It is just a month to go until the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I'm taking Sisterhood, my first big production that I've created, up there along with the help of an awesome group of fierce and talented women. It's terrifying and exciting. Sisterhood has been born out of a myriad of conversations with a variety of different wonderful women, both over social media and in person, about subjects like fertility, motherhood, #MeToo and gender identity.
It became clear through these conversations that something was stirring in the world of the divine feminine and that it is time for us, as HER embodiment's on earth, to get our hands dirty and stand up loud and proud for what is important to us and what we believe in. But to do this we need to know that it is safe, because it hasn't been safe for a very long time. Creating Sisterhood has been hard and scary and exposing but it felt like vital, brave and powerful work. I can't wait to take it to Edinburgh. But I do need your help.
I know it's not the first time I've asked for money this year, which makes it harder to ask again now, so I'm only doing it because I really need to. It costs so much money to take a show to the Fringe and I've nearly raised enough to cover these cost, apart from the last few, so any help you can give will be ever so warmly received. There's some super gifts for your pledges too, which means you get something out of it as well, but mainly you'll be helping me to take this show out there into the world and hopefully energise some women out there who have not yet been told that they are a unique and beautiful part of a world wide women's web, one that is waking up and growing every day in power and that we've got their backs. Let's go let them know.
This is super hard as obviously there are so many. I’d rather do a top ten if I could and I’m totally cheating here as some of these choices are double acts. I’ve gone with women I don’t know personally, other than perhaps in a vague professional way. Of course, I’ve worked closely with incredible female performers who I do know personally, women such as Jess Thom AKA Touretteshero, who is an unstoppable force for good in the world and Jess Mabel Jones who is so talented and gorgeous it makes me moist, but I think it would be best to stick with women I know less intimately to avoid any conflict of interests…
So in no particular order:
Part of the inspiration for Sisterhood has been a vision I had of a World-Wide Women’s web that feels like it is beginning to glow because Mumma Earth is waking up (and you know you’re in BIG trouble if you’ve woken up Mumma)… This web is covered in dew drops and some of the drops are lighting up gold. This golden light is then spreading along the web and lighting up other women in its wake. Betty Grumble is a BIG old beautiful globule of light on this web and she nourishes the hell out of me. Betty is a sex clown, a shaman, a huge heart and beacon of love. I adore her. Follow her on Instagram. You will not be disappointed.
I’ve only seen Olivia perform once in The Furies with Kiln theatre company. A gig inspired by Clytemnestra’s Greek revenge myth, casting her ‘FURIES’ of vengeance as front women of a rock band. Olivia was this androgynous, Noel Fielding type character who I couldn’t take my eyes off. All the Kiln ladies are awesome performers, but basically, I have a massive girl crush on Olivia and when I saw her afterwards out of costume I couldn’t believe how different she looked. So then of course I had to internet stalk her and I discovered all her work is brilliant. She’s a proper talent, a huge inspiration and I want to know her.
This is cheating as there are two to three women in this company, but I don’t care. Two Man Show is a big inspiration for Sisterhood. I loved their opening Priestess introduction to history of how patriarchy came to be and Abbi Greenland’s monologue at the end about being a ‘Man woman’ is, in my opinion, the best female monologue ever written. They can dance, they can sing, they can play a variety of instruments and their lighting, costume and set designs rock. Smashing.
Mary Higgins and Ell Potter, HOTTER
Also cheating, but still don't care... This was my favourite ‘wild card’ Edinburgh show ever. We just went because of a flyer that had been thrust into our hands and the show was a proper little treat. We laughed, we cried, we danced on the stage. It was simple and full of compassion and the two women were both authentic human beings that weren’t all ego and pomp, but big shocking pink hearts. I think the show is in Edinburgh again this year, it’s certainly touring, so if you can go see Hotter then do it.
Another woman I want to be my friend (I want them all to be my friend)... I first saw her in Islands and she was this twisted, grotesque and hilarious evil bitch. I loved the show and was shocked to discover afterwards that it had been slammed by the critiques. I mean seriously, WTF? I then discovered how big a deal she was and that she also had a one woman show on during Edinburgh Fringe that year; You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy. I went to watch it the next day and what a shocking contrast. It was utterly charming, whereas Islands had been more like an episode of Bottom. I love it when performers can surprise and stretch in opposing directions like this. She’s another hero to me. And such a sweet soul.
Latest Magazine gives Sisterhood five stars for it's first outing as a work in progress scratch performance at the Marlborough Theatre as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. Next up... Edinburgh!
