Finally I can present to you my new series, something I am very excited to share...
Now, it's no secret that I am a huge advocate for strong and intelligent women and I am lucky enough to say there are countless women I have had the pleasure of working with in my recent years who are responsible for inspiring me in so many ways. For example, I am constantly observing and learning from the creativity and talent of the ladies around me in theatre and being part of plays such as Blue Stockings and The York Suffragette Project earlier this year have been prime examples of that. It is this experience, along with my admiration for strong, accomplished women on the whole which has inspired me to do this blog series; titled ''Deeds not Words'; Women who Inspire in the Arts and Politics'. Though the nature of the series will undoubtedly have an emphasis on women accomplished in theatre and the Arts and their experience in the industry, this just happens to be the case given the nature of my own walks of experience and the wider context of my blog, there is to generally be a theme of politics throughout as Feminism, or rather the continued imbalance of the sexes in both fields respectively, is a key motivation for the concept on the whole.
I wanted this series to be a way of shedding light onto some of the phenomenal ladies that I am lucky enough to frequently be surrounded by; women that are enjoying success in their creative careers in a wide range of occupations. Admittedly the key motivation behind this is my own research; I want to learn from these women established in the industries I am interested in. Being an actor myself with aspirations not unlike some of the ladies I've already had the pleasure of interviewing, this is a fantastic opportunity for me to gain insight on the experiences and things I may face when pursuing a career in the arts.
So where to begin? With such a wealth of female talent in my environment I was not short of places to look first for inspiration but there is one thing in particular that is currently fascinating me and that's my own interest in writing. Though I am hoping to train as an actor in the near future, I am particularly very interested in courses that encourage creative development in playwriting and all forms of creative practice. So with this in mind and given the nature of the content of this series, when I heard about the development of local actor and writer Hannah Davies' new play Maiden Speeches inspired by women in politics today, it seemed like a perfect place to start. So when she very kindly agreed to meet me for an interview I was very excited to learn more about her play and indeed her experiences for this series.
So introducing Hannah, my first interviewee and number one in the series of women who inspire me in the Arts and Politics....
Which women across history inspire you? Do you have any female icons or idols?
Oh my god, what a fantastic question! There’s so many. I think the women who inspire me, or the ones I’m continually drawn to kind of write about and explore, are the lives of women that don’t get put in the history books. So you know, women who don’t make it on to the census, they don’t have their own name, they’re only part of their husband’s property. Like I am always fascinated, and always have been since I was younger, when you hear about men in history lessons and I’m always like ‘Yeah, but who cooked their dinner and brought it to the table? Who was their wife? Who was their scullery maid?’, all those kind of voiceless, marginalised women. They’re the women that I am interested in and sort of drawn to I think.
But then I suppose my first proper icon, the women who I absolutely adored when I was really young was Madonna. I was an absolute fan as a little girl, like completely nuts about her! I think that was the first tape I ever bought; the ‘Get into the groove' single of 1984. So she was probably my first sort of, conscious role model. I say role model, it’s not like I’ve styled my life on her or anything but you know what I mean.
So other women across history, well I wrote a play about Githa Sowerby. She was a fantastic playwright in the early 1900s but her work got pushed to the side and overlooked and forgotten as it does. She was someone who I found greatly interesting and inspiring. Another is Helen Keller, who invented sign language. I learned about her at school, she’s somebody that really sticks with me.
But at the moment I’m really keen on politicians because of all the research I’m doing for Maiden Speeches so I’m really kind of excited by the likes of Harriet Harman, Angela Rayner, who’s in the shadow cabinet, Laura Pidcock, Mhairi Black, a big favourite, Preet Gill. So I’m kind of geeking out a little bit about women in politics at the minute.
What first inspired you to be involved in theatre/politics?
Theatre, we’ll start there. It was just something I always did. I don’t really remember a time where I wasn’t involved in theatre. I was that kid who would put on plays in the living room and make everyone sit around and watch them. I was like ‘No, you’ve all got to to sit there, I’m going to dress up and you all have to watch me’. I did a production of Jack and the Beanstalk once in the living room at my friends house, I just always loved it. I just adored it. I just loved having a captive audience. I don’t know, it wasn’t so much just about showing off, I really liked the structure of entering an imaginary world. It wasn’t just you know ‘Look at me, look at me’, though that was probably a big part of it back when I was young. But then I kind of got into it in my teens as well, actually Barbara Marten’s husband Mike Kenny used to teach me, he taught me drama. So he was very influential in getting me into theatre and he was directing my brother’s play and had got one of the younger sisters to play one of the kids but because she was too shy, they asked me instead so I got to play a little girl in the end pf year play. Then it just sort of spiralled and I did more things with Mike and then I auditioned for drama school when I was seventeen/ eighteen and went down to London and trained at Mountview.
