‘The meaning of life is that it stops.’
‘When you’re 30 dark circles appear under your eyes and fine lines and wrinkles begin to show.’
Anti-ageing wrinkle cream advert
A woman stands on the brink of a life she is failing at and a death she is also failing at. ‘To be or not to be?’ is the question. Through one doorway she dies, only to have failed at life, through the other, she lives, only to have failed at death. Or she could have succeeded at life and death respectively; I suppose it depends which way you look at it.
A show about show, performance and the ego: an existential crisis told through a variety of mediums including opera, clowning and conceptual dance.
My Death was first performed at The Rag Factory, just off Brick Lane, and then at Camden People's Theatre as part of their SPRINT festival 2015. In January 2018 it had a short run at The Pleasance in London.
Interview for online theatre magazine The New Current:
Hey Theodora, thanks for talking to TNC, how have things been going?
Hectic but exciting! The jigsaw is gradually taking shape...
How does it feel to be part of CPT Sprint 2015?
Very special as it’s the first festival I’ve been in with a solo piece. I’ve always loved CPT as a venue - it has a collaborative ethos which makes you feel welcomed and inspired.
Any finishing touches?
Always! There are a million more ideas I want to try out. I’m particularly excited about some ‘Moon Shoes’ I just won on eBay, that I’m going to use for my ghost scene: they let you bounce as you walk. I’ll need to practise walking in them so I can sing at the same time. I will have a big skirt and restricted vision, so I hope I can make it work; though either way it will be entertaining. I want to develop this piece a lot, and getting it out there in front of this audience is an important step on the journey, not the final one. I’m excited to see how people are going to react.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced putting your new show together?
In writing the show I tried not to let anything get in the way of my imagination, silly little things like not being able to sing opera or speak Russian - so when it was written there were a few things I needed to learn how to do. I train with experts in different things to get as good as I can in that area. My Technical Director Andrey Kastelmacher’s first language is Russian, so he translated and helped me with the pronunciation. The tap dance: I definitely still need to work on!
Do you ever get nervous when you're bringing your work to audiences?
The moment before I go on stage is always the same: my whole body’s shaking and I’m thinking ‘Why do I do this?’ But when I get on stage there’s this enormous sense of release and enjoyment. When it’s your own work you’ve only got yourself to rely on or let down and you’re just there, having an interaction with the audience. I’m used to live, improvised events so I’ve had to embrace the idea that things will go wrong and that’s okay, it’s part of it, and it’s what gives those performances their renegade edge. When you have no time to think and you just have to open your mouth and say something, that thing can turn out to be outrageous or inappropriate. You never know until it’s too late. I try to retain that element of danger because the audience can tell and the liveness is part of the magic of any theatre.
Has it been surprising to get the type of reaction you've gotten for your work?
It sounds stupid but the laughter always catches me by surprise. Even though I’m trying to make people laugh, my characters all take themselves very seriously, so the first time I do something in front of an audience I always get caught out by it.
Tell me a little bit about My Death, how did it the show come about?
My Death is about a woman who thinks that she’s failing at life and so decides to die, only to discover that she’s not very good at that either. I describe it as an existential crisis told through a variety of performance styles including opera, puppetry and conceptual dance. In this sense it is a show about show, performance and the ego: a mockery of the conviction every one of us has that the world revolves around us.
It came about as I was approaching my 30th birthday, with the received sense of impending doom that arrives along with it: there was an advert a few years ago for anti-ageing wrinkle cream with the line ‘When you’re 30 dark circles appear under your eyes and fine lines and wrinkles begin to show.’ It was at the same time absurd and terrifying. There is the sense that by the time you reach 30 you’re supposed to have achieved something or made something of yourself. I found it funny the way we’ve made this arbitrary milestone and treat it with such authority. As my character reasons when she decides to end her life: ‘After all, I was near 30: it was time to go’.
It’s become increasingly possible in this technological age to carefully structure the image you present to the world. So much information is, or can be readily available: our online profiles are the advertisements of ourselves, the brand of the person we want to project. My Death is a reaction to that, a parody of the lengths people go to to appear a certain way.
What was the main inspiration behind your new play?
I always loved something Kafka said when he described all his writing as the childish desire to imagine his own funeral and see how sorry people were that he had gone - the whole show is a playful representation of this kind of Pyrrhic Victory. A sad clown that wastes their life uploading smiling images of themself to Facebook so that people will see how happy they are, despite this process making them perpetually sad.
