Interview: Ísabella Leifsdóttir

Here at The LGBTQ Arts Review we always champion lesbian and bisexual representation across all art forms, as these two groups (amongst others) are still hugely underrepresented.  So you can imagine our excitement when we learnt of Rosie Middleton and Michael Betteridge’s opera #EchoChamber coming to Tête-à-Tête this summer, featuring a same-sex female couple. We were thrilled to interview the producer and performer in the piece, Ísabella Leifsdóttir, who spoke to us from Iceland all about this exciting new opera coming to London on the 17th August.

AT: To start with tell us a bit about #EchoChamber, how it came to be, where the idea came from and it’s journey to performing at Tete-a-Tete this summer…

ÍL: It started as an idea of Rosie Middleton and Michael Betteridge, they wanted to take a look at the difference between Iceland and England in terms of equality.  We all studied together at The Royal Northern and they contacted me because I now live back in Iceland and work as a producer here. They got Arts Council Funding to come to Iceland and run a workshop and hold auditions, it was here we found Ingunn Lara Kristjansdottir the writer / director of the piece. Ingunn Lara had the idea to look at Twitter and how easily things can snowball online and how easy it is to lose sight of reality. We improvised a lot of music and text, some of which we took verbatim from Twitter.  Following this we got Icelandic funding to finish the production of the piece, so it’s been two and a half years in the making now. It’s in both Icelandic and English, but we have translation on the screens, we have two screens which we use a lot, as we have a live Twitter-feed during the show.

AT: And how does that work?

ÍL:  People are encouraged to tweet while watching and we screen the hashtag #EchoChamber.  It’s interesting though, because sometimes we get other tweets show up too, unrelated to the show but from people using the same hashtag. For us the Twitter-feed is fascinating, because it’s different with every audience and also has the potential to snowball, if one person starts joking or one person starts with inappropriate comments – you’ll get more. We have a website that makes it so you can tweet anonymously too. Those have been particularly interesting.

AT: In what way?

ÍL: Some good and some bad. My character is supposed to be an influencer, and is someone who puts a lot of effort in to her looks and looking ‘sexy’, and in one show an audience member became obsessed with her and would tweet overtime she left the stage, and was also asking things like what bra size she was and all sorts of inappropriate, strange sexual comments and they got more and more aggressive and creepy. There’s also a part where my character improvises and aria from the live tweets.

AT: And your character is part of a same-sex female couple?

ÍL: Yes, one character identifies as bisexual, which is my character, and the other as lesbian.There are three women in the cast. This story has been created by the group and we all on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. I’m bi, and this is the first time I’ve ever played a bisexual or even queer character, and I’ve been on stage since I was six.

AT: How does it feel for you to play that role?

ÍL: It makes it feel more important to me.  I’ve never had a show where I’ve been so enthusiastic about getting people to come, I’m like ‘You have to see this – it has a lesbian love scene!’. It’s something I’ve never seen for myself, let alone getting to play it.  And there are so few bi characters out there, on TV or in theatre, there’s certainly very little positive representation, they’re usually portrayed as sex addicts or something like that. So this is important for that reason, and I think the world is changing, when I used to come out to people [as bisexual] in my 20s I was questioned a lot more or people would say ‘no you’re not’, they’d either tell me I was straight, or I was lesbian. I find it’s not questioned so much now, perhaps the occasional look once in a while, but that’s all. I would also say queer relationships aren’t the focus of the opera, they’re a part of it, but it’s not about that.

AT: And I think that’s the place we really need to head for in theatre, where same-sex relationships aren’t central to the plot, they’re incidental –

ÍL: Exactly, it normalises it and makes people forget that idea that it’s any different from any other relationship, because of course it’s not.

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

ÍL: It gets people to think how they act online; it’s definitely changed the way I behave online, I’ve become much more aware that the things I say can come back to people, that something I tweet could become part of a snowball that could ruin someone’s life. Also, I don’t take views at face value as I did before, especially when people are quoted, and it ends up in a Tweet, I used to retweet and say ‘I can’t believe she said this,’ I don’t do that anymore, I question whether she meant it in that way, or if it was taken out of context, or if she said it at all. So I hope it will encourage people to question how they act online.

Huge thanks to Ísabella for this interview.  To book tickets for the performance on Friday 17th August: 19:50 – 21:10 at The Place, 17 Duke’s Rd, London, WC1H 9PY visit the Tête-à-Tête website.

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