Damsel Productions is bringing audiences four new and exciting live pieces of theatre. The London based theatre company aims to ‘bring together womxn artists, directors, designers and producers to breathe life into scripts written by women’ – and this diverse, inclusive and collaborative ethos is brought alive in Damsel Outdoors.
Hannah Hauer-King, Artistic Director and Co-founder of Damsel productions and Co-creator of Damsel Outdoors, shares personal experiences of creating work during lock down and reveals the details of the four pieces: Take Back Control The Virus, Vixen, Transcendent and Clapped.
Today is the day after the first Damsel Outdoors piece was performed – Take Back Control The Virus by the Damsel Green collective, Congratulations! How did this go? I am sure readers at Upper Circle would be keen to know, as it is probably one of the first live theatre events in the country as the lock down restrictions are easing slightly in the UK.
I guess it is, which is something quite amazing. It was one of our big aims – to bring live theatre and performance outside before theatres re-opened and to get it in as quickly as possible. Yesterday went incredibly well! We really lucked out with the weather – a very British thing to comment on, it didn’t down pour on us. We learnt a lot from it. There is a very different sense of when the show begins. Usually at the theatre there’s a real sense it starts at seven thirty and we all rush to get our seats for this time, whereas when you’re performing outside there’s more of a sense of when the timing feels right. It was quite amazing and moving – a lot of the people were emotional afterwards because there was this sense of communion and audience coming together and I don’t think all of us realised just how much we’d missed it.
Creating a live collective between artists and their audiences is something online performances cannot recreate in the same sense. How did it feel to go back to the live experience, albeit in a new way?
It felt fantastic! It just reminded me how much theatre relies on the experience of audience and although I think that there is really interesting and artistic value in online work, I don’t think it is theatre…if that makes sense. Its not to say online work is not worthwhile, of course it is! But for me it’s not theatre and what I experienced yesterday was theatre because it was an audience sighing, laughing and clapping together – creating something together. It was very much live and impacted by the circumstances and the audience in front of it.
Do you feel, at the moment, artistic projects risk fading away?
It’s so hard to say. I wish I could answer that question, I wish I knew! I have my slightly realist take, slightly negative take, that although I don’t think theatres will cease to exist, I believe they will continue, what I don’t know is how much they will continue with a spirit of diversity and inclusion and trying new things. I don’t see artistic projects ceasing but I do worry that the kind of artistic projects we see – as there have been some really exciting steps, slow steps, but exciting being made in terms of the kind of work that was being made in theatre and I just don’t know how much this is going to make us reverse backwards.
How has Damsel Outdoors reinforced artistic networks in the limitations of lock down?
We very much did everything online up until the performances themselves. When bringing together our twelve artists we wanted a really exciting and diverse spread of voices and themes of interest and experiences, but we also looked at people who haven’t had a chance to work together before or who we thought would be good collaborators, but otherwise may not have met. We put them together and did a welcome on the first day with all the different artists, said a hello and then put them into teams and said the space is yours to decide what you want to do. We gave them a lot of free reign and we very consciously didn’t just commission four plays by writers, the writers of course wrote them but we said this should be a team effort, your designer and director should have a contribution is terms of what the writing is about so that everyone’s feeling equally enthused about the idea. Our hope is the people will stay in touch. We have done festivals like this before such as Damsel Develops – a festival helping emerging female directors develop work. But it’s not enough for us to just make work about the female experience with female teams, it is also about constantly spreading the net basically – bringing other people along for the ride, otherwise you just see the same faces doing the same things.
What about the current moment did you draw upon to create something new and exciting?
We very consciously gave them an incredibly open ended theme – we didn’t give them a theme basically! The only things we said is it should be a cast of two or less, that it had to be 15-20 mins long and the performance should be enhanced not hindered by being outside. We encouraged them to not do something that would be better in a black box theatre but that would actually be better outside. Interestingly, they have all come up with something, not necessarily about the current Coronavirus crisis, but about what’s been happening around identity politics, hypocrisy, immigration and racial injustice. So that’s been a unifying theme that’s come through but that hasn’t been pushed forward by us.
And finally, would you be able tell us a little bit about each of the projects – how they differ and ways the projects connect?
Sure – Damsel Green is written by Iman Qureshi and is a fun, satirical dialog that moves into something more serious: you have a black woman and a brown woman taking on super posh personas and doing lots of microaggressions. It is essentially about, among many things, the hypocrisy of the UK and the fact we are clapping for the NHS whilst simultaneously trying to put down stricter immigration law. It is talking about the way immigrants have been treated and how a hostile environment is created by bringing back phrases like ‘see it, say it, sort it’. It is about how society is taught to fear and hate. This is then linked to the now – seeing where these phrases are repeated, how this kind of racism against immigrants has filtered into our discourse now. Damsel Green draws parallels between stop and search, ‘take back control the virus’ and ‘stay alter’ to ask what these government slogans are really revealing or saying. It is complex in that way but it went down incredibly well yesterday.
And then Damsel Blue is a piece called Vixen by Timberlake Wertenbaker. This is a one woman piece, it’s a monologue and the character leading this monologue is a vixen who is found on a park bench and tells us her story. Again, it’s looking at minorities, people excluded or put on the fringe of society. Timberlake has used the metaphor of a vixen to do that because we often chase foxes and vixens away or don’t want them near our houses so they are pushed away as much as possible and some people hunt them. We are using the idea of a vixen to look at what is happening to human beings right now. Also, more so than Iman’s piece, it is talking about gender, she is very much so a vixen and is talking about how women of a certain age might be ignored and feel suddenly invisible.
Damsel Yellow is a wonderful piece written by Benedict long called Transcendent which is about a young couple facing the challenges of the aftermath of Black Lives Matter. One of them has a more hopeful gaze on it and the other is quite pessimistic. Whilst they’re looking at what the future is for black people in this country and how to cope, they are mirroring this with their relationship. Can they feel hopeful for their relationship if they can’t feel hopeful for being a black person in this society? And it is looking at that really really nicely.
Clapped by Damsel Pink and written by Abi Zakarian is looking at hypocrisy and clapping for the NHS which seems to have become quite a powerful symbol that runs through Damsel Green and Damsel Pink. In Damsel Pink there is two characters, one of the protagonists is a woman who works for the NHS whose child gets killed in a protest. She is a key worker going onto the front line and then has racist epithets shouted at her on her way home from work. It is looking at how different people are impacted by this, specifically mothers and children and how they interact and how an older generation might cope versus a younger generation.
The pieces all sound interesting and related to the now…
I am happy you say that as for me that is something that is so crucial – particularly now. I have always been obsessed with this idea of why this play, why now. I think now this is even more crucial – it has to be answered.
You can see Damsel Outdoors in various locations across London at 3pm and 4pm:
Vixen by Damsel Blue in Ravenscourt Park in Hammersmith on Monday 17th August.
Transcendent by Damsel Yellow outside the Tate Modern on Bankside on Friday 21st August.
Clapped by Damsel Pink at Giffin Square in Deptford on Sunday 23rd August.
Further details can be found on the Damsel Productions website: http://damselproductions.co.uk/damsel-outdoors