When did you realise you wanted to create theatre?
When I was little I used to sit in the bath for hours acting out stories with all the different characters. It’s the best place to do it because you can use the water to change your hair and the bubbles can be used to make beards and fancy clothes. It was a race against time before the bubbles popped and the water went cold. That’s probably when I knew...
What has been the most valuable lesson you've learned so far?
Just to leap in and do it. Any problem can be worked out while you’re doing it. And if you just sit around thinking about doing it, you’ll only end up with thoughts that no-one else will ever know about.
Who have been your biggest inspirations?
A long history of clowns - the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Blackadder, Chris Morris, Alan Partridge, Miranda July, Amy Poehler and Sacha Baron Cohen.
But also, in another way, people who meticulously construct their public image and take themselves very seriously: Vladimir Putin, Kim Kardashian, Kim Jong Un. People who take loads of selfies of themselves pouting.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
Artaud said ‘We are not free. And the sky can still fall on our heads. And the theatre has been created to teach us that first of all.’
And finally what do you hope people will take away from your new play?
The central message is quite simple - don’t panic about what’s expected of you or what you think you should be, just worry about who you actually are. It would be nice if no-one still cared what sexuality other people were or what they want to wear, for example… but all over the world people are still being persecuted for being gay or wanting to wear trousers if they are girls or dresses if they are boys. That’s crazy! I hope My Death in some small way gets them to think about that.
Egg is the story of one yolk's quest to make it in a human world. An analogy for any outsider or underdog forced to navigate within a hostile environment, it discusses the mechanics of power and privilege. A dynamic voyage with feminist undertones: the egg is at once powerful and powerless, comedic and majestic. The yolk emerges from the shell, at first timid and wary, before becoming glorious, and ultimately angry at its fate: fried in a pan. Born androgynous, she is quickly gendered by the world she has hatched into. With the presence of such fresh eyes, the audience are called upon to look afresh upon our own world.
'Delightful and disorientating... a dizzying chain of events, played out with obvious joy' - Plays To See
Surprising! Fantastical! Bold! A coming of age journey that tackles age-old questions like ‘What came first?’
Egg is a solo theatre show that hatched from an egg costume. While working for the Royal Society for the Pursuit of Lovebirds (RSPLB: amateur birdwatching society and expert dating agency) I mentioned I'd always wanted to be an egg on legs. They contacted artist Tim Spooner, and my dream became a reality. After developing into a cabaret act I was convinced of the potential for a full length show.
Egg has been to: Camden People's Theatre as part of their SPRINT festival 2016 and then again in March 2017; Winner of the Morley College Edinburgh prize 2016; Impfest at Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre 2016 and a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of PBH's Free Fringe.
Egg as a cabaret act has performed at: Duckie at Royal Vauxhall Tavern, FLESH Hull, CUNTemporary at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club; for Rueben Kaye at the Cockpit Theatre; Lewisham People’s Day, Theatre Mono at The Coach & Horses; Shoreditch House; the Salon Collective; Cossall Arts Cabaret; Properganda at The Others, The Breakfast Club, as well as Glastonbury, Wilderness and Bestival festivals with the RSPLB.
‘Sometimes I break,
We all do,
Sometimes I get beaten & eaten & beaten & eaten & my heart it churns for you,
Sometimes I crack,
Lying there on my back,
All I think about
Is how I could crack onto you,
Sometimes I fry,
Fry and I get eaten alive,
And I’m burning inside for you,
All through the night
I fight to break through white,
Come out of my shell
And to your delight meet you,
Be my yoke cos I could bear you,
Be by heart cos I could beat with you,
Be my start and I would feed you,
Be my love because need you,
So fly free and be one,
Fly free and be one
Fly free and be one!’
The Adventures of The Bearded Lady is a fairytale Bildungsroman, a feminist voyage telling the life story of a bearded lady who runs away from the circus, her struggles to understand the societal limits on her gender and eventual acceptance of herself as a woman.
The show was first performed at Camden People's Theatre in April 2018, and then had a full run at the Edinburgh fringe festival with PBH, 2018.
Production shots from performance at Camden People’s Theatre by Thomas Hensher.
‘I’m the bearded lady,
I’m fearless and I’m shady,
I’ve hair on my back and my muscles are stacked,
My Adam’s apple is fully intact and I eat my meat with gravy!
