Interview: Lucy J Skilbeck

Lucy is a writer and director, you may have caught their work in recent years with Milk Presents, the company they started following their graduation from CSSD. Lucy recently won the Genesis award which sees them direct two short Chekhov pieces at The Young Vic.  With a gender fierce cast, this is Chekhov brought in to 2017, targeting a broader, and perhaps new audience, with it’s political messages remaining as just as strong as when it was originally written.

Interview by @AmieAmieTay

AT: Can you tell us a little about you and how you came to work as a writer / director?

LJS: I grew up on a farm in York and went to a youth theatre, from there I went on to study applied theatre at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and that’s where Milk Presents was born; I named the company after my family’s milk round business and we’ve been going for about seven years now.  Milk Presents explores queerness and gender and the dialogue around that in a really accessible way, with a really broad audience base. Through that I began to write more and direct more.  And now, with the support of the Genesis Foundation I‘m able to work with the Young Vic who are completely supportive in exploring these ideas more, but in a really supported way by the Genesis Foundation.  So I get to direct a piece at The Young Vic which is a really nice way of taking everything I’ve learnt with my company and running with it.

AT: You’re working on The Bear and The Proposal for the Young Vic, which are two of Chekhov’s shorter plays, was this your choice?

LJS: I could pick from three options, and I went with Checkhov, I pitched and applied with those because I knew I wanted to apply with a gender-fierce* company. I think we’re really happy to see gender queer people within cabaret and within queer spaces, but actually I really wanted to do Chekhov and to do it ‘properly’.  The thing with Chekhov is that he was an innovator and wanted to affect social change.  These are Vaudeville plays and Vaudeville means ‘songs of the city streets’ so even though these plays depict high society, they belong to the people and take the mick out of that society. There’s a big cross over with the cabaret world there. They really poke fun at liberal discourses, at the time when they were written, in the late 19th century, there were big questions around the fundamental role of women and right now we are exploring a national discussion around gender and our understanding of gender is becoming a lot more plural and we’re exploring non-binary identities and trans  identities, and the plays completely speak to that.

AT: How did you go about casting this and how did you find your company?

LJS: Through really different means, I knew I wanted to work with a stellar gender fierce company, so we set about with an open casting call.  We made a ‘will you marry me?’ at Young Vic email address, which links to the play, and we sent that out as far as we could to queer groups and spaces.  We had about 150 applicants and we saw 40 people, that was a really nice way of queering the Young Vic and cracking open systems that are sometimes hard to crack.

AT: I love that you found a different way to cast that, and something I feel that venues could be better at is going out and asking for diversity…

LJS: Yes, theatres do have to work a little bit harder, and they are starting to.  For instance the Young Vic now has trans friendly toilets, which is a very simple thing that goes a long way.  And with doing projects like this it hopefully speaks to a broader range of people so that more people will come and see the work, ultimately everything is much more rich for opening up venues and I hope this will continue to be the case.

AT: I’m sometimes concerned when I look at LGBT+ voices across the theatre landscape that some voices are still rarely heard.  From your perspective and experience, where do you feel we’re at with trans and non-binary voices being represented in theatre?

LJS:  I think we’re at a really exciting time, I think these ideas and thoughts around gender and these identities take a little while to permeate. But if you imagine masculinity and femininity not to be bound by our bodies, they can be put on to anybody and anyone can take them on, so it’s less about male and female representation, but it’s more about what are our signifiers of gender and how are we using these to explore gender.  Which I think drag does very nicely, as a performance of gender.  And I think we have a long way to go in terms of diversifying our stages, but we have a long way to go in terms of race, gender, disabled artists, and I think it’s a big conversation that theatre sector on the whole needs to get a handle on. And there are some really positive examples of theatres doing that and working towards that.  That’s why I wanted to take on Chekhov, because there are no rules as to who can play what, and who can play what gender.  One of the things we’ll be doing is exploring gender within those two pieces.  I think we’re at the cusp of something really revolutionary and I hope to be a part of and contribute to that.

AT:  What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing this piece?

LJS: I’d never specify what I want people to come away with, but I want them to have a good time, to have lots of fun, to enjoy themselves and to be left with a seed of a question around how gender is produced and used within society. One of the best things about cabaret is that you laugh and you laugh and you laugh, and it’s still very satirical and it makes you think, and I guess I’d want my audience to have a similar feeling.

*Gender-fierce: a personal and colloquial term our company has decided to us to signify , for example, Transgender, non-binary or genderqueer performers. It’s our term, feel free to run with it! – Lucy J Skilbeck

Lucy would like to thank the Genesis foundation. Although Lucy’s version of Chekhov’s The Bear / The Proposal is now sold out at The Young Vic, you can follow them: @lucyjskillbeck and @milkpresents for more details and updates of their future work.

You can catch Joan, Lucy’s show with Milk Presents at Ovalhouse from April 11th 2017. Booking.


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