In Conversation with When It Happens Writer Rachel Causer and Director Kennedy Bloomer
First debuting at Maiden Speech Festival 2018, As It Happens written by Rachel Causer, returns to the Tristan Bates Theatre for Camden Fringe. Following the stories of three women who all experience personal revelations at the same time, on the same day, this show is a brilliantly clever exploration of female roles in society and the ways in which these can be challenged. I had the pleasure of speaking with the shows writer Rachel Causer, who also plays Jenny in the show and Kennedy Bloomer, the shows director about their experience the second time around.
Kennedy, what were your first impressions of the piece after reading it/seeing it?
K: I knew I wanted to be involved as soon as I read it. I’d not read anything that had ever been as honest about the micro-aggressions and annoyances that women particularity have to hide from society. I found it really freeing to read and knew I wanted to be a part of staging it and spreading that effect onto audiences.
Rachel, where did the inspiration for the piece come from?
R: I was inspired to write When It Happens both by my own personal experiences of micro-aggression and the current movement of women standing together and rebelling against certain ‘rules’ of conduct. It’s been such a powerful force for good and I really wanted to write a play that encapsulated the core of that movement while playing around with expectations of gender, comedy and fantasy (a.k.a. a show where we and the audience get to have loads of fun).
How has the experience been for this run of the show? How does it compare with its previous run at Maiden speech? Has it changed at all?
K: We had an R&D process before we started rehearsing for this run to really try and solidify the journeys of the characters. It was a fantastic piece already but there’s lot of amazing changes that we can’t wait to get stuck into in rehearsals. If you saw it the first time it’ll definitely have lots of surprises!
R: So far, this experience has been incredible. Maiden Speech was very much the first development of the show so it was all about experimenting and pushing the text as far as we could within our means. This time, we have been lucky enough to have more time, a little funding and the benefit of having performed it already, so we are able to really play around and refine the performances to make the most entertaining show possible.
Your cast is fantastic, what has it been like working with them?
R: Thank you! Well as a writer, it’s been such a joy to work with my close friends who are not only incredibly talented actors but two of the hardest working women I know. They have brought the characters to life in a way that I could never have imagined and that’s been thrilling to watch and be a part of. I think the fact that we all trained together has meant that there is an in-built level of trust that lends itself particularly well to comedy and creating a playful connection live onstage.
K: The cast are incredible and we’re all close which is amazing to have in a rehearsal room. This piece really lends itself to a collaborative style of working and it always feels safe for new ideas to emerge and be experimented with.
Rachel, have you had any challenges with performing in a piece you have written?
R: It’s been a really informative experience for me as you really do have to separate the two roles. Once I hand the script over to a director, I prefer to think of the text as an actor and approach it like I would any other. That’s where working with a director, trust is vital. I only ever perform in my own work when I think I am genuinely right for it and Jenny is a character that clicks so well with my own performance style and one that I can’t wait to get back in to.
Kennedy did you find any challenges in this yourself while directing?
K: I think the biggest challenge has been streamlining all of our ideas and only picking the best bits rather than shoe-horning everything in. The only other thing is that we tend to play ‘What Do You Meme?’ for a little too long in breaks and we all love a laugh!
What is the message of the show to each of you?
R: I believe the message of the show is that people, and particularly women, aren’t ever just one thing. I worked specifically with the idea of literary female archetypes of the virgin, the mother and the whore for When It Happens but I think it’s also a show about people making a stand against being pigeon-holed and the everyday micro-aggressions that can come with it.
K: The message of the show for me is to feel free to misbehave and subvert the role that society has given you particularly if you’re a woman and good behaviour is always expected of you.
How do you feel the industry is changing in its attitude toward female-led stories, if it is changing at all?
R: The industry is definitely making steps in the right direction, it’s just a case of making sure that not just female-led stories, but diverse and varied female and non-binary voices are being cast, commissioned, programmed and offered the same opportunities so that there isn’t this immense pressure on the select few to tick all of the feminism boxes and be perfect in order to be offered that same opportunity again.
K: I feel that there is definitely more support for female-led stories. When you look at the support of Emilia recently it’s really heartening to see how well shows like these can do commercially when given the chance. However, I definitely still think there’s work to be done with all genders feeling like they can attend a piece of theatre whether it’s female/male or non-binary led. We’re humans and we’re telling human stories... well, most of the time.
What do you think we can do to continue to push for under-represented voices in the arts?
R: I think that personal steps can be branching out and making it a priority to meet and create work with as many different people as possible. However, I think that true change ultimately has to come from the top down. Artistic Directors, funding boards, casting directors etc. need to be active in seeking out these voices because unfortunately, being under-represented often means that they just don’t get in the room as easily. There has been some genius Artistic Director appointments lately and I can’t wait to see the changes they will make.
K: I came from and used to work in a Secondary School in the Black Country so I’ve seen first hand what it’s like to feel like you have no opportunities or no idea of how to get your voice out there. I definitely believe it’s about the way the arts are included in the curriculum and the ways we can encourage creatives from a young age that if they speak, they will be heard.
Is there life for the piece in the future? What are your plans for it after this current run is over?
R: I have a very special connection to this play so I would absolutely love for it to have a future life. We are always on the lookout so keep updated on future developments on Scatterjam’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages!
K: We’d all love for it to continue elsewhere in one way or another, so fingers crossed!
What can we expect from both of you in future projects wise?
K: I’m also taking a show up to Edinburgh at the same time. JEW...ish is on at 1:30 at Gilded Balloon Teviot - Turret room for the whole month and When It Happens is on for the first week of that. I’m very lucky and excited to have two great shows going on at the same time.
R: I currently have a few other plays in development! One is a full-length family drama set in Cornwall (where my family is from) that I've been working on through the Criterion Theatre's New Writing programme and another is a one-woman dark comedy about grief and identity, both hopefully being staged soon! I will be posting any news on my Twitter and personal website – details below!
When It Happens runs at The Tristan Bates Theatre from the 30th July to 3rd August 2019
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