DAVID MERCATALI TALKS TO EMILY GARSIDE (Sherman Theatre)

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“David Mercatali has been at Sherman Theatre for a few months now and will soon be making his directorial debut with the theatre. It’s not however his Sherman debut. While at University in Cardiff Mercatali found himself directing Death of a Salesman in the Sherman Studio for Cardiff University’s Act One drama society. From what was from an almost accidental start, there was ‘no going back’. ”

I spoke to Sherman Theatre’s Associate Director David Mercatali about returning to Cardiff and what he’s looking forward to as part of the team at Sherman.

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/news/sherman/david-mercatali-directorial-debut/

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Five women who shaped me #IWD

It’s International Women’s Day. And while there are always various political debates about it I do think it’s as good a day as any to celebrate the women who inspire us. I try to vary my lists or posts year on year, so this year I’m going with Women who have shaped my life in some way.

This year is a theatrical theme. And a mix of ‘famous’ people, and those from ‘real life’. Oh also the number is a lie. It’s technically 6/7.

Kirsty Sedgeman 

First up is the Academic- inspiration/friend/mentor call her what you will (Superwoman-Mc-Awesome is catchy) cheerleader I wish I’d met YEARS ago. Kirsty Segdeman. If you’re a theatre academic you’ll probably know Kirsty. She’s a brilliant academic, and master of the gif-paired tweet thread. She works on Audience research and is kicking down doors to make theatres, and Universities listen to researchers. She’s also a fantastic champion of PhD students and Early Career Academics. And a voice for the working class/unfunded among those. Above all else shes’ a tireless cheerleader, and brilliant friend. Here’s a her twitter, give her a follow.

 

Gillian Anderson

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Look it’s not IWD on this blog without a reference to Gillian Anderson. If we’re talking ‘famous’ women, she is hands down the most influential woman in my life. Dana Scully as a character shaped my teenage years, and my future self in ways no other woman- real or fictional has. Indirectly, I’m a Doctor because of her. Firstly because Scully taught me that women shouldn’t hide their intelligence. Secondly, she made me want to be ‘Dr’ something. And thirdly, if it weren’t for Gillian Anderson I’d never have set foot in a theatre. More on that on is here. 

I went to my first play because Gillian was in it. And I begged my Mum to take me all the way to London to see the woman I adored on stage. And while in part I was ‘just’ fangirling. I was also sat there falling in love with the theatre. I still have the notes I scribbled in the margins on the train home.

And it’s rare you can say a teen idol of yours genuinely continues to shape your life. From playing the kind of women I want to see on stage and screen, to writing books, to being an outspoken activist and advocate. Gillian Anderson is a constant source of inspiration, and motivation to be a better woman. And to lift up other women with me. I may have wanted to be Dana Scully when I grew up, but actually now I want to be Gillian Anderson when I grow up.

Elise Davison and Beth House

These ladies come as a package. In the best way. Elise Davison and Beth House They run Taking Flight Theatre company. For whom I am honoured to be Chair of the board of Trustees. Taking Flight makes inclusive theatre, and makes theatre inclusive. That is everything they make has inclusive work at the heart of it- think integrated BSL and audio description. Think disabled actors being part of every company. Think all the things everyone else should be doing.

They also campaign tirelessly for inclusive theatre, accessible theatre and all round a more open accesible arts scene. And they do it all with company built from nothing, and like so many of the women out there juggling family life as well. And again they are tireless supporters and cheerleaders of me and all I know, and I’m really lucky to know them. Every time I think none of it’s worth it any more, I look at the work they do, and remember it is.

 

 

Stephanie J Block

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For those who don’t know, she is a fiercely talent Broadway actress. I first saw her in ‘The Boy From Oz’ , which was also the first musical I ever saw. Formative in so many ways, for making me fall in love with musicals for also being the musical that set me on the path to my PhD research. As a 19 year old discovering musicals for the first time I fangirled HARD for Stephanie. My first fangirl-crush on a Broadway performer, I’ve been lucky enough to see her in several shows since (not bad considering I live in Cardiff!). But what started as a teen fangirl moment allowed me to follow the career of a brilliantly talented, but also wonderfully principled and inspiring woman.

