are only able to do so because, ultimately, the stakes can never be as high as what we are faced with outside.
Escapism is a universal desire, but finding that escape in what Ruffrino does makes his character an empathetic one, and one located in being a teenage black American.
Br’er Cotton runs until 31 March.
Director Kayla Feldman and playwright Lucy Foster give us a glimpse into the creative process behind Lobster.
K: When did you first have the idea for Lobster?
L: Originally, Lobster began as a ten minute play for Short(s)Wave at the Old Red Lion. My main goal was to tell a story that felt recognisable — something with relatable characters, scenario, and dialogue, and I had the idea to write a “modern-day fairytale”. As such, I came up with the original title: Once Down the Clapham Road.
Short(s)Wave was on in January 2016, and it was December 2015 and I still didn’t have a finished piece. I was on the tube when an old favourite song came up on my Spotify — ‘My Ex-Lover is Dead’ by Stars. It’s about a couple who are introduced to each other after breaking up, and it was just so beautiful that it stuck with me throughout the day. So with that in mind as soon as I got home, I sat down and I began to write.
K: When we first met back in October 2016 to discuss Lobster, then called Once Down the Clapham Road, what were your hopes for the production and our collaboration?
L: At the time, I had put on a number of short plays which had received a good reception, but I’d really struggled to make the jump to having a full-length production performed. This showcase seemed like a great opportunity to have that experience, and I was really interested in having the space and dramaturgical support to develop the play further. But to be honest — I had no idea what to expect!
Writing can sometimes feel lonely, and this experience has been beyond anything I could have expected. The greatest joy has been finding you and Julia. From our first readthrough, to the initial run, to our transfer at Theatre503, I have always had someone at the end of the phone to read my words and support my processes. Thank you for holding my hand through opening night — I’m very excited to do it again on Tuesday.
K: The play was originally written for a man and a woman. How do you feel about Lobster now featuring a relationship between two women?
L: Deciding to gender blind cast our first run of Lobster was the best thing we could have done for this play. One of the key takeaways of Lobster was always that it was a story that anyone could relate to, regardless of gender or sexuality. As such, it was right to not just make it about a man and a woman.
So often I find LGBTQ plays are focused on either gay men or specifically LGBTQ issues — and both of these are important stories to tell, but they are threads in such a large fabric that isn’t being explored enough.
I remember hearing once that the world you want to see should start in your own home, and I think that should be the same with your writing. This is a story which could have been about any two people in love, and because of the process we took it now belongs to two women. And I’m very proud of that.
K: If the audience takes away one thing from seeing Lobster, what would you want that to be?
L: I hope that they recognise themselves in J and K.
K: How do you see the UK theatre landscape changing for women in 2018?
L: With the incredible #MeToo movement of 2017, and Vicky Featherstone topping the Stage 100 list, I’m cautiously optimistic that 2018 will bring a more open and thoughtful UK theatre landscape. By that, I mean one with greater transparency, and where we are more willing to challenge both our assumptions and what we know of the industry. It’s so important for the theatre industry that we love to be a safe space, one which belongs to all of us, not just because it is time for that to happen, but because it will foster our stories being told — ours, as women. I bet they’re great stories. I can’t wait to hear them.
Lobster runs until 20 January 2018.
The New Year brings with it a brand spanking new season here at Theatre503. Forging the road into 2018 for us is new feminist company Snapper Theatre with their debut production of Lucy Foster’s Lobster which runs from 9th – 20th January.
J is optimistic, bubbly, and excited for life. She’s ready to settle down and begin the family that she’s always dreamed of, and she’s finally found the perfect person to do that with: K. Except that K is cynical, independent, and uncertain about her future. But opposites attract… right?
Lobster is a modern-day love story, exposing the universal pressures of the millennial generation in an intimate and heart-breaking new comedy. In Snapper Theatre’s production, writer Lucy Foster paints the struggle of two women desperate to love each other, even when love simply isn’t enough.
And if this doesn’t promise enough to sink your CLAWS into, the team at Snapper Theatre have kindly provided some insightful Lobster facts that will not only introduce you to the world of these wonderful theatre-makers, but also fully persuade you to SNAP up your tickets! Let’s have a little look SHELL we…
#1 Lobsters aren’t red. They turn red when cooked, but in nature can be green, yellow, or even bright blue.