At my time of the month I’m doolally,
I’ll stay in and bake scones with Aunt Sally,
I’ll iron my shirts though they’re covered in dirt,
And you’d get a fright if you met me at night,
Tip-toeing home down an alley!
And I weep all night when I drink,
I eat Spam but my underwear’s pink,
I once killed a cow,
But don’t ask me how,
And I work on the land with my manicured hands,
And nobody cares what I think!’
Scribble Pie is an informal performance space where artists and non artists can show work they've made or are in the process of making. Each presentation takes no more than ten minutes, and there are breaks in between.
It all started in the living room of our trendy but windowless warehouse. I had lots of notebooks filled with ideas that I realised no one would ever get to hear, and I knew my friends had the same. I wanted to create a platform for those ideas to get heard. At university I had been to lots of poetry nights, theatre shows and music gigs and discovered that mostly the same people turned up to their respective cliques. My housemates came from different spheres - animation, film and art.
Scribble Pie's aim is to bring all those worlds together to give audiences an array of insights into worlds that might not be normal for them, which could inspire them in new ways and bring about new collaborations. It is also a place where people in professions that are not entertainment or performance can explain what they do - we've hosted advertising executives, geography teachers, tech start-up CEOs, chefs, data scientists and board games experts.
The Pie quickly became popular because it was an odd night that gave people unexpected experiences. We grew too big for the living room and moved to Stoke Newington International Airport, which in case you haven't heard of it, was an arts venue, not an actual airport. When development in the area meant that it got shut down, we moved to The Fox & Phoenix in Finsbury Park. When that in turn got shut down I spent a long time looking for the right venue and finally found The Others in Stoke Newington. Like Scribble Pie it has just the right mixture of informality plus professionalism, and feels a lot like our first venue (the living room) only much bigger.
Scribble Pie happens every couple of months or so and is run by myself and Amer Chadha Patel, with delicious homemade indian food by PumYum. Follow us on Facebook for notifications about the next event, or contact me here to ask to show work.
Past contributors include: Mikey Please, Roxy Velvet, Studio Yes, Jessi Baker - founder of Provenance, Matt Lees from Shut Up & Sit Down, Nadine Wild-Palmer, Kheski Khobler, Khushi & Strong Asian Mothers, Dan Ojari from Parabella Studios, Arthur Carabott, Robyn Herfellow with The Chelsea Nonsense Choir, Cynthia Wild, Robin & Partridge, Jane English, Verity Standen, Ellie Showering, Jenny Minton, Anna Rose Kerr, Robert Walker, Mila Falls, Camilla Brown, Jonny Rankin and Mike Ruane from the Guardian, Ross Blake, Natalie Sharp/ Lone Taxidermist, Josh Stadlen, Effie Pappa, Kyle Jon Shephard, The Purple Ladies, Douglas Walker, Kavi Appadoo, The RSPLB, Elena Saurel, Pip’s Jukebox, Mawaan Rizwan, Kathleen Cassidy, Mirror Tarot by Suki Ferguson, Sarah Meiklejon, Laurie Innes, Misha Vertkin, Sheldon Dee, Kristian Andrews, Portia Winters, Anne Charlotte Morgenstein from Olio, Ben Giubarelli, Sam Fink, Mark Roy Tsai, Andrew Leigh Syers, Emergent Behaviour, The Intimate Strangers, Parminder Chadha, Tairi Jõe, James O’Donahue, Bea Holland, Iris Columb and Saban Kazim.
What started as an adhoc experiment with a video camera quickly became a multi-faceted project, with filmed content and live shows, in which the audience become the live studio audience. We collaborate with over 30 artists to create immersive theatrical experiences, and Emilia Crimble and Susan have become stars in their own rights, presenting club nights and award ceremonies all over the world.
You can follow Emilia on Twitter @emiliacrimble, or make friends with her on Facebook.
On a bench in the middle of Edinburgh, performance artist Ethereal Andy & I began to react to the noises around us. Tapping into the underneath, we uncovered the sounds we'd forgotten were continuously existing around us. Connecting physically to our surroundings, we ask people to retune their focus, remembering what has been there all along.
After the bench, we took the piece to Mystika Glamoor’s Kweer Kabaret at the Edinburgh fringe festival, and then Our Night at Arch 504 in Brixton. We plan to return it to public spaces, and see where it leads us - since both passersby and audience expressed the desire to join in, we’ll be exploring ways in which we can invite them to.