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 have a chat to Edwina Strobl and Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal, the driving forces behind Flugelman Production’s The Poetry We Make.
What is unique about your show?
ED: The Poetry We Make is a love story set against the backdrop of gender transition. Its also a story about a woman who with the help of her spirit guide Dolly Parton (standard) has to confront herself and what she accepts about the people she loves. Its unique because people can connect to it whether they’re a non-binary activist or whether they’re completely cis and heterosexual; whether they are intimately versed in issues to with gender or whether they’ve never even considered gender before.
JAZ: It’s a real roller-coaster of emotions! The subject matter is very personal and intense, but there’s so much comedy in there that you’re constantly jerked from laughter to tears and back again. I think it’s also a really theatrical show. Through the character of Dolly we’ve embraced the audience, brought them right into it, and the music, singing, costumes and everything else combine to make it a really fun live experience.
How did the show come into being?
ED: Jaswinder and I studies together at RADA and she later approached me with the early stages of a fantastic story, so we workshopped an early script, which was much more naturalistic. I wanted to make a show that would challenge people’s notions about gender and feature as many feather boas as possible and Jaz wanted to write something less naturalistic, so she decided, quite rightly, that we needed Dolly Parton. It blossomed from there.
JAZ: I had the idea for the story first, and approached Edwina about working together. We’d met doing our MA and I loved Edwina’s style of directing, I knew she’d bring something great to the show. We workshopped early drafts of the script with actors and were lucky enough to do an initial public reading with Wilton’s Music Hall which gave us the chance to hear great feedback before we went away and completed it.
How have you challenged yourself with this show?
ED: I’ve challenged myself as a director to look more closely at gender and how it is read on stage. It was a fascinating process to work with Elijah Harris playing Robin, who is trans (FTM) himself, on how to show Robin’s gender transition from male to female on stage (a huge thing to squeeze into an hour). think there is a tendency when a show is about an issue to make that overt and somewhat stereotypical. With Elijah’s help I’ve realised that there’s so much subtly to gender and how we read it: tiny differences in the voice, breath, posture, use of hands etc. all tell a different story.
JAZ: As a writer I really pushed myself with this one. Firstly because i’d never written something that broke the fourth wall, or moved so far away from naturalism. But also because I tackled what is a big political issue at the moment through a very personal story between these characters, and that was an exciting challenge. It’s taught me a lot about how moving your audience emotionally is often the biggest thing you can achieve.
How has the writer been involved in the rehearsal process?
ED: Jaz and I have worked closely throughout on the show, often with the help of dramaturg Lucinda Dale, on how best to tell the story. Jaz sat in on rehearsals so she was able to be on call help myself and the actors understand the characters’ motivations, which was great.
JAZ: I love being able to watch rehearsals – seeing actors work with your script is the best part of the process for me, and way more exciting than being locked in my room alone writing. Edwina’s a great director who brings something to the play that I just couldn’t, so I like seeing her work her magic and put her own stamp on the show.
Why is the theme important and what do you hope the audiences take away from this piece?
ED: Its important because its about realising that people are more than what you understand them as: they are more than their gender roles. We’ll be very proud if audiences are a little bit inspired to own their identities and their narratives, as well as to work hard to allow other people to do the same. We make our own identities and that should be celebrated. As the wise words of Dolly Parton tell us: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
JAZ: So many people are grappling with big changes to the way they understand gender for the first time. We wanted to contribute to that by exploring this story of someone really struggling to process someone close to her transitioning. We hope it helps people who are going through a similar process but also that, in some small way, it makes people think about some of the struggles faced by people who are transitioning, and about how the responses of family and friends can impact them.
The Poetry We Make runs at VAUL Festival from the 7th to the 11th of February at 18:00. Tickets and more information can be found here.