‘#INSTALOVE’ is not your regular improvised comedy

“Claire is a younger version, Cat will come out in bursts… They come into play at different points in my life, depending on what I need, what I want. I’m certainly more Kate at this point. She’s trying to find something secure.”

 

instalove

 

As Edinburgh rain unexpectedly falls, as it so likes to do, Catherine Duquette tells me which of her four ‘alter-egos’ from her one-woman show she feels most like at this point. This is characteristic of Duquette’s straight-forward honesty, something which is in turn characteristic of her show.Though calling it a ‘show’ may be misleading. In fact, ‘#INSTALOVE’ is crafted by each audience that sees it as they respond to the questions and actions of Kate, Claire, Cat and Kris, the four participants all skilfully embodied by Duquette, as they search for whatever it is they want in their love life, though they all seemed to working with very different ideas of ‘love.’ “Every show is different!” says Duquette. Indeed, watching the show I thought and later said to Duquette, audience participation seems to mild a word for it, it seemed more like “audience creation.” She enthusiastically agreed saying that it came about when, in a mild dislike of solo shows, she began “using the audience as players”. As a video game writer, like Kris one of the characters, she’s intrigued by “interactivity” as she wants the audience to have “a different kind of experience” from the normal one way interaction in shows.

 

As an audience member, I certainly did. As Duquette became four different people, I saw the people around me answer deeply personal questions, sometimes about their hopes and dreams, sometimes about their sex life. I somehow found myself confessing a reluctant belief in “the one” to the sweet, bright-eyed, earnest Claire. This may sound intense but I couldn’t stop laughing, and I definitely wasn’t alone. Laughter, partly due to the freshness of the audience participation and partly because of just how on the nose these characters, and slight caricatures, were.

 

“I noticed a pattern of personas that were trying to sell themselves as something and trying to attract a certain type of person,” Duquette explains. This observation is familiar to anyone who has dated, online or off. A presentation of a certain image has always been a feature since dating was called ‘courting’. Yet as Duquette points out “And we all try to sell ourselves as something unique and special but our needs are not that unique…”  Underneath all the laughter, this is the astuteness to ‘#INSTALOVE’: the recognition that the things we say we want are not as special as we think they are. Equally, there is an astute comment on this market element of the ‘dating market’ where people seek, and advertise on dating sites or apps, for something precise, someone with particularly desirable features.

 

For me, the sense of ‘maybe we’re all the same’ is in the experience of the show itself as person after person answered Duquette’s probing questions. Duquette sincerely hopes the show will help people look at themselves, not critically but with a heartfelt intention to help people grow. Both funny and well-meaning, ‘#INSTALOVE’ is not your regular improvised comedy.

Darcy Rollins

Ella Langley on how ‘growing up is possibly the most universal pressure there is’

Girls Will Be Girls, the sell-out Oxford show written by talented student Ella Langley, headed to the Edinburgh Fringe last month. Sian Bayley caught up with her to find out more about the show, and the challenges of bringing a student show to the Fringe.

Ella confesses that she was first inspired to write something like ‘Girls will be Girls’ while watching the ‘The History Boys’ on TV the day she received her Oxford offer, and re-watched when suffering from writer’s block, firmly establishing a connection with Alan Bennett’s modern masterpiece. She makes it clear, however, that ‘single sex schools are inherently and pervasively different for boys and girls’, and that the plays differ accordingly. She also explains that she deliberately ‘set out to undermine the importance that schools place on Oxbridge from the beginning of the play’ by not showing the girls applying. ‘The audience are given no handle on why it matters so much. So the process feels much more alien and harder to get invested in’. Admiring how Alan Bennet ‘gave these teenage boys a level of respect and their lives a sense of significance’, Ella ‘craved’ to write something that would give the same to teenage girls.

 

Luke Scott

Luke Scott

 

She wanted to change the stereotypical problems of teenage girls centring on ‘skin care and clothes and crushes’ to ‘the more universal pressures of coming of age, striving to find a social position, facing the state of your mental health and feeling pressure to succeed in your sphere’, in this case academic. In Ella’s world, female characters are not defined by their relationships with men, and whilst the play centres on a specific social group of reasonably privileged women, it seeks to be relatable to all audience members. As Ella explains, ‘growing up is possibly the most universal pressure there is’.

‘Girls will be Girls’ doesn’t shy away from exploring topics such as mental health, sexism, and racism, and Ella is careful to emphasise the difficulty of ensuring these issues are explored both sensitively and bravely. She admits she was scared to approach some topics, but was determined as a writer to engage with these issues and ‘move outside of the scope of your own privilege to amplify the voices and stories of others’.

