Kat Lyons tells us about their current tour of Dry Season, a spoken word theatre show mixing music, movement and medical texts with original poetry and animation to explore and enlighten folk about the menopause.
Can you tell us about Dry Season?
Dry Season is a solo spoken word theatre show. It was written in response to my diagnosis and early experience of premature menopause at the age of 39, following 18 months of undiagnosed symptoms including chronic insomnia, depression, and paranoid anxiety. I combine fragments of medical letters, texts and advice, with original poetry, animation and movement. The show is structured loosely around the first year of my diagnosis, and explores gendered expectations of aging, as well as our need for connection and how we create pathways to resilience.
Why did you want to make a theatre show about this?
As part of my process of coming to terms with my diagnosis, I spent a lot of time researching the subject and on internet forums talking to other people in menopause. These forums were full of women sharing their feelings of shame, isolation and frustration at the general ignorance and lack of representation of menopause. There was also a lot of anger and distress at how menopause is commonly treated as something embarrassing/shameful or as the punchline of misogynistic jokes, and how this impacts women’s lives. I wrote Dry Season in an attempt to counter this, to generate knowledge and empathy across generations/genders, and to create space for open discussion and wider representation of menopause. Half the human race go through this after all, so we need to be able to talk about it.
How did you find the creative process when writing a piece so personal to yourself?
My poetry definitely goes through an initial stage when it’s very bad and shouldn’t be shown to anyone else! The next stage of editing is when it starts to move past therapy and into the realm of art, and I start to be able to take a step back from the immediacy of the experiences I’m describing and work on the writing. It really helped to be working with my dramaturg Laura Dannequin on this, as I didn’t want it to slide into self-pity (which is pretty boring for anyone else), and she was able to give me an outside perspective. Due to Covid, the project has taken a long time to get from R&D (2019) to stage (2022), but I think this distance has enabled me to perform it better, as I’m not so overwhelmed by the experiences I’m relaying.
How does the show compare to the book you have also just written on the subject?
Verve Poetry Press have just published my first collection Love Beneath The Nails which includes the full text of the show. Obviously that part is almost identical to the stage show, although in the book the stage instructions are all addressed to ‘you’/the reader and have been adapted for the page to read as descriptive parts of the narrative, rather than simply straightforward instructions. As well, the overall narrative arc of the collection explores similar themes to the show, including gender, loss, resilience, and creating your own path.
Do you believe this sort of performance has ever been seen before? Who are your influences?
There are lots of spoken word and theatre shows that explore gender, identity, aging etc, but I’ve never seen a spoken word show that explicitly explores menopause before, especially not one from a nonbinary artist, so I think in that sense it’s new. I’ve got so many influences I can’t name them all, but I love modern poets such as Joelle Taylor and Caroline Bird, the shadowy fairytales of Angela Carter and the incisive storytelling of Ursula Le Guin, the theatricality of live art practitioners such as Marisa Carnesky, and feminist/socially engaged theatre such as Breach Theatre’s It’s True It’s True It’s True.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently up to my ears touring the show, but I’m looking forward to creating new work and am starting to explore the spaces between the said/unsaid, and how that relates to gendered speech patterns. Spoken word poetry occupies this interesting liminal space of stage/page so I’d like to bring that into the equation and play with making the silences/blank page visible via creative captioning. And I’d like to write more poems now that my first book is finally out in the world and I don’t have to constantly edit it any more!
Dry Season has dates all over England until November 2022, for more information see www.katlyons.co.uk