Interview: Outbox Theatre

This February Outbox Theatre come to The Bush Theatre, London, with their show And The Rest of Me Floats, which is all about ‘the messy business of gender.’ We managed to catch Director Ben Burrata and performer Emily Joh Miller to find out about more about the making of this piece and Outbox Theatre.

Amie: Tell us a little about the history of Outbox and what your manifesto is as a company:

Ben: Outbox have been running since 2010 with a mission to tell the unheard and forgotten stories of the queer community, our work is inter-generational and inclusive. We collaborate with LGBTQ+ performers, artists and communities to tell stories in bold and exciting ways. As a company, we are playful with form, taking inspiration from (and blurring the lines of) performance, dance and visual art. We want to explore the contemporary issues that queer communities face but in a funned celebratory way with high artistic value. There is always at least one glitter drop in any given show!

Amie: What inspired And the Rest of Me Floats? Where did the idea come from?

Ben: I have wanted to make a show around the messiness of gender for a number of years but knew I had to do this sensitively and with the right amount of knowledge and experience. The past few years have seen a rise in visibility of trans and non-binary people and with that has come a backlash in the media. So much is written that is factually incorrect and damaging that it felt like the right time to make something that used the real experiences of LGBTQI people to create something that celebrates gender diversity. It is important that the cast are intersectional; that we are saying to the audience there isn’t one way to be queer3.Emily: We had four weeks to create this show, and there were a handful of ideas already in place from prior R&D (plastic sheets, karaoke, dressing/undressing, karaoke) but what struck me about the process was how much space I and the other performers had to play. Aside from some sessions focused on a specific element (e.g. music or movement) there was an immense amount of freedom in the room to generate material without concerns like where in the show it would fit. We were allowed space to make mistakes and dive deep into ideas By the end of this devising process it became clear that thanks to the direction we’d been receiving from Ben a good amount of this material had a clear through-line which made it easy to shape into a dramatic structure. The result is a piece with a deliberate mood and message that still feels like an organic extension of the people who made it.

Amie: Outbox’s work always feels hugely reflective of the people performing it, what is your creation process?

Emily: We had four weeks to create this show, and there were a handful of ideas already in place from prior R&D (plastic sheets, karaoke, dressing/undressing, karaoke) but what struck me about the process was how much space I and the other performers had to play. Aside from some sessions focused on a specific element (e.g. music or movement) there was an immense amount of freedom in the room to generate material without concerns like where in the show it would fit. We were allowed space to make mistakes and dive deep into ideas By the end of this devising process it became clear that thanks to the direction we’d been receiving from Ben a good amount of this material had a clear through-line which made it easy to shape into a dramatic structure. The result is a piece with a deliberate mood and message that still feels like an organic extension of the people who made it.

Amie: Why is this piece particularly pertinent for audiences in 2019?

Emily: We’ve seen an explosion of mainstream visibility for trans people over the past five or so years, but with that has increase in visibility has come an increase in backlash. To be trans in 2019 is to be under constant attack from the press and from agitators acting in bad faith to try and discredit trans identity as a whole. And The Rest Of Me Floats doesn’t shy away from acknowledging this hostile environment while at the same time conveying to queers and other outsiders that being your authentic self isn’t just okay but radical and necessary.

Amie: What do you hope audiences will take away from watching?

Emily: I hope audiences will pick up on our rejection of any one central message or narrative; understanding that identities and lives are always more complex than any media narrative would suggest is key to the fight for queer acceptance and liberation.

Ben: I want audiences to fell challenged, embraced, filled with more questions then answers and to have had a good party.

Amie: As a company making work with an LGBT+ focus, do you feel you’ve met any challenges specifically due to the nature of the work?

Emily: With any queer theatre I’ve been involved with I often feel the weight of responsibility in the work I’m creating; I know for some of the audience it will be their first exposure to queer people or the idea of trans-ness. As a result there can be an instinct to self-censor or make theatre that conveys the ‘right’ political message. Looking back at the time I spent making ATROMF this pressure was for the most pasrt not there. I feel like that was due to the diversity of people and ideas in the room, and the hard work carried out by the company to make sure the environment was a safe one to fail and make mistakes in.

Amie: What’s the best thing about working with Outbox?

Emily: The feeling of community! Making ATROMF has exposed me to other queer theatre-makers who are all doing incredible work in so many different styles, and this show has given us all a platform to make something vital together.

Ben: The amazing queer talent that I get to work with. It always amazes me when I hear creatives and directors saying ‘we just couldn’t find the talent’. You aren’t looking hard enough- come to one of our shows!

Book Now to see And the Rest of Me Floats at The Bush Theatre from 20th Feb – 16th March.

 

OUTBOX.jpg

Outbox in rehearsals for And The Rest of Me Floats

Image © Helen Murray

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