Stephanie J Block may never know how seeing ‘The Boy from Oz’ changed my life. Because of that musical I went on to rediscover my love of drama/theatre. I went to RADA. I came back to that musical when starting to think about a PhD- it’s actually the core of my ‘theatre about AIDS’ ideas starting. What she also may never know is the kindness she showed a 19 year old, who was living far from home at that point, who had just lost a parent. When I fan-girled at her on my trip to the show, the kindness she showed me- listening to my no doubt ramblings, talking to me about my studies, stayed with me as a lesson on how to treat people. And that important moment of someone you admire, when you are young, taking and interest, really pushed me to do the same. For kindness and in her work, she shaped me without knowing it.

Last year I cried my face off (that’s the technical term) watching her perform in Falsettos, a musical I’ve studied, written on and talked endlessly about as an academic. I wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t seen this woman, in a musical once upon a time and been incredibly inspired. And that felt like such a powerful thing.

 

Marianne Elliott

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It’s rare you get to meet, let alone talk at length with someone whose work you admire so greatly- or whose work is about to impact on your life so greatly. So I feel really lucky to say that the last of my list did just that. And has impacted my life in ways direct and indirect I can’t even begin to count.

Firstly, in the abstract. As the genius kick-arse (British spelling please) theatre director she is. Like anyone with an eye on British theatre in the last few decades I’d repeatedly found myself admiring, an inspired by the work Marianne Elliott has brought to the stage. In a field where we still all to rarely have women in ‘top jobs’ to look up to, seeing someone not only at the top of her game, but also unafraid to take creative risks while there, was and is an inspiration to a generation of women in theatre.

That in itself is enough to shape a person. Little did I know when I was shouting “WAR HORSE IS INNOVATIVE THEATRE” at my PhD supervisors  while defending it’s relevance to a discussion of AIDS in theatre (true story) that one day I’d be chatting to Elliott about Angels in America.

Elliott may be an genius director, whose work on Angels in America has reshaped my thoughts on the play, after a decade of working on it. But what she did for me personally by letting me have a tiny part in that, is something I still can’t quantify. It seems a simple thing, but the fact that she wanted my input. That she told other at the NT about me, and that she let me write that programme essay have had a remarkable impact on my life.

In practical ways, people saw that essay, or heard about my work on the play. And doors have opened a crack. (After years of physically trying to beat them down). But more than that, even without that. The simple fact she thought my work was worth listening to. Academia, life, theatre had all beaten me down. But that act of a woman reaching out and saying ‘yes you are worth listening to’ really did change everything. And that’s the power of what women supporting women, lowering the ladder instead of pulling it up can do.

If Marianne had chosen to ignore the person brave (or stupid) enough to email and say ‘hey I know this play better than you do right now’ I probably wouldn’t have given up before the curtain even came up on Angels. Instead I’m writing the book I always wanted to write. I’ve been commissioned to write a play. I’m writing articles about theatre again. And more importantly last summer I fell in love with it all again.

The fact that Elliott also has the company I’m most excited about (as I wrote about here) that promises to give a platform to more female creatives, gives me so much hope for women in the industry. Because I can’t think of a better woman to lead the way.

And of course to the countless women who inspire and shape my life every day. Friends, family, colleagues.  Let’s keep building each other up, shaping each others lives in the best ways possible.

Lee Pace and Labels

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I still have many questions about this picture though

Lee Pace attracted some controversy this week for his interview with W magazine. It seemed not everyone was happy about the way he chooses to describe his sexuality. Or the fact he’s taken on a ‘gay role’ without positioning himself as ‘gay role model’

Over on the research blog I had some things to say about that.

http://blessyoumorelife.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/lee-pace-labels-and-what-are-you-doing.html

Lee Pace, Labels and ‘What are you doing writing about this play?’