Indeed, this social aspect of the play fed into the Oxford run’s accompanying ‘Dear Me’ project, devised by Daisy Porter, which gave the play a life beyond the stage. Asking audience members to write a personal message to their teenage selves after the performance created a wonderful sense of celebration and accomplishment, as audiences looked back on their formative years, and how they had come since then. This extra-textual moment of reflection was important to Ella’s conception of the play, and was extended during the Edinburgh run, as the production headed to The Mile to talk to passers-by, and engage with an even wider audience.

A key point about ‘Girls will be Girls’ is its accessibility, made evident by the innovative marketing techniques used in the Oxford run. From creating fictional Snapchat stories, to Charlotte Pang’s beautiful cartoon drawings of the girls, the marketing for the play always strove to be fresh and exciting – something that is not always apparent in student drama. As Ella explains, ‘with so many student shows the market is massively saturated so it’s the job of marketing to engage people who aren’t actively looking to go and see theatre for whatever reason. At the moment, I find a lot of marketing for student shows seems unaware that they’re only really directing their content at other self-proclaimed thespians, and might consequently be alienating a large portion of people who aren’t already super pumped about theatre – but of course have the potential to be’.

Ella attended the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time last summer, and watched almost exclusively new writing that is often ignored by festival goers. Describing the energy at the Fringe as a ‘really visceral experience’, where ‘actors and directors, writers and technicians, fearlessly open themselves up to audience after audience’, Ella admires the ‘off-the-cuff and trial-and-error’ atmosphere of the free and amateur Fringe. She confesses that whilst she is ‘probably going to be eaten alive by the reviewers there’, it is also ‘a weirdly exciting’ prospect – ‘a place to grow and learn as a writer and practitioner and person in the world’.

‘Girls will be Girls’ is Ella’s first full play, and it is no coincidence it is the right length for a Fringe show with basic set and tech requirements. She describes the hardest part of bringing her show to the Fringe as ‘applying to venues totally alone with a script that I didn’t feel like I had adequate approval for. Writing is a lonely business and there is no authority in the world that can assure you what you’ve produced is good enough for a theatre or a bookstand – you have to back yourself or give up. In a weird way applying for the Fringe felt like a moment where I was stepping away from the world of the characters. I had to face up to the fact that no one would hand me back my script with full marks or loads of ticks and tell me I’d done a good enough job. I just had to grow up and realise that a bad play would be better than no play at all. You can only learn from doing, and realistically it wouldn’t be either perfect or abysmal, just somewhere in-between.’

 

Sian Bayley


Helena Snider interviews the minds behind ‘Sex Education’

I was lucky enough to meet with the writer and director of a new production entitled, ‘Sex Education’. With such an intriguing title, I wondered which category this would fit into at the fringe: was it a comedy? A play? A part-lecture? All of the above? Well, the answer is that ‘Sex Education’ is a comedy set in a school. It explores teenage relationships and the ways in which the current generation is learning about sex. But for many of the characters, sex education is the last thing they’re worried about: one of the students needs to boost his grades to get into University; another is trying to avoid being suspended. We get to know them all and what’s important to them, whilst they practise putting condoms on carrots. The play, then, follows Rebecca, a gap-year student and aspiring teacher, who decides to go back to school to shadow some lessons. She observes a sex education class. Questioning the manner in which sex is being taught, she convinces the teacher to adopt a radical and daring approach.

The topic of feminism in relation to sexual relationships is clearly important to both writer and director. Cressida Peever, the writer of this bold new production, explains what inspired her to write the play: “I feel that we still live in a society that perpetuates sexism. For me, secondary school was the place that I learnt to conform to gender stereotypes because it was easy. I feel that drama is a great way of making a subject accessible to a wide audience, and it has a way of sticking with you long after the play has finished, keeping the conversation going.” Philipa Lawford, the director, believes the play’s main appeal is its ability to be comical without trivialising serious topics. While she was initially drawn to the play “because it is very funny. Cressida’s writing is really sharp and witty and the dialogue feels very natural”, she also points out that the play highlights the fact that, “according to the current government guidelines for sex education, schools are only required to teach about the male orgasm, not the female one, and discouraged to promote the idea of having sex for pleasure.”

I ask whether the pair felt a level of responsibility to tackle the gender-stereotyped way in which sex education is often taught. Cressida says, “I don’t think schools promote misogyny, but many don’t challenge it, which is just as dangerous. Of course, there are fantastic teachers already obliterating gender-stereotypes every day. But at the same time young people today are exposed to sexual content at a very early age, and many get their sex education first from the internet and pornography, much of which has a sexist – even misogynist – lens.” It’s clear that the aim of the show is not only to induce laughter but also to start a conversation about the matter. As Cressida says, “schools and parents alike should encourage their children to challenge everything; to be curious and questioning and never accept information blindly.” This play is a great first step in that direction.

www.sexeducationplay.com

 

Helena Snider