#2 Lucy (writer) and Kayla (director) met through Bare Essentials, the best reviewed new writing night in London. Kayla was one of said reviewers, and when Lucy’s short play The News piqued her interest, she tracked her down in search of a full-length play. This was the start not only of a wonderful collaboration, but of a beautiful friendship.
#3 It is believed that lobsters can live as long as 100 years. That’s almost as long as the combined ages of Lobster’s production team!
#4 Lobsters have poor eyesight, but have highly developed senses of smell and taste. Just like Lobster’s director, who needs glasses to see more than a foot in front of her face, but can smell her mother’s cookies baking from a mile away.
#5 Lobster blood is not red – it’s clear, which immediately give them the upper hand in any fight. As James Bond would say: “Never let them see you bleed.”
#6 Lobsters have brains no bigger than the tip of a ballpoint pen.
#7 Lobster’s producer, Julia, and director, Kayla, recently graduated from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, both achieving Distinctions in their respective M.A. degrees.
#8 Lucy Foster originally wrote Lobster as a ten-minute play called Once Down the Clapham Road, which was performed in 2016 as part of Shortswave, an evening of short plays from her class of writers on the Royal Court writers’ group
#9 Lobsters can regenerate limbs. Just like they are regenerating Lobster the play with a brand-new cast and design team.
#10 Lobster premiered as part of Mountview’s Catalyst Festival, a season of plays showcasing Mountview’s M.A. Creative Producing and M.A. Theatre Directing students. The play was produced by Julia Mucko, directed by Kayla Feldman, designed by Esteniah Williams, and starred Hannah Lawrence as K and Lily Garbutt as J. Lobster at Catalyst was a sell-out success. Opening Theatre503’s 2018 season, this will be Lobster’s first professional production.
Follow @SnapperTheatre on Twitter to immerse yourself in Lobster facts and learn more about the team.
Lobster opens on the 9th January 2018.
Book your tickets here.
[Photo Credit: Tyrone Lewis]
Whilst the original Space Race between the US and former Soviet Union wrapped up in the late 1960s, there’s a new quest on the horizon – to colonise Mars.
Space agencies around the world and independent corporations have been setting their sights on the red planet for some time. In Event of Moone Disaster postulates that in 2055, we’ll be ready to send humans to Mars. That’s a mere 38 years from now, and a monumental endeavour to achieve in that time. But considering the technological advances of the last 38 years, the next 38 could herald an unrecognisable technological landscape.
Of course, when there are changes in tech, there are changes in theatre. So here are a few ideas as to what theatre might be like in 2055.
1. Everyone will have a microchip implant. Any recorded theatre production will be available to download into your head from the cloud. Wearing a purpose-built helmet, you will be able to experience the production as an immersive experience using VR technology in the comfort of your own home. But craving a communal experience with others, people will still go to the theatre.
2. Travel has become cheaper because of renewable energy technologies and it takes much less time to get around. Popping to New York for a show and back will be totally feasible, and medical advancements means a single tablet will prevent jetlag.
3. Theatres will be much more environmentally friendly than they are now. Rather than wood, sets will be built from recycled plastics reclaimed from the sea. Lights and projection will be powered from wind, solar and water. Water in the loos will be filtered and reused in a closed system.
4. The cost of living will have increased so much so that theatre staff wages will be partially paid in accommodation. Venues will have built communal housing for all of its workers, so live-work arrangements will be the norm. This will also happen in other industries as private accommodation, especially in large cities, will be almost solely owned by foreign investors and large corporations.
5. Theatre will be much more diverse than it is now. Casts will be genuinely race and gender blind, disabled actors can play whatever roles they like, and theatre administration will be similarly composed. Creches will be universally available for anyone with a child, and children will be welcome in the workplace without question.
6. Technology will have advanced to the point that projections look totally realistic. They will be able to surround the audience so that productions feel genuinely immersive. You will feel like the world of the play is real, and you are in it.
Whilst I’m wary of microchips and communal living, I’m all for properly immersive theatre and day trips to New York. And give it another 38 years and we might just be able to go to theatre on Mars.
One of the more common accusations against Millennials is that they are narcissistic. The people holding such a negative perspective see this entire generation as self-obsessed and with an inherent belief that they are special. As such, they think Millennials believe they deserve success. But look at these traits from a more positive angle, and you see them reinterpreted as ambitious, confident and driven.
