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.

 

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Outbox in rehearsals for And The Rest of Me Floats

Image © Helen Murray

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Review: Performing Borders

4*
Contact Theatre, Manchester

Performing Borders | LIVE is a programme of events and new commissions that focuses on the exploration of artistic practices around notions of cultural, juridical, racial, gendered, class, physical and every day borders. As part of Queer Contact, they brought together Nima Séne and Tuna Edrem to discuss their experiences of otherness related to their queer, migrant and PoC identities shape their work.

Tuna Ederem, who lead the conversation, is a London based artist, curator and performer originally from Istanbul, where she founded Istanbul Queer Collective. She started the conversation by sharing some previous work that started with a piece focusing around her feeling towards Istanbul Pride, which was shut down several years ago. Her art has involved hammering 50,000 nails across 12 hours to represent the many people who attend pride each year and Henna tattooing a drag queen’s behind after being asked to make art around her persecution.

Tuna was in conversation with Nima Séne, who is Afro German and whose art is rooted in uncovering complexity and parody within stereotypes and mainstream media portrayals of cultural identity. Nima presented their character Beige B*tch through a number of clips and explained that the character could be considered as an almost drag persona or way of expressing and reacting to the way the world portrays cultural identity. The character is exaggerated and not afraid to react without fear of consequence. Nima is also involved into looking into their own identity and asking questions, particularly about the notion of being black in Europe and outside of America. Interestingly, they also works closely with artists to redirect their creations to correlate with her messaging. A great example of this was a piece Nima did about how adverts of Africa always involve flies, collaborating with a friend who does a fly themed pole dance.

The conversation was interesting and challenging, and it was exciting to see two artists who were able to challenge difficult topics and find creative ways of expressing them through queer art. It would have been great to see more back and forth between the two as I was interested to see the different ways they could engage with one another. It’s well worth having a google and exploring both of their work and raising these voices further.

© M. Holland 2019

This event has now closed.

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Review: No Kids

5*
By Ad Infinitum
At Battersea Arts Centre, London

Real life partners and theatre company founders Nir and George showcase their own hopes and fears on the possibility of bringing a child into their world, using Madonna Dance routines, scientific facts and a ghost baby.

Over 70 minutes Nir and George dance us through the conflicting views of having a kid. From the real and fantastical means they could get a child, their contrasting wants, what their childhoods were like and what society and science might say. The performers manage to lift the audience to the dizzying high hopes of what could be and then drag us in to the cold harsh fears that lurk as well. Whilst there are so many ideas explored at the end it still feels like one couples’ experience of it, leaving a slightly open end that this conversation will never really end.

For a production entitled ‘No Kids’ the design and direction seem to showcase all the joy of youth, with all the set markings on the floor made with tape coloured by a primary school art palette, the rainbow costume rails filled with a family wardrobe, and the constant dance routines that feel inspired by playground-rehearsed ones. This is all kept afloat with energetic performances from Gorge Mann and Nir Paldi, whilst playing versions of themselves always seem to be having fun and between them give us a balance between showy and neurotic.

Ad Infinitum’s production is an entertaining yet honest way of exploring the issues that gay couples face when considering parenthood. Looking at concrete issues like science and climate alongside their personal thoughts and feelings. I would have liked to have seen more about more political and social pressures as this felt least touched, but maybe as it is their story it may not have been as important an issue for them., or they felt it was previously covered ground (at one point George screams out ‘We don’t need another coming out story’).

No Kids gives the audience a relatable discussion on possible parenthood. The show shows us both the light and the dark side that couples in this situation have to consider, but giving a restless upbeat spirit shows us there is no right answer and that in 12-year relationship they haven’t really come to a conclusion, and maybe they never will.

© Dan Ramsden – 2019 – @DanielRamsdenFL

This show is now touring, catch up with it in the UK this Spring.

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Review: Fatty Fat Fat

5*
Vault Festival, London until 3rd Feb 2019

In this one-woman show Katie Greenall gives us a painfully honest account of living in her body, dancing under a set of shiny ‘Fat’ balloons and pulling her props out of a fridge that looks like it has been decorated by the designer of The Generation Game, this show doesn’t shy away from the bad bits but also shows us that it doesn’t mean doom.

Katie Greenall’s show starts off with her relentlessly doing the Cha Cha Slide as the audience mill in. From there she seamlessly swings between anecdotes from her life where weight and appearance has caused problems, hyper-active interactive scenes where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and beautifully written heartfelt monologues exploring the deeper emotions that run under all of these moments. This carousel of entertainment pulls you between the pain and joy of Katie’s character.

You believe and listen to all of this thanks to the energetic and honest performance from Katie and the beautiful simplicity of her script, all getting tied together from the Madelaine Moore’s graceful direction which gives each segment a different feel, like you are sorting through a Quality Street box of stories.

It is wonderful to see shows like this that give us such honesty about a slightly taboo topic that affects so many. For anyone who has dealt with issues around their weight it should make you feel less alone, and for those that haven’t hopefully it will make you think about how we can treat each other.

Fatty Fat Fat excels in giving us such a balanced story of Katie’s relationship with her body, which leaves you not feeling just sad or happy but filled with warmth that this has been shared with you, happy that you are not alone in those difficult changing room movements and sad that people will still cast judgements, but hopefully not for long if everyone sees this show.

© Dan Ramsden – 2019 – @DanielRamsdenFL

This show is at Vault Festival until 3rd Feb, book now. 

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Review: Gypsy Queen

3*
This was a one off performance at Moss Side Boxing Club, Manchester.

