Kayla Feldman on the process behind Hear Me Out.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Kayla's powerful one woman show Hear me Out at Maiden Speech festival in 2018 and was blown away by her performance. It's raw energy and sheer will power to push the things we, as women, have been told are wrong or uncomfortable, is incredible.
Kayla is not only a performer but is also Co-Artistic Director of Snapper Theatre. The company has had success in creating a platform for artists and stories that have often been under represented.
This year Kayla was also announced as Associate Producer for Maiden Speech Festival 2019.
And now Feldman is back for one night at Calm Down Dear, a three week festival focusing on feminist performance and artists. In the lead up to the show I spoke to Kayla about what is like bringing this exciting piece back to the stage.
What was the catalyst for writing Hear Me Out for Maiden Speech Festival in 2018? Was there a particular event (without giving too much of the show away!) or many different things that consolidated your decision?
I wrote Hear Me Out sort of by accident. In Spring 2016 I had a conversation about feminism with my housemate that was the initial spark of inspiration for writing a poem called “Real Women Have Curves” that is now the first three minutes of the show. I wanted to write something that satirised female stereotypes to show how ridiculous it is that we’re expected to fit into these really confining categories based on some arbitrary aspects of ourselves. I spent about a month writing it and drew on quite a few conversations and debates I’d had in the past with friends on various topics - from whether it’s racist to have a racial preference when dating, to how you can tell a lot from the way a man flirts with you. So that poem marked quite a change in the type of poetry I write and how I write it. Long story short, the first ever version of Hear Me Out was three poems strung together, it was about 10 minutes long and I performed it at the Bunker as part of Herstory Feminist Theatre Festival. That was the day before the Harvey Weinstein news broke. So when that happened I started writing more about the sort of insidious stuff that happens to women on a daily basis, which became the second part of the show. I guess to really answer your question, the catalyst for this show as it is now was a combination of things. It’s the way I was taught to hate my body growing up, it’s Aziz Ansari, it’s the experiences I had at uni, it’s the way my body has changed over the past two years, it’s everything. It feels like this show has been a long time coming for me.
How has the process of performing this show, that is so personal to you, differed from the process of directing or producing other work for Snapper Theatre?
It’s really difficult to answer that question. I guess the main difference is, I had an emotional “connection” to Lobster and Thomas in that they’re universally relatable stories that are told in extraordinary ways (which is what we do at Snapper), and other people may feel that about Hear Me Out, but for me, it’s actually my life. It’s completely autobiographical and a lot of it is stuff I didn’t tell anyone until I wrote the show. Bringing Lucy on board as director has been an absolute godsend because she is similar to me but has a distance from the material that I just don’t. She’s been able to give me the tools to get that distance in some areas and to use the closeness in others, and it’s created a really great balance for the show that I just couldn’t have done on my own. But it’s hard. It’s baring myself (literally) to an audience, sharing all the things I’m insecure about, and also reliving some really traumatic stuff which is difficult. Writing it has been somewhat cathartic but performing it still feels very exposing and it’s a challenge, but I think it’s important.
How has your poetry and your work in spoken word influenced the show?
The first version of Hear Me Out was just three poems strung together. Those poems do work on their own as separate pieces but the extra stuff I’ve written around it now ties it all together and has created a narrative through-line for the entire piece. Being involved in the spoken word scene in London has also really helped its development because I can “test” stuff out at spoken word nights, and I’ve also met loads of incredible poets who’ve been willing to help me and read through my stuff and give notes (shoutout to Tyrone Lewis!). In fact, “Real Women Have Curves” won me the Genesis Poetry Slam in October 2017. Oh, and the poem “A Person I Know” that is now the last five minutes of Hear Me Out, I first performed at Spoken Word London, which is an incredible night because the vibe there is “support first, listen second” and I actually had to hold my friend’s hand the whole time I was performing it, but it was really incredible to have that kind of supportive atmosphere to tell what’s really quite a difficult story.
What female artists have influenced your work and how?
