One Girl Hundreds of Questions: An interview with Lunar Objects Theatre

I sat down with Lunar Objects Theatre for a chat about their upcoming show “Am I If?”, performing at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre as part of Camden Fringe on Sunday 27th August. Made up of Bramble Wallace and Elizabeth Rigby, they started Lunar Objects Theatre this year and even though they only graduated last month, they have already landed a spot at their chosen theatre to perform their very own show. For insight into how they fuel their theatre company on only chocolate & tea, how they’ve achieved so much in such a short space of time and how to buy tickets for their latest production, Am I If?, read on.


 

So, AM I IF?, what can you tell us?

B: The show is written by the two of us. It’s a one woman show starring me. It’s about a girl who’s trying to make sense of what it means to be a woman in this day and age. She is stuck between being a teenager and a woman, that really strange period of “you don’t feel like a woman but there are mini-small things that do make you feel like a woman”. The show explores lots of women’s issues through comedy and song, it’s a lot of anecdotal work.

E: All the labels that she might be slapped with such as “feminist – what does that mean?” and “what does it mean if you shave your armpits? What does it mean if you don’t? Am I supposed to do that? Does that mean something? Or am I just doing something because I like it?”.

B: One of our taglines is “one girl, hundreds of questions” and I think that’s really the synopsis of the show.

Am I If? @ Camden Fringe 2017
Am I If? @ Camden Fringe 2017

Have you got any people you’d claim as your key influences for the show?

B: We’ve got a lot of influences that span lots of different genres. We’ve got illustrators like Sally Nickson. Petra Collins, her collection “Babe”. Lena Dunham, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her company Drywrite, they’re really fantastic.

E: We’re also inspired by a lot of old female comedians like French and Saunders and Victoria Wood. There’s still such a stigma about female comedians and how there are hardly any so we’re drawn to them.

B: Even Hollie McNish who’s a poet. We both enjoy a lot of spoken word poetry and that is something that’s part of the show so she really inspires us as well.

E: We’re also inspired by each other’s experiences because that’s what our show is based on. Our friendship between ourselves and our friendships with other people. Day-to-day conversations.

B: Lots of women inspire us!

What kickstarted the idea behind it?

B: One of the things that kickstarted it was just this feeling of seeing all these wonderful women doing all these amazing things but feeling like we wanted to have our say on it. I wrote my dissertation on Lena Dunham and the work that she’s done. It explores how much of a role model she is for the millennial generation and what her effects on feminism have been. For us, we found we had someone speaking for us when we saw “Girls” and when we saw “Fleabag”, Phoebe Waller-Bridges production with Drywrite. We found we were being represented in some way but we found we were missing this talk around our age group. Those women are slightly older and they are at a slightly different stage to us and we just felt that this period, from speaking to other women and other girls from our course and just women in our lives, we found that everyone felt that this stage in our lives is really confusing and tricky. For us, we just wanted to voice those fears and confusions and worries of all these women around us so they could know that the things that they were feeling were okay. I know that’s something I personally struggle with sometimes, understanding and realising that the fears that I’m having are the fears that other people are having too. It’s really important in this day and age when everyone is so contactable and reachable, however, you can still feel so alone. We wanted to voice those fears and worries and make people feel like there are other people they can relate to.

E: When we wanted to start a theatre company together, we both had very similar interests. We’ve lived together for three years and we’re very like-minded people in that sense. “We should just do it, we’ve been talking about it, we can do it, let’s just put on a show where we can talk about what we want”. There’s no stopping us and we’re really passionate about it.

B: I think it was about realising that we just had a lot to say and a lot we want people to hear! We would be having these conversations about life and what it means to be a feminist, we’d be talking and then suddenly say “should I get my notebook out and write down what we just said?”. I just have my notebook on me all the time now and write stuff down. It turns into poetry or it turns into work or it turns into the seed of an idea.

Phoebe Waller-Bridges with her Academy Award for "Fleabag"
Phoebe Waller-Bridges with her Academy Award for “Fleabag”

Do you have a specific age range that you want to address?