We won the The Brighton Fringe Visual Arts Award in Association with HOUSE and AOH, for the Museum of Ordinary People at The Spire as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival 2018. This was an incredible surprise and a huge thanks for all the hard work that went into making this extraordinary event come together.
It's actually happening and it is so very exciting. Thanks to funding by Arts Council England the creation of Jolie Booth's new show Sisterhood is going ahead in 2018. Jolie will be working with an incredible team of women to explore the paradigm shift of moving from an analogue world to a digital one, exploring the current state of feminism during this transition and celebrates the power of female friendships and mentorships, through the eyes of three generations of women. The team are going to squirrel themselves away for a residential weekend in April to create the main body of the show ready for an initial scratch performance at the Marlborough Theatre on Sunday 22nd April at 3pm and a full preview performance in the Brighton Fringe Festival at the Marlborough Theatre on Sunday 3rd June 7.30pm. Do come along if you can.
Now let's meet the team...
Andrea Brooks (performance creator) - Director extraordinaire. Teaches MA acting at E15. Jolie met Andrea through the New Deal (a benefit scheme created by New Labour that was actually brilliant) where she was given to Jolie as a career mentor. The piece of paper she wrote out for Jolie at their first meeting went on to become her life and they've been friends and on many adventures ever since.
Caragh Kelson-Bailey (performance creator) - Creative, witty and utterly gorgeous. Jolie met Caragh for the first time when she was thirteen and Jolie found her massaging her husband under a cart with a gaggle of other thirteen year olds, who she chased away with a large noisy bell. Caragh stuck around regardless though and they've been friends and on many adventures ever since.
Alberta Jones (production designer) - Has created many stunning sets for theatre shows over the years including TESTOSTERONE's fabulous set for Rhum and Clay (which is how Jolie met her) and also Jolie's treasured set for HIP. Jolie is very excited to be working with Alberta again.
Mish Maudsley - Jolie and Mish cut their teeth together as part of a new media collective called Nothing To See Here back in the early noughties. Jolie was learning to be an actress and a producer whilst Mish was learning to be a designer and artist. Their careers have grown together and Mish designed the logo for Jolie's wedding, which is now her tattoo, Jolie's book cover for her published novel and most of the marketing print for the shows she's worked on over the years.
Jamie-Rae Tanner - Statistician extraordinaire. Jolie met Jamie via the Bristol / Glastonbury Festival crew of the Croissant Neuf stage, who are all like a second family to Jolie. They are still getting to know each other better, but have a mutual respect for each other's adventurous spirits and strong wills
Jess Bernberg - A female lighting designer recommended to Jolie by the brilliant Geoff Hense from Arcola. Jolie was looking for a brilliant and daring designer, preferably early on in her career and Jess was sent her way.
Jolie will be blogging the development of the show as the process unfurls. To date the Research and Development funding has been secured, the residential and scratch performance have been booked, the preview in the Brighton Fringe has been registered and tickets for this are now on sale, and a slot at the Pleasance Beneath at 12.45pm each day throughout the Edinburgh Fringe has been confirmed and tickets for this will be on sale shortly. It's all happening, which is terrifying and terribly exciting.
We had the most incredible time taking our fabulous production TESTOSTERONE by trans writer Kit Redstone and theatre company Rhum and Clay to the awesome Feverestival Campinas this February with help from the British Council. We have never fallen in love with so many people so quickly...
MUSEUM OF ORDINARY PEOPLE CALL OUT:
Do you have an archive / collection of documents or objects that are important to you and tell a story of everyday / ordinary life?
The Museum of Ordinary People is holding its first free Workshop Series and is looking for participants…..
This collection could be letters left behind by a loved one / diaries or documents / found objects / a collection that chronicles a migration, a loss, a great love or anything in between...
The Museum of Ordinary people is a new project that celebrates the ripples that ordinary people leave behind, forging connections between generations and gathering stories of everyday objects. Aiming to explore and document the magic and the mundanities of ordinary life.
We are developing our first series of creative workshops working with people who have an archive or collection of documents or objects to explore them and the story they tell, leading to an exhibition held as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. The workshop course is free and involves 6 weeks of Workshops held on a Tuesday evening (beginning in April) followed by a week long exhibition.
The workshops will be part academic learning (accessible to all) and part creative practice; Involving learning about archives and collections, objects and materiality and about artists that use objects and documents in their work and will also involve learning artistic practices to decide how to create an artistic presentation of your collection to exhibit.