I really tried to stay out of some of the debacle around a certain magazine article. But I have always had strong opinions on the ‘shoulds and shouldn’ts around this play. And I also have strong opinions on the labels our so-called community forces on us. 
So in a blog of two halves, the professional and personal here is my write-back to that W magazine interview with Lee Pace.  
The first half relates to this play. I’ve been around the block with it enough times to know many people have strong opinions on who can and can’t be in/work on/like this play. Firstly, the only person with any say in two of those categories is Tony Kushner. The latter nobody has say on.
As a woman, born in 1984, in the UK who through virtue of those things does not identify as a gay American Man, I’ve had my share of criticism for working on the play. The idea that somehow my ‘understanding’ or ‘love’ of it was different. That is was somehow driven of some teenage ‘omgGaysAreSOcute’ thing (I’m 34, and spent 4 years solid working on it, BELIEVE me if that was the case the novelty would have worn off long before). I utterly grant that my experience and understanding of the play is different and while doing the PhD that was precisely the point. Those who had written before on the play were largely white, middle class American gay men who were there at the time. That is a valuable insight I would not be without. I want those voices, we all need those records. But I bring something different. No less valuable. No less (hopefully) contribution to the conversation.
I have been at conferences, had comments online and been generally disregarded as a ‘silly little girl’. Now this is not limited to my choice of research, granted. But there was and is an undertone of ‘You aren’t a gay man, therefore your authority is less’. No. My experience is different. And that I freely acknowledge. Just as I acknowledge I didn’t experience the AIDS crisis first hand. But analysis of something, much like bringing it to life as art is not limited by experience.
Similarly, I heard comments about Marianne Elliott’s directing the piece. Few women have directed it over the years, and none of the highest profile productions have been directed by women. Again, endemic of a larger problem, for which I don’t have space. But, the whispered undertones that a woman couldn’t understand a ‘Gay play’ in the same way are ludicrous. The play is about people. The play is about humanity. As much as it’s a- perhaps THE canonical ‘Gay play’ what it boils down to is humanity. And lived experience of that is universal, not matter who you choose to take to bed. Also, frankly I dare you to go and tell Marianne Elliott what she can or can’t do. (but only if you let me watch).
Which brings me to the actors. I believe in gay people being able to tell their stories, should they choose to. But I also do not believe in casting, or creativity based on sexuality. Kushner writes as heart-breaking and believable a story in his heterosexual characters as he does his gay ones. Do we tell him he must eliminate the heterosexual story-line as he hasn’t lived it? Why then should we limit casting choices by sexuality?
Back in London Andrew Garfield attracted controversy with some out-of-context comments on sexuality. And before the show was even announced for Broadway there were mutterings from the depths of American social media about his ‘unsuitability’ for an ‘iconic’ gay role due to…being straight. Before anyone had seen his performance. Now in Garfield’s case I’m pretty sure he’s never actually shot webs from his hands (or whatever Spidey does) but he’s universally acknowledged to be pretty good at that…so maybe we give him the benefit of the doubt. There were actors in Angels I didn’t know of before seeing the show. On googling them to find out more about them top of my list was ‘what theatre have you done’ not ‘who are you rumoured to have slept with’ to gauge what I thought of their suitability for the role.
And similarly, I had no idea who Lee Pace was when he was announced (Sorry Mr Pace, I can be exceptionally dumb) but not for a moment did it cross my mind to wonder what the extent of his first-hand experience being gay was. Why? because it’s unnecessary and intrusive. On being asked about this Pace said (apparently controversially) ‘I don’t know why anyone would care. I’m an actor and I play roles.’ What Pace chooses to share or not share about his personal life is both his own business and a separate issue. His private life and his choices there should have zero baring on the perceived ability to play a role. He’s been accused of ‘Homophobia’ by some for this statement, that in dismissing the question’s relevance to his professional ability he’s somehow belittling the gay community. In fact, I’d argue that moving past such questions- the regimented boxing in of ‘are you gay is that why you want to play this role’ is actually a progressive attitude.
I’m closing the professional segment of this by saying; in other jobs I would never be assessed on my suitability to do my work in relation to my sexuality. My own ability to work on this play does not relate to my gender, age or sexuality and yet I’ve had it brought up repeatedly. Likewise, the sexuality of the actors who perform in this play has zero bearing on their ability to portray the parts.
My second half of this blog is the personal. What Lee Pace said in the article was “I’ve dated men I’ve dated women’ In no way did Pace dodge the question. And even if he did, frankly that’s his business. ‘Coming Out’ is a term I wish we could do away with, but it’s a difficult and often long process for many people. Nobody has any right to dictate or accuse a person for doing it rightly or wrongly. The media loves to commodify and yes even fetishize “Coming Out” and anyone who doesn’t fit into a box is somehow ‘failing’ their community. The words ‘I’ve dated men. I’ve dated women.’  couldn’t be clearer you’re not entitled to any more than that- you in fact aren’t even ‘entitled’ to that.
And on a personal level, I will fight to the death anyone who falls under the wide net of Bi/Pan sexual in any shape or form. Lee Pace, having said he has dated both men and women, falls under that net (however he chooses to self-describe, which again is his call). However, we do or don’t label ourselves, we all belong in a terrible no man’s land (pardon the gender binary) of not being wanted or understood by the heteronormative world or the LGBTQA+ world.
Saying you like/have dated Men and Women is not ‘dodging’ a question on sexuality as I’ve seen thrown about today. It’s being honest about your life, and your sexuality. It is not a ‘betrayal’ or ‘homophobic’  it is not ‘regressing’ to a former time of ‘code of a darker time’ (as one well known gay publication has said) it is simply the honest truth for millions of Bisexual people. Why, in 2018 is it either so hard, or considered so sinister that a person can be attracted to any gender? And choose to live their life in relationships as such? Why also is it so vital to everyone that we label ourselves so neatly? Why are we insulting or betraying people by simply describing our lives and experience? If I describe my romantic life, or my sexuality as ‘both men and women’ as Pace has done (and I do) am I not rejecting gay identities, or labels. I’m simply saying they aren’t my label.
   
