The VAULT Festival is coming to town! From January 24th to March 18th, over three hundred new shows explode across a festival of festivals in their Waterloo home. With new venues, new bars, new food and plenty of surprises, VAULT 2018 is the biggest, fairest platform in London for artists to present innovative, daring work. Here we chat to Jennifer Fletcher from The Mostly Everything People, who are bringing their show The Very Important Child to the VAULT Festival from 20th-25th February. Through Loevinger’s stages of ego development and the perennial millennial favourite – the personality test – this show explores ideas of growing up and developing ourselves and our relationships in an exciting fashion.
The Very Important Child was heavily influenced by Jane Loevinger’s theories of ego development and by the realities of growing up – could you expound on this a bit?
Yeah, so we came across this theory by Jane Loevinger about ego development, which says that there are nine stages that you progress through during your life. Interestingly, most of us adults never get beyond level five! That’s slightly depressing, but also very enlightening about how much we actually can keep progressing. Also, once you’ve progressed to a certain level does that mean you never go back down the scale? There are several questions about that. So this kind of inspired us to think a lot about the way we behave, how we think of the ego, what the ego actually is, and how that means we treat each other and create conflict and all these kinds of things that can be related back to this scale.
So yeah, there is a lot here and we’ve tried to squish it into a sixty-minute show! And it was quite the task to design. Audience members can come find out what level they’re at so you can assess yourself during the show (but you don’t have to!). The best thing is that there’s no direct audience participation so no one’s on the spot or pulled up on stage – everyone can relax. But I think The Very Important Child show is quite relevant at the moment, especially in terms of millennials (which will be large portions of the audience at the VAULT Festival) who may be interested in things like self-analysis and personality tests.
In terms of the ego, the idea has a bad reputation in circles outside Freudian scholarship. How do you approach this possible preconception?
Well I think I certainly didn’t quite understand what the ego was until researching this show, and I think the way that we refer to it in an everyday sense is not what it actually means. The ego acts as a filter for the information you take in and then the behaviour you turn the information into. So, while people will often say ‘oh, he’s got a big ego’ or ‘she’s so egotistical’, for example, that’s only part of the picture. It’s a good thing to develop your ego. The highest stage – level nine – of the ego development scale is where you’re integrated, where you’re able to notice conflict around you and not be affected by it and reconcile with that conflict. So, it’s maybe not what we imagine the ego to be.
Could you tell us a bit about the creative process of making the show?
There are three of us in The Mostly Everything People – two of us from a dance background and one from a music background – and we all work in theatre so we meet somewhere in the middle. Hence the name! We try to bring all those influences into our work and we try to find seamless ways of using those disciplines in a non-prescribed way, so what you’re seeing can’t be immediately identified as a piece of dance or a piece of music within a show. Also, we love making ourselves look ridiculous – a lot of our work is based around how ridiculous humans are, so we spend a lot of time trying to work out how to get audiences to relate to us as ridiculous humans. We have a lot of fun and use many different techniques to blend these mediums. In a world of grown up babies in power (we’ve had a lot of material to go off today), the show seems to fit.
What is the target audience for your show?
The Very Important Child is certainly not a children’s show, but what we did find when we took it on tour last year is that – while we originally thought that this was just a show for people in their 20s and 30s – the age range it actually appeals to is huge, from teenagers to people in their 60s because the content is something we all share and can relate to. It was a bit of a surprise – rather than demographic-based, our audience is interest-based. If you are interested in personality tests, psychology, or behaviour of any kind then it’s something you can enjoy.
Is there anything you found about this compulsion to complete personality tests from your work on The Very Important Child?
I guess we’re all a little bit self-obsessed! And there is this fascination with being able to apply yourself to a scale, to evaluate how well you’re doing – that’s quite addictive I think. And I think in the age of social media and personality tests being available and shared all over your Facebook feed is slightly dangerous in some ways because you end up comparing yourself to other people. But also, it’s always good to keep checking in and keep making sure that you are making progress as a human. In terms of the show, we see two people who are trying to present this theory to the audience and to that you see their own struggles and behaviour, how they relate to Loevinger’s scale. Hopefully this means that the audience comes out reflecting on themselves whilst watching two people be complete idiots and thoroughly entertain them.
Is there a bit of a relationship focus in the show then as well?
Yes, absolutely. I think anything that involves looking at behaviour is going to involve other people and observations on what you might translate your behaviour into in certain situations. Certainly what we’ve found is using the relationship between the two performers in this narrative where they’re trying to relay information to the audience, just the act of that reveals a lot of conflict and a lot of different elements of their relationship that they can relate back to behaviour. Everything you do and every single part of your behaviour is going to impact those around you, so it’s interesting to apply yourself to the scale and see how well you’re doing.
What are the one or two things (aside from a good time) do you want your audience to take away from this show?
I think it’s always a good sign when the audience goes out of the theatre talking about themselves rather than the performance. We’ve had some amazing chats with people in the bar afterwards (and we hope to do this at the Vaults as well) about this scale and how it makes them feel, whether they agree with it, and where they place themselves. The audience get a little handout with a little test they get to take and fill out, and you can leave a bit of information for us if you so choose, but no matter what you get to take something away. So hopefully it does go somewhere towards analysing our behaviour as adults. And I think hopefully it’s just a great experience being able to reflect on human experiences in general and through the eyes of these two people who are trying their absolute best, but of course they’re only human and they’re failing a little bit as well. And it is always fun to watch two people be ridiculous. The Very Important Child is a light-hearted visual show with a lot of psychology behind it, so there’s a lot to be taken away.
The Very Important Child is playing at the Vaults from 20th-25th February. Performances are at 21.15 and tickets cost £14.50. For more information and to book, their VAULT Festival page can be found here.