My switch into writing was a really conscious choice because I trained as an actor, worked as an actor and was living in London but when I discovered I was having my son, who’s now nearly thirteen, it was a conscious thing to change as I would have been restricted with what I could and couldn’t take on as acting jobs. So, at that point, I applied to the young writer’s programme at the Royal Court Theatre in London and did that course whilst I was pregnant and since then, though I still do little bits of acting, I have more pursued the writing. Being a single parent still restricts what I can do as an actor so it was very conscious really and yeah it’s gone alright, you know, people come to my plays, they clap and smile and say nice things.
So I guess you've just discussed this but are there any particular moments in your career that you view as pivotal/special?
It’s very difficult when you’re thinking about your career really because mostly you’re just bundling along and you have to just be open to opportunities. But I think for me the things that I’ve done that I’ve been most proud of, or that I’ve got most enjoyment out of have been the things have come out a moment of ’Stuff it, I’ll do this then’, rather than waiting around for someone to give me a job. It’s the ones where you make it yourself or you’ve done stuff on a shoe string budget. Something ad-hock that ends up working and then normally leads to something else. Because usually those things where you create some kind of event in some sort of way, they always lead to something. So it’s always been the moments where I’ve gone ‘I’m not going to sit around and wait for that to happen or that phone to ring’, like you are with this, going out there and meeting people and making your own opportunities.
What advice do you have for young people perusing a career in theatre?
Be brave. Ask for things, ask for what you need. Try not to do other people’s thinking for them. You know, it’s really easy sometimes when you’re trying to get stuff going, when people keep you waiting or don’t respond you start to create a narrative of why it’s not happening and normally it’s just people are really freaking busy and trying to get their shit together so don’t invent stories about why they don’t want to work with you. That’s good advice, what else? Think about the long game, it’s a long life you know, you’ve got a lot of time to do lots of different stuff. Be varied in your skills, it’s always good if you can sing, dance, write, whatever. And you know, enjoy it as well, don’t take yourself and the world too seriously.
So you trained at drama school, Mountview Academy in London? What was your experience like?
The first term, I hated it. I was like ‘What the hell have I done?’, but then after that I quite enjoyed it. But I really loved the third year. By the time you got into third year, it was just production after production, literally a year of productions and I really enjoyed that. I got some really, really good parts, I was really lucky. I got to play Marley in Top Girls and I got another really good part in a musical by Sue Townsend called Bizarre and Rummage which is a comedy musical about three agoraphobics that go out and run a jumble sale, that was great fun. It was really good. So yeah I enjoyed the production stuff and I think actually a lot of what you learn you learn at drama school doesn’t pay off for years. Sometimes you have to be patient. You’re putting foundations and tools and muscle memory that sometimes years later, you go ‘Oh God, yeah, I can do this because of my training.’
And I think there are things definitely, I wouldn’t have done or had the opportunity for if it weren’t for professional training and I think there are positions that I wouldn’t have put myself in either. I think it gives you a sense of validation. I do agree that there is a rush, I did go at eighteen but I’d quite happily do three years training now, it’d be great fun! But I think having that three years to really get into yourself and your habits and your muscles and your ease at being on stage and stuff, I don’t think you can get a better training really. I mean, you can learn as you work definitely, but you don’t get the same luxury to explore things and make mistakes and face things that you probably wouldn’t get the chance to in a normal rehearsal process.
How important do you view the fusion of theatre and politics in portraying a message to the audience?
I think it’s really important. I think the stage and the arts, it’s a forum for people to engage and reflect with ideas and emotions, challenging the problems of the world that we live in. I think it’s absolutely essential that what we put on stage is engaged with that, not to say it has to be very dry and deep, it is still entertainment but often entertainment with a message can be much more powerful.
In your opinion, why do we make theatre?
I think what I really like about theatre is that it’s live, it’s communal. You’re sharing a story with a room of people which makes you listen and engage in a different way. It creates small pockets of community for a couple of hours in a way that you don’t get from watching telly or reading a book. So for me, it’s important to bring people together and there’s a sense of ritual, I think, involved in that which comes out of church and the rituals of church. There’s a sort of pilgrimage element involved with ‘I’m going here to do a thing and listen’ and I like that. I think it’s a special kind of coming together of people.
What was your inspiration/motivation for Maiden Speeches?
It was an idea that was co-conceived with Barbara really and it was kind of like the sister piece to the Suffragette play. I mean, we thought that’s all well and good developing on the well known history of the Suffragettes but where are we now? In terms of women working in politics. Also, we’ve got the centenary of suffrage coming up in 2018 so what is it about the contemporary political world that has changed? Have we moved on? What is like for women now working in parliament? What was it like for Nancy Astor? What is like now for new intakes? Just an interest in that really and kind of thinking; that’s a play that needs to be written.
And so my favourite question to conclude; if you were alive 100 years ago, do you think you would be a suffragette?
Yeah, damn right. I’d be blowing up post boxes and smashing windows. Yeah, without a doubt. Absolutely.
I'll be posting a new interview every two weeks on a Wednesday using the tag #WomenWednesdays so stay tuned for more fascinating stories on more fantastic women in the Arts and Politics.