• Amy Toledano

In Conversation with Lexi Clare, Producer of Maiden Speech Festival.

In October 2017, Producer Lexi Clare created Lexi Clare Productions in order to launch the first Maiden Speech Festival. Since then the work done by both Clare and the Festival has grown extensively, with this years' Maidens Speech being the biggest one yet. We spoke to Lexi in the lead up to this years festival, to find out where it all began and what we can expect from her in the future.

What is Maiden Speech Festival?

Maiden Speech is a theatre festival exploring themes of gender, sexuality and identity, and it provides a much-needed platform to showcase the boldest new work from a new generation of theatremakers. The festival is returning for a third season at Tristan Bates Theatre from Tuesday 5th November to Saturday 16th November. The 2019 season is our most ambitious and varied programme yet; we are bringing together more than 50 emerging creatives and featuring artists from around the globe. The festival encompasses a myriad of stories and styles, from drag cabaret and spoken word to solo shows and gig theatre, with a focus on supporting the performer as creator.

What is your role in regard to the festival?

I established Maiden Speech in 2017 and I am the producer of the festival, which in this case means I essentially cover the roles of production manager, marketing and design, PR and producer all rolled into one. We operate with very slim profit margins, so over the past two years I’ve had to acquire a whole range of skills to make the festival financially feasible. I also have a brilliant associate producer, Kayla Feldman, to support me in pulling it all together.


Why did you create this festival? What was important for you to achieve when putting it together?

The impetus for launching Maiden Speech was born out of both frustration and optimism. After graduating from Mountview in 2016, I became disheartened by some of the attitudes that I encountered in the industry, particularly with regards to unrealistic beauty standards and the stipulation that body shapes must be either thin or large. At the same time, I was encouraged by the brilliant and challenging feminist-themed work that my peers and subsequent year group at Mountview were creating as part of their training. I set out to establish a platform to celebrate and showcase this work, and to share it with industry professionals who could take projects further. My aim was to create a space for artists who offer fresh perspectives and narratives that are under-represented in order to contribute to making change in the industry.

How has the festival developed since its inception?

I have been on a learning curve as a producer since the festival began in 2017. Over the last two years I have worked to develop inclusive practices – artistically and structurally. In our first year, the festival focused primarily on gender and was presented by a line-up of all female-identifying artists. We have expanded our remit to think about identity in a broader, intersectional sense. This year, we had an open call for submissions, with a submissions panel comprised of theatre-makers from a variety of cultural and theatrical backgrounds, and the result is an eclectic main-bill programme featuring artists and stories from all around the globe. The length of the festival is still two weeks, but this year we have packed it full with 49 performances, 2 scratch nights, 6 discussion events and 2 workshops. We have kept pricing as accessible as possible, with multi-buy offers and a festival pass ticket making it feasible for audiences to see multiple shows across the festival - if you buy a festival pass at a concession rate (which includes Equity members!), it works out as less than £2/show to see everything in the festival. We have also established community and engagement partnerships over the past two years and we run a crowdfunder to allow us to offer free tickets to organisations like National Youth Arts Trust and East Asian Ticket Club, who work towards improving access to theatre for under-represented audiences and artists. This year, we are also really fortunate to be supported by Mountview, and are rehearsing in their beautiful new building in Peckham.


What kinds of theatre can we expect to see during the festival?

The most exciting aspect of Maiden Speech is the variety of stories and styles that the festival includes. I think the most interesting work in theatre right now reflects experiences outside of dominant norms; work that makes room for identities that have been limited or prevented from taking space on stage. Our 2019 line-up is comprised of pieces that encompass a variety of identity positions, including: a new musical about an autistic woman navigating a neurotypical world; a solo show exploring the personal, familial, and cultural histories of a first generation British-Nigerian woman of Igbo descent; a drag-cabaret show that challenges the heteronormative tropes in romantic comedies; and a documentary theatre piece infused with original music about the experiences of Filipino domestic workers in the United Kingdom and the issue of modern slavery. 

What is your personal theatre background and how do you apply your skills to the upkeep of the festival?

I’m a New Zealand actress and theatre-maker, who moved to London in 2015 to further my training at Mountview. I graduated with an MA Performance (Musical Theatre) in 2016 and have predominantly been working on new writing projects and as a producer since. I didn’t actually train as a producer, so it’s very much been a case of learning on the job. I think in New Zealand, we have quite a DIY attitude about theatre and it is quite common to work across multiple creative roles throughout your career, so that has definitely influenced my approach. 

Do you have any of your own writing going into the show? If so, what is it?

I’m collaborating on a piece called Game Face with fellow theatre-makers Lucy Park and Katie Paterson. Game Face is a gig theatre show that is a joyfully anarchic critique of oppressive beauty ideals and the effort it takes to keep resisting them. It’s told through a series of games, songs, dance and spoken word, and brings together three performers from different cultural backgrounds. We’re presenting it as a work-in-progress piece at Maiden Speech, with a view to developing it further once we’ve tried it out in front of an audience. 

What are your plans for the festival in the future?

After the 2019 season, I’m going to sit down and evaluate exactly what the future of Maiden Speech should be. Over the past three years, the festival has grown exponentially - which is really exciting - but continued expansion would require a change in the funding model. At the moment, it is a self-funded enterprise and I undertake the full financial risk of the festival out of my personal savings, so going forward I need to establish a model that is more sustainable. So once this season has finished, we’ll figure out what is next! 

How can people support Maiden Speech even if they can’t get to the show?

Each year, we run a Crowdfunder that is aimed at those who want to support the festival but can’t attend themselves. Donating to the crowdfunder functions as a way for supporters to buy a ticket for someone else to attend in their place. Funded tickets are given to beneficiaries of the National Youth Arts Trust, a charity that helps provide access to the performing arts for youth from non-privileged backgrounds, and to recipients of East Asian Ticket Club and other organisations working towards improving access to theatre for underrepresented audiences. You can find the crowdfunder here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/maiden-speech-funded-tickets And if you can’t support us financially, a social media shout out is always much appreciated! 

How can people get involved next year?

The best thing to do is keep an eye on our social media - you can find us on Twitter at @MaidenSpeech and on Facebook. At this stage, I don’t know exactly what is next for Maiden Speech, but any call outs for submissions and involvement will definitely be on social media.

What is next for Lexi, aside from Maiden Speech?

It has been so brilliant to be working creatively on Game Face with Katie and Lucy, and I am really excited to continue developing that after Maiden Speech. I’ve been working on producing this year’s festival since March so I am definitely planning to take at least a few weeks off over December. I’ve got a few other musical projects at an early stage of development as well, so I’ll be cracking on with those over the new year.  

Do you have advice for aspiring Producers and Theatre Makers?

I suppose my advice would be to acquire any skills that interest you, whether that seems immediately relevant to your career or not. While I was training as a performer, I also got interested in photography and did a short course on photo editing, which has meant that I have had the ability to do all the marketing and graphic design for my producing projects and earn some money on the side doing headshot photography. If something interests you, whether that be photography, roller-skating, learning a language or learning a martial art, pursue it. You never know when it will come in handy!

Maiden Speech Festival is running from the 5th November to 16th November 2019, at Tristan Bates Theatre. Tickets are available here.

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