Of course, it’s silly to tar an entire generation with a few generalisations, be they positive or negative. Some Millennials are incredibly narcissistic. Some do genuinely believe they should get what they want without having to work for it. But, we can also see these traits manifested in people from other generations. Some people are lazy, and some are aspirational, regardless of how old or young they are. This applies to both women and men, but it’s only recently that motivated women are able to actually have a genuine shot at achievement – and there’s still a long way to go.
In Event of Moone Disaster spans three generations and nearly 90 years. The three women at the centre of Andrew Thompson’s 2016 Theatre503 Playwriting Award-winning play all display remarkable tenacity, and each fits their generational stereotypes in some ways and defies them in others. What they do have in common is that all three characters are smart, forward thinking and desperate for more than their world can give them.
Baby Boomer Sylvia, who wants to be so much more than a manager’s wife in a 1969 small, English town, struggles against society’s expectations of a woman to stay home with the kids and keep house for her husband. Fastforwarding to her daughter-in-law Julie in 2017, we see a woman that wants it all – a career, a husband and a child. She’s a typical Millennial with a familiar arsenal of wants and desires. Jumping ahead to 2055, Sylvia’s Generation Z granddaughter is grown up and counting down the days until she becomes the first woman to set foot on Mars.
Just as relationships to technology play an increasingly important role in how different generations are defined, the women in the play have different relationships with this rapidly-changing force. Its connection with sex and fertility creates an unexpected thematic through-line that will particularly resonate with the I-want-it-all Millennial women. Looking more widely at the three women, it’s remarkable to contemplate how science and technology have informed our reproductive choices in a relatively short timeframe.
In Event of Moone Disaster has a clear feminist narrative within its framework of generational differences and the technology that helps to define them, but it doesn’t exclude men. All genders are at the mercy of the time and place they’re born, and categorised accordingly. It’s a story of dreams and outer space, family and friction, limits and hopes. Such sweeping themes cannot be confined to one generation or another, rather they are the domain of humankind for time immemorial.
In the corner of a Forest Hill rehearsal room, there’s a large silver trunk. It’s easily big enough to fit a person if they curl up a bit. It’s shut, but not locked. I wonder what could be in there. It’s definitely well used – there are dark scuffs on the front, the lid doesn’t close all the way, the latches looks broken, or well on their way there. Apart from the obviously functional storage capacity, I contemplate the journeys it’s taken and why it’s been kept
The kitchen/set and prop store have some hints as to the sort of things that are deemed valuable enough to hold onto – bits of backdrops, old furniture, fake flowers and bedding. Boxes simply labeled ‘props’ – anything could be in them. They, along with the trunk, are full of possibilities that come from only their most superficially observed features.
In front of the trunk, a pair of actors wrestle with a scene from In Event of Moone Disaster. Director Lisa Spirling – also theatre503’s artistic director – is guiding them through a multi-step process to find their characters. First, they read the scene sitting down. Whenever a line rings false, Lisa simply says ‘again’ until she’s happy with the delivery.
They discuss the characters’ backstories and mull over the unknowns that aren’t in the script. Why might he have said this? Why might she have done that? Little is set in stone at this point, but everyone here is looking for truth. They delve into all the possibilities of why the characters say and do the things they say and do.
But it’s more than piecing together a puzzle that will be a static, unchanging thing, predetermined by an abstract manufacturing process. Lisa and each of the actors are making a new, unique puzzle from a scant few pieces. Each of these puzzles will look like a human life, with all the complexities and memories and experiences of a real person and fit together to form a bigger one. Once the show is over, the puzzle vanishes.
The performers move onto the next exploratory step. In Push/Pull they run the scene again with Lisa and her assistant director Moses each standing behind an actor. Scripts in hand, they read the lines out in small bits. The actors repeat them, maintaining dynamic physical contact between them. Sometimes their movements are tender, sometimes aggressive, sometimes it conveys another intention entirely. It’s a riveting, emotional watch.
A mood board taped onto the wall gives additional clues as to what this bigger puzzle might look like by opening night. The phases of the moon, stark landscapes and a photo series of a diver all hint at a barren world unlike anything on this earth. There’s endless potential in the emptiness, though. It can be filled with anything, irrevocably changing its character.
Throughout the rehearsal, Lisa maintains an exquisite balance between control and freedom that’s just as compelling as the actors’ work, the mood board, and the room itself. This is the early stages of the process and the air is tense and sparky, but in a good way.
Like the trunk that sits in the corner of the room and the boxes in the storage area, anything could be revealed.