There is no prerequisite for artistic experience or academic level of study (this is open to everyone) but an interest in collections, museums, art and objects is desired.
We are really interested to hear from people from all walks of life and any experiences / stories / documents are welcome!
Please like our page: https://www.facebook.com/museumofordinarypeople/
And to find our more, contact Jolie or Lucy by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wed 28th Feb - VAULT Festival - London
Mon 12th - Tue 13th Feb - Transforma Space - Kazakhstan
Tue 20th - Wed 21st Feb - International Theater Festival of São Paulo - San Paulo
Sat 24th - Sun 25th Feb - FEVERESTIVAL - International Festival of Theater - Campinas
Thu 1st Mar - Marlowe Theatre - Canterbury
Fri 2nd Mar - The Place - Bedford
Sat 3rd Mar - Harlow Playhouse - Harlow
Mon 5th - Wed 7th Mar - The Old Market - Brighton
Tue 13th Mar - Exeter Phoenix - Exeter
Wed 14th Mar - The Sundial - Cirencester
Thu 15th Mar - Hertford Theatre - Hertford
16th & 17th March - Newbury Corn Exchange - Newbury
Wed 21st Mar - West End Theatre - Aldershot
Tues 27th March - Norden Farm - Maidenhead
Thurs 29th & Fri 30th Mar - MAC - Birmingham
Sat 31st Mar - Lawrence Batley Theatre - Huddersfield
Tue 3rd Apr - Greenwich Theatre - Greenwich
Mon 30th Apr - Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre - Hartlepool
Tue 1st May - Saltburn Arts Theatre - Saltburn
Wed 2nd May - Alnwick Playhouse - Alnwick
Thu 3rd May - Arts Centre - Washington
Fri 4th May - The Witham - Durham
Sat 5th May - Bishop Auckland Town Hall - Bishop Auckland
Thu 10th May - New Theatre Royal - Portsmouth
What a rollercoaster ride of a month August turned out to be... I've just got back from a break post Edinburgh (which I always book in each year otherwise you just don't stop when you get back) and in a position now to be able to look back at that month objectively, I have to say it was the hardest Fringe show I have ever produced. Why? Well, partly the ticket sales seemed down somewhat across the board. Apparently the Pleasance sales were good - possibly even up - but a news report I overheard said audience numbers across the festival were down, especially in the last week. Which isn't surprising really considering the current economic climate. But the main reason why this show was difficult is because it is right at the vanguard of change. And that's exciting of course, the whole point of theatre as far as I'm concerned, but it's lonely at the vanguard and bloody hard work, I'm the most broken I have ever been after a Fringe. And this time the vanguard was less lonely then it was when I was here last time with Backstage in Biscuit Land. Back in 2014 we were the only high profile show exploring disability, along with The Vacuum Cleaner, also at Pleasance, with his incredible production Mental, exploring invisible disability. This year there were at least five high profile shows exploring transgender narratives. This meant that sometimes we heard punters say things like "Oh we've already booked in to see a 'Trans' show." Competition is healthy and the other trans narrative shows at the Fringe this year were great. Together our voices are louder, but it was still competition for ticket sales.
But it isn't about ticket sales is it? It can't be or we would never do the Fringe. No, the reasons for doing the Fringe as far as I'm concerned are these...
Edinburgh success checklist;
• Tighten the production - The production significantly tightened and developed during our month long run. The actual show developed and meant it had settled in and we were ready to hit the floor running during the British Council Showcase week at the end of the month.
• Become clearer on how to market the production - Also the marketing settled in as well. The best market research a producer can do is go out and flyer for a few weeks at Edinburgh, you'll soon find out after a while if what you're saying to punters matches what is written on the flyer. You discover what the right thing to say is to hook in audiences. Every year I get back from Edinburgh and re-write the show's blurb.
• Have industry folks talk about the show and want to book us - We managed to get the industry talking about the show. There's one major way of doing this and that's to let everyone have a comp who asks for it. That does start coming out of your own pocket eventually, but I think it is an expense that's worth paying. Industry people talk and they will talk about the show. They are the go to people in their circles of friends who are visiting the festival for information on what shows to go and see. They will talk when they get home. They then will also turn into future bookings for tours. Our comps ended up costing us around £1000, but this will be covered if just one or two of these venues go onto book us, and they already have.