B: That’s one thing we didn’t want to have. We didn’t want to have an age range that this is really specific for because even my mum says there’s stuff that we’re writing about for the show and she like “I STILL feel that now” and she’s a mother of four and an author, she’s done a lot with her life. We realised that even though the problems that we’re having at this age are very specific to this age group because they are at this time and part of this limbo, we realised that many women feel like this asides from us.

E: And even men! We don’t want to exclude men from this conversation. We’re both very passionate about equality. Men need to understand these things.

B: The trials and tribulations that we go through with a period so they’re able to be supportive, you have to teach them these things. So we wouldn’t say that it’s for a specific age group or age range but we would say that our writing is slightly more from our point of view.

So would you say it’s more about maturity?

E: Yeah. For a younger audience, even if there was a 16-year-old or above seeing this show, from my experience, a lot of those things don’t get talked about from when you’re that old. You feel embarrassed and I feel it’s really important to encourage these conversations. When I was getting taught sex ed at school, the girls and boys were separated and the girls went and talked about periods whilst the boys watched a film.

I have so many problems with sex education…

E: That’s something we are passionate about and that’s something we might do a future project about. So, that’s that age, but ridiculously, when my friend went to uni in her second year, she had to explain to her 23-year-old housemate what a period was. I think that’s why we didn’t want to put an age range on it, or as much as we could because obviously, we might be dealing with things in a more mature way, but it’s just as important for a 16-year-old to come and watch it.

I suppose it opens up a conversation even if they aren’t familiar with it. They’re going “ah, I saw that play once and ah, I didn’t understand them then, but I do now”.

E: Yes – I think body image as well because a lot of the way we present ourselves on stage, it’s quite honest. We’re getting changed and we’ll have big pants on. That kind of thing, it’s all positive encouragement to start these conversations between people so I think that’s another reason we don’t want an age range.

How did you go about organising getting to be at Camden Fringe? That’s quite an achievement in the space of a month and a half after graduating!

B: I want to say March-time, we had just been speaking about when we graduated what was going to happen really and we thought “we want to be writing, we want to be in shows” so we just thought “fuck it, let’s do it, let’s just do it”. That was where it came from and we’re going to make these opportunities for ourselves.

E: A lot of the time we just talk about how these amazing women are doing such amazing things and we’re like “why can’t I do it?!…let’s just do it!”. It wasn’t that hard.

B: You just go on to the Camden Fringe website and you can just apply, it’s an application. You write to the theatres you are interested in performing at, the theatres that are connected to Camden Fringe and you see if they want your show, you have to give them a synopsis and we were lucky enough to get yes’s from every theatre we contacted and we just chose. We were quite lucky in that sense.

That’s amazing, that’s really good.

B: We were shocked! You just have to go there and a lot of theatres are really passionate about young creatives and young writers. You just have to have the confidence to go “you know what, I’m going to put myself out there and see what happens”.

E: I also think that we’re at an advantage that the discussion of equality in theatre is starting to happen.

We just had a female doctor who!

E: Exactly! It’s great, that kind of discussion is starting to happen so we’re really lucky that we’re creating this piece at that time. Not that we were just going to get that many offers but it works with what’s going on now.

 

 

Lena Dunham's "Girls"
Lena Dunham’s “Girls”

Having an idea, sitting down then devising a piece from it. Inspiration-wise, how do you typically go from A to B?

E: Go, go go, make, make, make. Trial and error.

B: As soon as you have a moment or a person or a quote that inspires you, write it down. I have a notebook that’s full, you just write, write, write. Any tiny little thing, if you think it’s going to be relevant, it probably will, it doesn’t matter, it will inform you in the long run. When we were coming up with our scratch performance, we knew a beginning point and an end point and we had NO idea about the middle. This process of just, literally, locking ourselves in a studio and sitting there, taking our clothes off, sitting in our pants and our sports bras and being like “what the fuck do we do?!”. Making up songs on the ukelele, forgetting them, running around and being like “ahhhhh!”. We then realised, “this is real, what we’re doing now, put this in!”. We made a conscious effort throughout the whole show to not have the word “feminist” mentioned once. We don’t want the word mentioned because there’s a lot of theatre out there, even from just reading the Camden Fringe booklet which says “this is feminist theatre! This is about feminism!” – we didn’t want to do that. It is about female empowerment and feminism, however…

E: …We’re just two actors and writers making a show and it just happens to be about females. I think even if the word “feminist” is a fantastic thing, yes, equality, equality, equality, but it can turn people off – which it shouldn’t…

But you need to spoon-feed people this kind of work first if you know they’re going to make a judgement immediately.