Bryony Kimmings is brilliant - her show “I’m A Phoenix, Bitch” which also deals with trauma, was a huge influence in how I framed the show and the audience care aspect of performing it. The musician Dorothy, in particular her album “Rock Is Dead” was also a really big influence and actually the show ends with one of her songs. I’m desperate for her to tour to the UK. It’s an obsession. I’m obsessed with her. Also, Sofie Hagen. I just love her. I think she’s an absolute fucking hero and that photo of the face drawn on her belly makes me smile every time I think of it. Her work has made me really super aware of my thin privilege and the way we’re taught about female bodies growing up. That’s for Hear Me Out specifically. As a director, I think Lynette Linton, Rebecca Frecknall, Blanche McIntyre and Maria Aberg are some of the greatest storytellers currently working and I love their work. Anna Ledwich is also phenomenal - I assisted her last year and the way she works with actors is fascinating. She’s just incredibly clever.
What has been the biggest challenge in sharing this piece of writing with the world?
The biggest challenge has been persevering past the worries that people won’t believe what I’m saying. Everything in the show was true when I wrote it, but it’s been in development for three years and I last performed it six months ago. So my perspective on some things has changed somewhat, especially now I’m in therapy, so not everything is still true. I decided not to change anything in the play because I think the journey is really important, even if where I’m at now is different to where I was six months ago. I still have really complex emotions and thoughts regarding the last section of the play, and that’s the bit that scares me the most. The last time I did the show, loads of my uni friends came on the last night, and a lot of them know the guy I talk about, but most of them didn’t know what happened between us prior to seeing the show, so it was quite honestly terrifying to do the show in front of them because... well, what if they think I’m lying? What if it gets back to him? That’s something I’m not ready for and it’s still a pretty scary thought.
How has the lack of genuine female stories in the arts affected the work you do? In particular in terms of your work with Hear Me Out?
It’s honestly ridiculous that women are still fighting to get their stories told and shows like Bitter Wheat get a fast track to the West End. It still feels like, despite the multitude of women coming forward with their stories, it’s still the abusers who are getting all the stage time. I’m just not interested. It feels like the world’s gone “oh wow there’s a lot of women, where do we start, ahhhh oh no ok let’s just keep programming men because we already know who’s good and who isn’t and if we started thinking about women we’d have to start all over again!” Women are SCREAMING to be heard and yet it’s men in the limelight saying they’re “just the best ones” and that’s it. Commercial theatre is still a boy’s club. I recently saw a show advertised where the entire cast and creative team were male and all of them white-passing, and this was an NPO that gets regular funding from Arts Council England. I’m bored of it. That’s just not what England is. England has a richly diverse history and population and theatres that are funded by taxes should reflect that in their programming, casting, and recruitment. End of story. I believe that theatre is becoming more diverse, more inclusive, and more representative. But it just isn’t happening fast enough. And sometimes it feels like one step forward one step back and we go in a circle. Part of Snapper’s mission statement is the focus on amplifying those currently underrepresented or misrepresented in the arts. And that’s really key. Women are underrepresented, and when we are visible, it’s often inaccurate (sexy lamp shade theory much?). With Hear Me Out, I speak from my own experience. I make no attempts to speak for all women. I think a lot of what I say is relatable to many women, but by no means all women. The story is written from my experience of oppression as a woman, but also from my specific position of privilege and I’ve tried to make that really clear. My story isn’t really that unique, but I’ve found a way to tell it, I’ve had really incredible champions along the way, and the greatest privilege of all is that I have that platform. As I say in the show: “I spoke and people listened. I continue to speak, and am heard.”
Is there life for Hear Me Out in the future?
I REALLY HOPE SO.
What can we expect from you next?
Lots. I have incredible partners in Julia and Lucy at Snapper and we’ve got some exciting stuff in the works. I’m associate producing the next Maiden Speech Festival, where the full version of Hear Me Out was first performed last year, and I’m so excited about that because Lexi is amazing and the festival is growing in leaps and bounds. I’m currently working on a poetry collection and I’m in the planning stages for a couple of short film projects. I’ve been so bloody lucky to have developed the most incredible network of collaborators and to be working on brilliant new work with them. I’m really excited about the future!
Hear Me Out will be performed on the 5th June at Camden People’s Theatre as part of Calm Down Dear Festival 2019.
Tickets still available here.
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