• Receive a positive buzz from audiences - We received a standing ovation nearly every day and people tweeted about the show afterwards. The buzz definitely got out there. This is thanks to a mixture of postering, flyering, press and the industry buzz I mentioned earlier. Industry people tend to tweet, so they definitely helped with our online presence. Another plus to flyering for a show as a producer is you bump into people who saw a performance in the days to come and you can ask them what they thought and how they would sell the show to other audiences? And obviously at the end of each performance we asked the audience to tell their friends about the show and to tweet about it.
• Get good reviews for future touring - For this you need a PR person. You can't do PR on your own. A good PR person knows the big journalists personally and understands how all the broadsheets, smaller publications and blogs work, so that they can tailor the way they pitch your show to attract as many of the right publications as possible. Reviews do and don't matter. At the actual Fringe they help with morale and depending on the publication can help a bit with ticket sales, but even a good review or even a whole article from Lyn Gardner does not a full house make. The main use for reviews is for use on your flyers and posters afterwards. With reviews, it is more about the quality of the publication then about the stars. A four star review from Lyn Gardner needs to be up on your poster before and above a five star review from a blogger no one has heard of. If you're not sure which of your review publications are the most prestigious, look at which ones other companies are using, especially companies you think of as a rung or two above you on the professional ladder.
• Earn a 'sold out' laurel - We sold out a good few shows, but we didn't actually achieve a 'sold out' laurel this year. The sell-out status of your show is determined a few weeks after your Fringe box office payout has been sent to you at the end of September. The show would have had to sell 95% of its capacity across the entire registered run (excluding previews) from both the Fringe box office allocation and the venue box office allocation in order to qualify. The copyrighted logo was introduced to combat a growing tendency for shows to advertise a "total sell-out in 2009" when, in fact, they had simply sold out for one night of the run, perhaps when they stuffed the auditorium full of their family and friends. It is a bit arbitrary still though as a 50 seater sell out run receives the same laurel as a 150 seater sell out run. But every little logo helps, especially when it comes to designing your flyers and posters.
• Win an award - We won the Indies award for Best Theatre, Family, Musical or Dance Show at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017, which was great. Awards are like reviews, they help your morale during the Fringe and they are another selling point to promoters and audiences. Even an award nomination is worth talking about.
• Be part of the British Council Showcase and attract international theatre promoters - The showcase week went exceptionally well and was full of surprises. We had been expecting the show to be of interest to the English speaking delegates from places like Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, but to our surprise it was very much taken up by the South American delegates - from all over South America - and the South East Asian delegates too. These delegates saw the show and then expressed an interest in wanting to book us to bring our production to their countries, which is very exciting news.
Off the back of all this I will now be able to build a national and international tour. This means I am certainly chuffed. It was hard work, but we got what we needed. And the show feels in better shape now then it did when we headed up to Edinburgh at the start of August. Which is the main thing.
Genre: Feminism, Verbatim, Physical Theatre. Venue: Paradise in Augustine's. Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
The Low Down
A new verbatim play devised by Mary Higgins and Ell Potter, HOTTER platforms the voices of everyone - from grannies to trans women to teenage girls. By drawing on their own experiences as well as collating the stories of others, HOTTER presents a nuanced and uncensored portrayal of the human body. The show fuses recordings, movement and original music to explore how our bodies can make us both laugh and cry.
This was a punt on an unknown venue, with an unknown theatre company to see a proper fringe show. It had been recommended to me through a conversation with a group of sassy, creative, vibrant twenty-year-old women. We enjoyed one of those rare and nourishing conversations that gets right into the nuts and bolts of things, in this case the subject had been about gender, and it had led them to recommend this show to me, so I decided to trust them on it. Which in turn led to me taking a whole gang of friends, made up of mixed genders, to go and see Hotter.
The show is simply staged. We enter the auditorium and there's already two young women striking a pose on the stage adorned in brightly coloured clothes. Hanging along the ceiling is bunting made out of cartoon pictures of vaginas, which we discover later is called 'Cunting'. The show opens with the women mouthing along verbatim to interview recordings about whether the interviewees preferred being cold or hot. The two performers are instantly charismatic, funny and endearing. They mouth along to the words perfectly, which sets me at ease. It showed commitment to their craftsmanship and this allowed me to relax... It wasn't going to be awful. The piece opened feeling like Creature Comforts and was just as funny. But this was only the beginning.
What unfolds before us is a colourful collage of questions, reflections and discoveries about the female experience and about living with a body that doesn't always feel like it's your own. Some moments are funny, some moments are painfully sad and some are deliciously surreal. But the whole piece feels truthful and beautifully washed with brightly coloured playfulness. Overall it leaves you with an overwhelming sense of celebration.