E: Exactly.

B: We were very passionate about making this theatre about a girl who is struggling and confused and through her confusion, the feminist issues will come out. We don’t want it to focus on that, we want it to be about these real women facing real problems that everyone faces and that’s okay.

E: Yeah, even though it shouldn’t be a bad thing, people do automatically just assume it’s going to be something negative. But it’s the way society is at the minute.

B: We want people to say “look at this! Oh, you’ve inferred that it’s about feminism? Fab you’ve made that decision for yourself, you’ve realised that, you’ve done it, you’ve won”.

E: You can’t bank that what you give them is just going to hit them over the head.

Like Inception. You’ve got to let them think they had the idea.

B: Going back to our devising it, it really was just, we had a notebook of conversations, moments, ideas and theatre techniques that we wanted to use and we just sat in a room and tried stuff and worked it out. Even a few days before our scratch performance, we were like “oh my god…are we funny? Do other people do this? Do other people keep pants that have got old blood stains in them? Do people do that?!”.

Wearing them right now.

E: Yes! We had that self-doubt of “is this just us?! Are we mental?! Is this it or is this real?”. So we performed it and it was! People were saying “oh my god you put everything that’s in my head on stage!”. Also, in terms of devising, we were very lucky in the fact that we are good friends, that we can just be like “no, we can’t do this” or “yes, let’s just do this”, we were very cut=throat in a good way and I think we had a very good working relationship. We both had an idea and I think we both still do have an idea what we want the piece to represent so that made things a lot easier.

B: What are you trying to say and who are you trying to say it to? You’ll be off on a tangent saying “yeah! We’re going to do this weird crazy song at the end!” and then have to say “nope…bring it back, what were we saying? Who were we saying it to?”. I think that’s important throughout all our work, if you follow that, you’re going to create something that is detailed and deep and that another person will be able to relate to.

So keep it focused?

B: We’ve had some unfocused moments…
E: I think some is an understatement!
B: I’d say that me learning how to play the ukelele with my toes was really irrelevant but you get to those points and that’s okay.

E: If you just keep your ideas clear, that really helped our devising process.

B: We had a tutor called Tim Bell who’s fantastic and he works a lot in Bristol at the moment, he taught us that you have to remember that you’ve got all the tomatoes but you’re making ketchup so you’ve got to filter it down to make that concentrated, really great ketchup. We just kept saying that through the process, we’re making ketchup. We’re not making random tomato weird wet stuff, we’re making ketchup.

Am I If? @ Camden Fringe 2017
Am I If? @ Camden Fringe 2017

How would you describe the experience of being a female in the acting world? Are there any obstacles you’ve faced?

B: I think we are very lucky that we came from such a supportive university experience, we were surrounded by just so much love and care and I think that I know, personally, I am nervous about going out there. It is an environment that is so open and free, you can do whatever you want, but also you’re going to be judged.

Specifically feminine shows, even if they aren’t directly stating that they’re feminist?

B: There’s a bit in our spoken word at the end where we discuss if there’s an impact of shaving our armpits or not. For example, I have hairy armpits and I’m nervous about if I go out onto a stage and I show it – when we did our scratch, and the audience came in, I said “oh my god, I’m going to be showing my armpits tonight to an audience who may have never even seen armpit hair on a woman in their life”. When you’re making a show you’ve written and it has come from your mind, you’ve produced it, it’s hard not to be nervous when you’re being so open and honest to a group of people that you don’t know! I don’t know who’s going to be in the audience, I don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know how it’s going to go down. It’s that judgement and there still is that judgement surrounding what it means to be a woman and what a woman should look like. It’s scary but it’s really important to allow those conversations to open and flourish.