Gypsy Queen is the story of ‘Gorgeous’ George O’Connell, a bare-knuckle fighter from a traveller family, a hero to his people and a self-proclaimed Gypsy King. George enters the world of professional boxing which puts him on a collision course with his roots, his fears and his very identity. In the opposite corner, Dane ‘The Pain’ Samson, the young pretender and son of a boxing legend. He is fighting his own battles that lead to a tragedy that neither could predict. This critically acclaimed love story about two men who find each other in the most unlikely of worlds. But can two men raised to fight ever learn to love?

Gypsy Queen explores LGBTQ visibility across sport, faith and the concept of masculinity. This important topic – and particularly its focus on boxing – makes it worth a watch and it has the potential to make a real impact on people. The two hander is performed by Rob Ward and John Askew and their dynamic and energy makes for an enjoyable watch.

We were fortunate that this particular performance was a special site-specific showing of the play at Moss Side Fire Station boxing club – and this really helped to ground the play in reality.

The performances from both of the actors were admirable, and they worked hard to embody the nine different characters. Some characters were much stronger than others -but the two main characters of George O’Connell and Dane Samson were really prominent. Personally, I would have enjoyed more of a focus on their story and relationship. Alongside this, moments of humour added buoyancy to the play, particularly when it was dealing with difficult topics.

As a whole, I felt like there were a lot of storylines, and some of them maybe didn’t need as much prominence. I would have enjoyed getting into the psyche of the two main boxers and the intensity of their relationship as opposed to seeing so much of their lives. Each storyline contained dramatic moments that meant that it felt as though everything was pivotal – and sometimes this took away from the emotion I wanted to feel and the connection I was hoping for with the main characters.

We need more stories like this and I really hope this play gets people thinking. An enjoyable production.

© M. Holland 2019

For more info and future showings of this production, visit the Hope Mill Theatre website.

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Review: Sarah Keyworth: Dark Horse

4*
Soho Upstairs, London
Mon 28 Jan – Sat 2 Feb 2019

Growing up, Nottingham-born new comedy face Sarah Keyworth didn’t live up to society’s expectations about what a girl should be. Bullied for her ‘masculine’ attributes, she went off to university determined to be the Perfect Straight Woman with long hair and a ‘Straight Girl Laugh’—and was then called out for her perceived promiscuity.

Keyworth takes us on a hilarious journey through her childhood and adolescence as a young lesbian in the context of our bizarrely gendered world and its strict rules for boys and girls. But this stand-up routine goes on to tell the story of another little girl.

Out of university and out of the closet, Keyworth finds herself working as a nanny to two delightfully posh children with ‘dogs’ names’. Roly and Baxter are so posh, in fact, that they don’t play ‘Cops & Robbers’ but ‘Metropolitian Police and Ruffians’.

Keyworth initially doubts she’ll have much to offer the girly, pony-loving Roly. But to her amazement, a beautiful bond develops with this child, and before long, Keyworth discovers a fierce maternal protectiveness in herself. When little Roly tells her ‘fanny’ (a nanny who is also a friend) that she is afraid of looking like a ‘slut’ at just seven years old, Keyworth realises she will fight to the death to protect this little girl from the forces of sexism.

When she’s not got you giggling with gags about babies in dresses looking like shuttlecocks, she’s delivering truths that leave the audience so silent you could hear a pin drop. With her deadpan, assured delivery, Keyworth is simultaneously tough-as-old-boots and vulnerable—an engaging presence that holds the audience enraptured.

It’s quite extraordinary how Keyworth manages to combine perfectly-delivered jokes, intelligent commentary on sexism and personal anecdotes into a one-hour show without dropping the ball (or, should I say, shuttlecock). She never wanders into preachiness or sentimentality, but delivers an intelligent, sincere, heartwarming piece of stand-up that packs a punch.

I’m far from the first person to say it, particularly after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. But this woman is certainly one to watch. Especially if you want to know why lesbians are always dressed for combat.

© J. McClellan 2018

This production is running at The Soho Theatre until the 2nd Feb. Book Now.

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Review: Come Closer

HOME – Manchester
3*

Come Closer was performed as part of PUSH Festival at HOME and created by Gareth Cutter. It starts with an innocuous encounter between two men in New York: one a famous photographer, the other a nameless drifter. But when their “street photography” interview takes an unexpectedly up-close-and-personal turn, things begin to unravel, plunging the audience into a maze of hospital corridors and underground clubs where truth and fiction meld, and pleasure is never far away.

Come Closer utilised a mixture of interesting techniques to create a dreamlike and surreal theatrical experience. It was visually striking, from a pair of red rubber gloves that made a loud smacking noise, the continuous use of a voice distorter and the performer consistently shrouded in semi darkness – sometimes with his back to the audience. This all made for an intriguing and unsettling atmosphere. In particular, the use of voice distortion throughout the play was interesting. It made the mood of the piece hard to read at times, which I actually quite liked. It also ensured for a level of removal from the action of the piece that meant that even when the play was funny, it was also unsettling.

However, the storytelling and narrative threads of Come Closer never quite came together as well as I wanted them to. The shifts in tone and specificity of the encounter of New York against the personal stories that were interweaved throughout the play felt a bit lacking in conclusion and meaning. Some scenes played a little too long, or the actor broke character and laughed with the audience – creating a mixture of moods that felt inconsistent at times. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty of potential here. At times, Come Closer was intimate, engaging and funny – but this would quickly change and become something that I think was trying to be unsettling but instead felt slightly confusing.

Come Closer was an intriguing concoction of ingredients that didn’t quite come together to hit the mark – however, I’d be interested in seeing how it develops in the future.

© M. Holland 2019

This performance has now closed.

 

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Photo: Michele Selway