Mary Higgins and Ell Potter are endearing performers and they remain committed throughout the show to the sometimes peculiar choices they've made with the piece, but their commitment to every choice means you feel right behind them every step of the way and in turn feel supported as an audience member to go there with them. I was genuinely impressed with the confidence they had in their delivery. Even when being vulnerable and revealing their cracks to us, it was delivered in a strong and confident way. It was a pleasure to watch them work.
The show ends with a wonderful moment of festivity and elation. This left us all with a strong sense of unity and generosity towards both ourselves and each other. This show is by women, but it isn't just about being a woman. Anyone who has experienced having a body will enjoy this show. Bodies are complicated places to be and we all left the theatre feeling we had laughed, cried and celebrated our own bodies in a room full of other people doing the very same thing. It was a brilliant fringe moment and I highly recommend getting out the big venues and going and taking a punt on this.
Genre: Children's Theatre, Clowning.Venue: Pleasance. Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
The Low Down
Climate change is massive and Bees aren’t... Multi award-winning theatre company, ThisEgg, invites you to save the world – one bee at a time. A new comedy for children and adults alike, co-produced by Pleasance.
This is the first piece of children's theatre I've been to this year and the bar has been set incredibly high. The show doesn't feel like it has been written for children, it feels like it could just as easily have been written for adults. The educational information is expertly woven in amongst the humour and there are facts in there that I'd never heard before, meaning this show taught me things I didn't already know about bees, both about what they do and how catastrophic it is going to be if or when we lose them.
All three of the performers are adorable in their own ways. Josie Dale-Jones has a deliciously sadistic edge and the makings of a colourful little dictator, Greta Mitchell feels like she's just walked out of the TV set and into your living room from CBeebies, and Joe Boylan brings delightful clowning to the stage as a giant huggable bee. The dynamic between the three of them is great fun to watch.
The premise of the show is funny, but I don't want to give too much away. It's a simple and effective set up. The way the storyline, characters and bee facts unfold is smooth... Nothing feels shoehorned in. They deal seamlessly with issues like people being scared of bees due to getting stung, by demonstrating how much worse it is for the bee, whose insides are ripped out along with their sting and they also point out that only female bees sting anyway - which I didn't know. Joe is a great clown and his bee interpretation keeps you chortling throughout. If you entered the theatre scared of bees you'll leave feeling like all you want to do is give them a great big cuddle.
It's a simplistic piece without too much set. A flip chart and some party hats are pretty much all they need, but with these few items they create a medley of colourful moments. This show feels fresh and contemporary. Not at all what I had been expecting. There wasn't a hint of condescension or dumbing down, pitched perfectly between adult humour and younger silliness, interlaced with clear useful and pretty worrying information. But it also comes with answers for what can be done to help, which is refreshing. Adult theatre so often poses problems, but then leaves the audience to figure out how to make a difference. This show has an answer for how to help and gives it to you... Quite literally.
There are genuine moments of belly laughter throughout, from both the little ones in the audience and the adults alike. And I'm pretty sure everyone left that theatre a fully fledged signed up member of the Bee Party.
We are creeping closer to the half way point of this year's Edinburgh Festival and it has been the usual rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, but this year's fringe really has been an eye opening experience for my team here at TESTOSTERONE. Having produced a number of different productions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival over many years now, this has been the first time that a show my awesome team and I have flyered for has caused such a visibly disdainful reaction. TESTOSTERONE has proven to be much more divisive than I think we had perhaps naively expected. Although TESTOSTERONE is not simply a trans narrative, but an objective look at the sometimes toxic world of masculinity through the eyes of a new man, around one in ten tables of punters start slipping each other sideways glances as soon as you mention there's a transgender person at the centre of this show. Some people are outright telling us this show is not for them as soon as we mention this.
There are many productions with transgender narratives at the Fringe this year. The overwhelming difference between TESTOSTERONE and the other shows being presented is that our production is not about being transgender or transitioning. That does appear as part of Kit's story, but our focus is one step beyond that, transitioning has happened and is a thing of the past. What we're interested in is what then happens once a FTM transgender person becomes immersed in the world of masculinity? What is the difference between the two gender worlds that they have experienced? What has Kit learnt? What has been gained and what has been lost? What does it mean to be a man? The perspective of TESTOSTERONE has far more in common with Grayson Perry's The Descent of Man than it does with the other trans narrative shows at the Fringe this year. Perry observes in his ground breaking book that “Gender inequality is a huge issue for all of us and… the world would be a better place without it.” “I often look at men and think that they seem to be victims of this drive to perform their gender. What are they afraid of? Why do they play the man so extremely, whether with muscles or knowledge or wit?” “Boys are taught to be brave but in quite a specific way, mainly when facing physical danger on the sports field or in the playground. But what about emotional danger?” TESTOSTERONE is an almost feminist, light unpacking of this big and crucial issue. It's not providing answers, merely signposting theatre goers who might not have heard of Perry's argument to the beginning of the conversation.