So you don’t feel intimidated, you obviously feel nervous but say this wasn’t just your production, say you had got a part on a show anywhere, do you think it’s easier nowadays to get those opportunities? Or do you think there’s still a prejudice or do you think there’s a very big wall in the way that you just haven’t faced yet for being a female?

B: I think those conversations are starting to happen and I think things are opening up, I really do. I think that there are a lot of ways to get noticed. When you graduate, you can go on this thing called Spotlight and anyone as an actor can go on it and get jobs through. There are these filters that you can put on that state what you look like, and there are more coming up that say “any/nonspecific”.

E: I think there are going to be difficulties, there are always going to be difficulties, well, not always hopefully, but there is that gap and I think we are getting closer to bridging it but it’s still a long way off.
These opportunities, yes they are still coming in, luckily I haven’t been able to face any of them yet but I’ve been quite fortunate.

B: I feel like this is a difficult question to answer because personally, it’s been okay but I’ve just graduated, I haven’t really been out there yet.

E: In a way, because generally, there is more female actors and drama schools are always oversubscribed with females, there are tonnes of women trying to get parts that are still small, that’s the struggle. There are lot of people who are white with brown hair. Luckily, I haven’t faced that yet but I’m sure it’s going to come. One of the things that I had a difficulty with is facing in uni was being labelled as “bossy” for getting what you want. Personally and as a female actor, that’s something that’s quite difficult, trying to get your own way without being bossy or a stereotypical bitch. That’s an issue I’ve faced.

B: You walk a fine line of having a few ways to approach a situation, sometimes you can play that really innocent card and you don’t really get what you want, sometimes you can play the angry card and be labelled as an angry woman and that doesn’t work either.

E: Or play the innocent card, get what you want and not feel good about it because you know that you’ve had to play this card.

B: I am quite shielded with this show because I feel really passionate about it and for me, that passion is not making me see anything else. I’m so passionate about what we’re saying, I’m so passionate about us as theatre creators and what Lunar Objects has to say and I’m so focused on that, I just feel like “I’m going to go for it and whatever happens happens, if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t like it, I’m just doing it”. I think that’s something we will face as we grow and as our company develops.

E: Again, it’s a problem that’s probably always going to happen and yes, even though things are slowly changing, it’s going to take a while. I definitely feel I want to be more ahead of our time, “well it should just be fine” but I know that it’s not so you have to play the game of doing that to get somewhere. You can’t help, all you can do is be really strong and secure in yourself and know that you’re going to get it and it’s not your fault that any of these things are happening. You are just a person doing your best and if someone doesn’t like you, it’s their issue.

B: Coming back to the question, I think when you, for example, in the show, if I choose to be on stage in a sports bra and massive granny pants, that’s my choice, I’ve made that decision and I don’t really care what I look like because of what I’m talking about and because it is appropriate to the show. The differences will come where I’m asked to be in my underwear and pants in a show that’s nothing to do with me or that’s maybe saying different things. That’s where those uncomfortable pressures will come from…or not, I don’t know yet.

E: Going off on a tangent, when we were excited by Lena Dunham and “Girls”, she still gets so much backlash about her body image.

That’s all I ever hear about her, it’s a shame I know more about what people think of her body than her actual work.

E: It’s stupid, especially in Hollywood, that’s such a massive thing and that’s one thing I love about “Girls”, they’re all different shapes and sizes but in the industry, you do get labelled “the chubby friend” or “the blonde bimbo”. Some casting calls are awful.

B: You hear some stuff and it’s like “ooh! This could be me!” and then they’ll say something horrible or derogatory and you’re like I don’t know if I want that to be me, I’m not going to send my CV to that”.

E: It’s a fine line between applying for jobs and your morals. That’s something I’m probably going to have to face – “I need to pay rent but this is really degrading”. A really bubbly curvy girl, that’s the casting role. Or “beautiful woman who doesn’t speak”, those types of things that come up. You’ve just got to grin and bear it, it’s the industry and you do need the money, unfortunately.

B: I want to be doing roles that do line up with the way that I feel about the world and I think for me, I’m at this stage, I’m not prepared to do roles that don’t speak that or represent that.