But because there's a trans person at the centre of this provocation it has proven to be divisive. We knew it would be, but it is interesting to experience this out in the field. I've said for years now that if it can be true to say that the future exists in a science lab somewhere then it can also be true to say that the future of culture exists at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When I came here three years ago with Backstage in Biscuit Land by Touretteshero, the theatre and entertainment landscape across the UK presented a noticeably different face to the one we see now. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe itself was significantly less accessible, fewer theatres around the UK had considered how a person who uses a wheelchair might gain access to their stage - let alone get around the dressing rooms or have use of an accessible toilet from backstage. Comedians were still making inappropriate jokes about mental health and disability. It was socially normally for people to use discriminative language as part of their everyday speech. Three years later and any comedians making the same kind of jokes now get lampooned for it, language on the whole has been cleared up, and - in no small part influenced by the success of Backstage in Biscuit Land -many festivals around the UK are now much more on it with regards to Access, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. There's still a long way to go obviously and it's not all down to Touretteshero, but Jess Thom's work has been a big driving force. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe implemented a three year access improvement business plan off the back of a meeting and discussion they had with Jess about her problems with getting around the city. The Pleasance Courtyard, which presented Backstage in Biscuit Land, has gone through a redevelopment and access has been at the heart of their improvements. Venues the show toured to throughout the UK have been able to push access to the fore - many of these local authority run, and often one of the last front line services being offered by councils and often the last department thinking about access and inclusion at the moment. By presenting a show like Backstage in Biscuit Land and inviting Councillors to see the show, venues have been able to demonstrate the need to implement a host of step changes in improving access and inclusion at their venue and throughout the council as well as helping cement their importance as a necessary front line service. Last of all, relaxed performances and access needs have become woven into the very fabric of theatre making. The culture around access in this country has noticeably shifted since one little production of Backstage in Biscuit Land nervously wheeled out onto the stage for the first time at the Pleasance Above in 2014.
And we are already seeing the same with trans issues of inclusion at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Many of the venues now have gender neutral toilets. I keep hearing the same conversation where ever I go... Men complaining they have to queue more now. Women pleased they no longer have to queue for so long. But no one really outright objecting. People get used to things very quickly... That's why we've done so well as a species. We adapt. In three or four years time this will almost certainly be the norm all over the country. And the sneers and up turned noses being experienced by my flyer team and I at the moment is simply paving the way for future trans performers who will be flyering this very same courtyard years from now without it being any kind of big deal at all. Adapting to be more inclusive and thoughtful of the needs of other people on the fringes of society is one of the best things about being British. We do it. And I think part of the reason why we are one of the more inclusive societies in the world is because we have the Edinburgh Fringe Festival driving this along. And then we take that drive and promote this inclusion all over the globe through the work of the British Council. It feels great to be part of this pollination process and it gives me the strength to continue flyering regardless of the rain and intermittent sour faces. We are paving the way for future smiles.
Genre: Drama, Solo Show. Venue: Pleasance. Festival: Edinburgh Fringe.
The Low Down
Based on a true story, Yvette is a one woman show with original music about a stolen childhood and growing up with a secret.
The writing and direction of this play is beautifully crafted. It begins with an endearing opening that instantly draws you into the character of the story; Evie, a thirteen-year-old who lives in Neasden with her Mum. She is funny, bubbly, young and full of spirit. She wants to tell us all about her crush on Lewis, trying to be a woman, friends, virginity, garage remixes, hello kitty underwear... Urielle Klein-Mekongo is instantly likeable as an actress, her sassy performance and swinging moves are on point and she has you laughing and putty in her hands in not time.
Which is when the gristle of the story really lands in your laps. There is an ‘Uncle’ lurking in the corner of her story. And the effects of her experiences with him leave imprints on her mental health and day-to-day behaviour that Evie has to then spend her formative years unravelling and making sense of as she tries to find her path into the world of womanhood. Mixed up in all of this is the colour of her skin and size of her body. How does a young scarred woman find ways to love herself when the world around her is telling her daily that nothing is right about her?
This is a vital piece of work highlighting mental health issues in the BAME community and an area of conversation that doesn't receive enough focus. Watching this production it became strikingly obvious how being judged every day on what you look like and discovering that from the moment of your birth the cards you've been dealt in life have been stacked against you, that mental health issues would be hard pushed to avoid. And if you then chuck into the mix the trials and tribulations of life as a woman, regardless of colour and creed, you'll soon find you have all the ingredients necessary for a heady mix of possible breakdown scenarios and invisible disabilities. The writing also alludes to male issues in the BAME community too, young men growing up with pre-ordained peer pressures, and the futures this means they often find themselves steered towards growing into.
Staged simply but effectively the theatrical elements woven into this piece punctuate the script with lingering images. The soundtrack is funky and Urielle's singing and dance moves are utterly fabulous. All these elements transport you into teenage parties, school classrooms, sacred adolescent bedrooms and humiliating bathroom beauty attempts.
Urielle is a strong woman and Evie, the lady this true story is based on, is also strong. This means the story doesn't just hit you in the heart but also pulls fire up into your belly. The issues in this play are not okay, are far too familiar and way too ignored. It's a beautifully crafted piece of writing, with precise direction and just the right mixture of laughter, tears, and the desire to act that are what make for great theatre. Winner of the Young Harts Writing Fest Audience Favourite, Kings Head Theatre Stella Wilkie Award and The East15 Pulse Award in 2017, Urielle Klein-Mekongo is certainly a writer and actress to look out for.
Tour, Tour, Tour!
It can take ages for anything to happen, so don't be impatient, but make sure when you get home you email the people you met. You're given a book filled with the delegates you meet and it has photos. After presenting Backstage in Biscuit Land at the showcase, when I got home, I went through this booklet with a highlighter and marked off everyone I'd met and anyone I thought the show would be of interest to, whether I'd met them or not. Then I emailed them all personally, sending the information sheet again and let them know we were interested in working with them. We fairly quickly secured a date in Toronto. This meant that the game was on for building a North American tour, because venues need to share the costs if possible. We were able to secure shows in New York, San Francisco and LA. This took place in March, the spring after the showcase, which was pretty quick. It was great. The accommodation provided for us was incredible and the venues were so warm and welcoming.
Visas and tax are a nightmare so you have to just relax and take your time with this. Get as much help as you can from the British Council, who have done this job a thousand times. Whatever you do don't panic. If anything goes wrong and your visa gets rejected it's not the end of the line necessarily. These folks are used to this happening and they're there to help.
We also got booked for a tour in Australia of Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, which happened at the end of the year after the showcase. There were also separate bookings in Belgrade, Sweden and Norway. This has been since 2015 and there's always the possibility that more shows abroad will be booked in still.
The show translated well into the different cultures we visited and was warmly received. As mentioned before it felt like we were making a difference in the world and this is such an honour. Really the the whole reason I make theatre is to try and make the world a better place and to mix this with getting to travel as part of my dream job... Well, it's the experience of a lifetime.
Network, Network, Network!
I love networking, which is lucky, as that's the main point of the British Council Showcase. Obviously the delegates from around the world come and see your show during their visit and decide if it is for them or not. The work speaks the most. If your show isn't going to be suitable for their audience then they ain't gonna book ya. But it is possible to win over delegates who perhaps can't quite see how the work will fit in, but are open to persuasion. That's when the networking events come in... There are three types of main events; the opening ceremony, the networking breakfasts and the closing party.
The opening ceremony is fabulous. It makes you feel really special and it is the moment when you get to see everyone's faces, so you know over the coming week that these people are either fellow performers, producers or international delegates. Clock them, remember them, and if you don't get the chance to speak to them at one of the networking events then you might bump into them at another show. I won the pot of cash at Money by Kaleider in 2015 by buying into the table in the last half hour and suggesting the money goes to Touretteshero (because they wanted to give the money to a good cause, a performer and to something that was fun. Touretteshero 'ticced' all these boxes) and at the show (because it was also in the showcase) were delegates from South Korea. They then grabbed me at the next breakfast to say hello and to congratulate me on the win.
The breakfasts are great. The British Council put on a proper good spread and everyone's there downing coffee and chatting shop. Don't stress out. Eat your fill, don't worry about having to look like you're talking to someone the whole time. It's early, so get your sugar and caffeine levels up first of all and then worry about networking. If you see a friendly face latch onto them and go prepared with some interesting tales to tell and decent questions that will ensure the person you've latched onto has to talk to you for a little while at least. It's a good idea to know at least a bit about each show on the showcase so that you know who people are if you find yourself speaking to a fellow performer. Have your packs to hand - this is your information sheet, a flyer, your business card and any other bits you can afford to add in, all within a plastic wallet. Some people get badges made or stickers. If you can afford it then do it. If you can't then don't worry, the most important thing is the show.