Whenever you see gay relationships represented on television, it’s always that “gay” is their identity and that’s all you know about them. As an audience, if we know this is happening, it’s like “well, I don’t want to watch a programme that uses extreme stereotypes because I don’t feel like that represents me and I don’t feel like you’re giving the characters or the story enough complexity for it to be interesting. So if you’re going out there and setting those standards, you couldn’t be doing anything better.

B: We’re just passionate about being those voices and being those women who make the roles that you want. There are so many adverts I’ve seen recently that are shaving adverts, that are about “beautiful women! A beautiful woman who will shave her legs!” and will make it funny or a comedy and I’m like “fuck that, I’m not doing that advert, that’s just pushing this idea on women, I’m not doing it”. I’ll get a job working in a cafe if it means creating the work I want, I’m not just going to take what you’re offering.

E: I don’t want to be that person that does squish their morals for a job but yeah, it is hard. You’ve got to be really ballsy I think.

B: I went to the Camden Launch Part and there was soo many female companies doing work and I just felt so empowered. You go through the brochure and there are so many women doing stuff and it’s like “yeah let’s do this!” and it makes me annoyed because you don’t see this stuff, it’s very easy for some people to say “oh there’s no female theatre, there are no women making theatre” and it’s like…there are, have you looked? There are women making such incredible work and I think that it’s important that we champion these women and that we talk about this more because it is important and it is happening, we just need to give it more of a lift and more light.

Lunar Object Theatre
Lunar Objects Theatre

So my stereotypical preconceptions of acting are that it’s extremely hit and miss and it’s difficult to make noise in. What drove you to study it and what continues to drive you to perform?

B: So I went to college and I studied drama and theatre studies, among other things, and it put me off completely. I was like “that’s it, I’m doing a year out. I’m not doing acting, I’m not doing theatre, I’m not doing anything” because I just thought “this clearly isn’t what I want to do because I haven’t enjoyed it”. I went back to my old secondary school to work in the drama department, I found it so interesting and inspiring my old drama teacher sat me down and she said: “…what the fuck do you think you are you doing?”. I was like “excuse me?! Miss Watts! What are you saying!”. “You’re going to drama school, you’re applying, I’m going to apply for you if you don’t” and I was like “oh, okay, bloody hell” and I just think I was so scared of not being good enough and not getting in and anyway, I wanted to go the Arts University Bournemouth, their course was so inspiring and I got in and I was so over the moon and I think the thing that drove me to keep doing it was that I just wasn’t done. I wasn’t done exploring and I nearly let that fear of not doing well get the better of me but I didn’t. There was so much more I needed to learn and that I wanted to say.

Before you could judge the subject and go “maybe I was wrong to turn that away”?

B: I let one experience, which was my A levels put me off and that’s one of the things you need to definitely never do, to let one thing put you off because there’s going to be so much stuff that puts you off. Now, the thing that inspires me and drives me on is just the need to speak. I want to say stuff and I don’t even care if one person listens. I just want to keep making and creating. You can go ahead and you can cut drama and you can do all those things but the people that are cutting drama, that are cutting the arts, they’re going to go home and watch a film or they’re going to spend their weekend at an art gallery or they’re going to listen to music. The world needs those people. Creative people will find a creative way to be creative, regardless.

E: Since I was 4, I saw my grandma perform at her local operatic society, I was like “yep, I’m going to do that” and I think I always had that “this is what I’m going to do”. Even at A Level, I got really good results, I was really happy, my teachers were like “why don’t you do English?” and I was like, nope. Picking acting was a massive fuck you. I didn’t get in the first time round and again, my teachers were like, you can apply for philosophy, you can do academic stuff. I don’t want to! So I applied again and I kept on trying and I got into AUB. In the first year, my drama department got closed down and again it was more of a doing it for them. I’ve continued to be like “no, I will and I can”. People who say you can’t make a career out of it, I’ve already got a job, got a show, I’m doing it. There’s always a massive stigma, you went to AUB, you went to a university – it doesn’t matter where you studied, it depends on the person.

B: Also, AUB has conservatoire status. We have everything the drama schools have, we have all the same credentials. It just depends on the person.