Top tip with business cards... Make sure there's room in the design to be able to write stuff on them. If there's a recognisable thing about you (I've got leopard print hair for example) then write this onto your cards before putting them into the packs. It's personable and means they won't forget who you are. Make sure when you're get a card given to you, as soon as the person who gave it to you leaves, write on the card what you talked about and where, so you're not left with a load of meaningless cards at the end of the fringe. This was the best networking tip anyone ever gave me and means business cards remain useful years after they were given to you.
The last event is the end of Showcase party. Everyone wants to go to this and it's a proper party. Obviously don't do anything stupid, but do have fun. We got a few extra bookings from being the most fun people at the party in 2015. Think about it, if you run a venue then not only are you looking for great shows, but you also collect great people. If you liked a team and thought it would be fun to hang out with them then you're likely to programme them at your venue, invite them over to your country and hang out with them. Do be yourself, have fun - don't get pissed and try and pull - but do get pissed, dance and be fabulous.
Once Selected for the Showcase by the British Council
The British Council will contact you and let you know if your application has been successful. If it has then they will ask you to give them some additional information about your company and then they will send over a production company to meet you to make a promotional video for them to use as a way of introducing your work to the international delegates attending the showcase. To see examples of these videos then the one for Backstage in Biscuit Land is here and the one for TESTOSTERONE is here.
You need to then look back at your application and cast a critical eye over your budgeting and offer. Strangely, the British Council Showcase isn't really that different from a normal Edinburgh run, in that you still book your own venue and do all the same promotion you would normally do (though obviously the additional marketing of being part of the showcase helps vastly) and in terms of putting together your information pack you need to think along the same lines as you would normally for touring to UK venues. Your budget for touring internationally needs to be realistic - no one has any money anymore - and your offer has to stand out. Just because you're in the showcase doesn't mean the delegates are going to book you. It's no different to a normal run in that sense. There are many things to consider when trying to get booked, for example dance shows will always do well because there isn't the language barrier. If your work is text heavy then non-English speaking countries will need to know why their audience might want to come and see your show? In this case it either needs to be visually spectacular, or high quality work that is exceptional to watch and can be enjoyed even if you don't understand the language, or it involves challenging social and cultural norms in some way that can be utilised as an agent for change. Just like with UK tour booking, your work isn't necessarily going to be right for all audiences at all the venues you approach, so don't be disappointed if a delegate can't see you fitting in with their programming.
But there are ways to make yourself more enticing.
For example, the legacy of touring Backstage in Biscuit Land was that the venues we visited had to rethink their backstage areas. Funnily enough we didn't know this was going to happen when we set out to do the show, even though the title of the show suggests otherwise. The reason for this was that in theatres the front of house is accessible, but an assumption is often made at the design stage that wheelchair users will not be needing to access the backstage areas of the theatre and therefore backstage can often lack accessible toilets, dressing rooms and even wheelchair access to the stage. One of the legacies left behind from touring the show therefore was for venues to rethink the design of their buildings, creating a cultural shift in expectations that will hopefully make it easier for other performers who are wheelchair users in the future. With TESTOSTERONE we are hoping for the same kind of legacy, with regards to supporting trans audiences and performers, the issue of gendered toilets being an immediate conversation that springs to mind. If a show is likely to encourage a trans audience to the venue, how is the venue going to let this new possible audience stream know that they are entering a safe space that has considered their needs and is welcoming. Offering gender neutral toilets is an immediate action the venue can take that speaks volumes. Both front of house and backstage.
With the information sheet therefore (to be given out at the Networking Events, which I'll talk about in my next post) your budget needs to be reasonable, your information needs to entice and you need to have considered what you're offering to the delegates. After that it's pretty much a normal Edinburgh Fringe run. You'll be told when you can announce to the public that you're in the showcase and you are encouraged to do this with great aplomb... And rightly so. In a festival of over 3000 productions, a showcase that makes you stand out from the crowd is a massive boost, for the show you're presenting and for your future as a company. It's a big deal and the fringe is a lot of fun when the ride has been made this much easier for you. But it is a responsibility. You are representing, not just the UK culturally, but also theatre as a sector. We tend to want to impress and make a difference in the world as theatre makers, and this is an opportunity to do just that.