E: Again with what Bramble said, I found this platform where I’m very comfortable and I’m very lucky that I feel very comfortable in a performing environment. I want to speak for the people who don’t do that. I want to tell stories and share things, I love being stupid on stage, just having a laugh and I just love that ability to be able to play, I feel very grateful that I can do this. Having a job to pretend to be other people, I don’t see why you’d want to do anything else!

B: Another thing for me was that I have struggled all my life with really bad dyslexia, I couldn’t even read until I was eleven, it was bad. The only time I felt empowered throughout my whole time at school, even from being really little, was when I was in the school show. I couldn’t remember the script, I couldn’t read it, my parents would sit around a tape recorder, they’d read out my lines and I’d listen to it before I went to bed. That’s so much support and I just think, it was the only thing I felt like I could express myself with because I wasn’t able to express myself through writing. I just couldn’t. Now it’s different but I just couldn’t do that then. When I went to university, I never thought I could go because I just didn’t think I could physically do it. I went to university, I got in, amazing, I didn’t have the grades, I still got in, amazing, I get there, I do a dyslexia test and they’re like “yep, you’re dyslexic”, I obviously knew that and they were like “we are going to have you analysed by a psychologist”. My report came back saying “Bramble is not working at an academic level to be studying at university” and it made me feel pretty shitty. “Bloody hell, that’s not fair” but then it just made me go “…well fuck you! I’m going to get firsts bitches!” and I did! I don’t care, it gives people a way to express themselves in a way that nothing else can. Being able to be onstage and free in that way is so liberating.

E: I can go see a play or a film and nothing fills me with more excitement than seeing a live performance. That buzz you get is intoxicating. It’s made me the person I am, I feel so open, my beliefs have changed, everything’s kind of changed because of studying acting because of the creative people I studied with and the environment I studied in.

Any advice you’d like to give those currently doing acting or looking to study it?

E: Don’t be afraid. In the first year, it’s that feeling of “oh I’m not good enough!”. Stop comparing yourself to others, you are you. Go, be yourself, the more you are yourself, the more you’ll learn and the more you’ll take from it.

B: One thing our tutor taught us, Petronilla, she said to us when we were leaving, “You are you, you are important, your voice is important, and you are different from anyone else and people need to see you”.

E: In an audition as well, you can get self-doubt, “aw, they’re better than me, aw, they’ve got the right look, they’ve done this this and this” and it’s so easy to put yourself down. Auditioning to drama schools and further auditions, it’s so easy to put yourself down but the more you’re confident in what you’ve done and yourself, the better you’re going to do, you’ll find a place. I’m so glad I went to AUB, I auditioned at central.

B: I walked out of my central audition. I hated it! I hated the environment!

E: I liked the building…but I didn’t like the people. You will find a place that is suitable for you, never give up.

B: You just have to do it, you have to put yourself out there and you’re going to feel pretty shitty at times and you’re going to have to pick yourself up off the floor. The number of times in this degree I’ve built myself up from literally, the floor, laying on the floor. You get up, you do it again and it makes you stronger. That’s one of the things you have to remember from being an actress, everything that goes wrong, every audition you don’t get, it’s hard to remember in the moment but it’s building you for the next one. Just be yourself. Auditioners don’t want to see a cardboard copy of everyone else they’ve seen that day, they want to see you. Be true to you and stick to your guns. if someone’s saying “don’t do that, you’re not going to get a career, you’re not going to make money”, keep at it, something will happen.

E: Even if you don’t want to be an actor, you learn so much about directing, writing, facilitating, technical skills like lighting and sound. There are so many avenues and you meet so many people that have so many different passions and interests, be open to everything.

B: You can use an acting degree or an acting a level, it’s going to help you in so many avenues that you don’t even realise and it’s so important to just stick to your guns.


 Written by Brittany SutcliffePlease take note of Fanny Pack’s Comments Policy before commenting on this article.


 You can see Am I If? on Sunday 27th August at The Lion and The Unicorn Theatre. To buy tickets, click here.
For the company that Elizabeth is touring with, click here.
To follow Lunar Objects Theatre, Bramble or Elizabeth on Twitter, follow the individual name links.
To contact them, see individual website links below for more:

 

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