And so, Mr Pace I don’t know you. But I want to say there are lots of us out there who have experienced that question. Or those questions. Because it never stops at one. It goes on and on until you give the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer that can be put into a box or quoted. Or used against you. Not gay enough. Too gay. Hiding something. All the above.
And so, I say, your answer was perfectly valid. And you are perfectly valid. To take on the role of Joe Pitt, and as a person.
And I also want to say thank you. Because it’s damn rare I get to hear someone describing themselves as I do myself in terms of romance and relationships. And for all the bleating about representation, all those shouting about it seem to have once again forgotten us, the bisexuals. To have someone in the public eye stand up and say those words so clearly is wonderful. But I wish you hadn’t been pressured to say them.
P.S I really like your Dog and your Rooster.

Lee Pace, Labels and ‘What are you doing writing about this play?’

I really tried to stay out of some of the debacle around a certain magazine article. But I have always had strong opinions on the ‘shoulds and shouldn’ts around this play. And I also have strong opinions on the labels our so-called community forces on us. 
So in a blog of two halves, the professional and personal here is my write-back to that W magazine interview with Lee Pace.  
The first half relates to this play. I’ve been around the block with it enough times to know many people have strong opinions on who can and can’t be in/work on/like this play. Firstly, the only person with any say in two of those categories is Tony Kushner. The latter nobody has say on.
As a woman, born in 1984, in the UK who through virtue of those things does not identify as a gay American Man, I’ve had my share of criticism for working on the play. The idea that somehow my ‘understanding’ or ‘love’ of it was different. That is was somehow driven of some teenage ‘omgGaysAreSOcute’ thing (I’m 34, and spent 4 years solid working on it, BELIEVE me if that was the case the novelty would have worn off long before). I utterly grant that my experience and understanding of the play is different and while doing the PhD that was precisely the point. Those who had written before on the play were largely white, middle class American gay men who were there at the time. That is a valuable insight I would not be without. I want those voices, we all need those records. But I bring something different. No less valuable. No less (hopefully) contribution to the conversation.
I have been at conferences, had comments online and been generally disregarded as a ‘silly little girl’. Now this is not limited to my choice of research, granted. But there was and is an undertone of ‘You aren’t a gay man, therefore your authority is less’. No. My experience is different. And that I freely acknowledge. Just as I acknowledge I didn’t experience the AIDS crisis first hand. But analysis of something, much like bringing it to life as art is not limited by experience.
Similarly, I heard comments about Marianne Elliott’s directing the piece. Few women have directed it over the years, and none of the highest profile productions have been directed by women. Again, endemic of a larger problem, for which I don’t have space. But, the whispered undertones that a woman couldn’t understand a ‘Gay play’ in the same way are ludicrous. The play is about people. The play is about humanity. As much as it’s a- perhaps THE canonical ‘Gay play’ what it boils down to is humanity. And lived experience of that is universal, not matter who you choose to take to bed. Also, frankly I dare you to go and tell Marianne Elliott what she can or can’t do. (but only if you let me watch).
Which brings me to the actors. I believe in gay people being able to tell their stories, should they choose to. But I also do not believe in casting, or creativity based on sexuality. Kushner writes as heart-breaking and believable a story in his heterosexual characters as he does his gay ones. Do we tell him he must eliminate the heterosexual story-line as he hasn’t lived it? Why then should we limit casting choices by sexuality?
Back in London Andrew Garfield attracted controversy with some out-of-context comments on sexuality. And before the show was even announced for Broadway there were mutterings from the depths of American social media about his ‘unsuitability’ for an ‘iconic’ gay role due to…being straight. Before anyone had seen his performance. Now in Garfield’s case I’m pretty sure he’s never actually shot webs from his hands (or whatever Spidey does) but he’s universally acknowledged to be pretty good at that…so maybe we give him the benefit of the doubt. There were actors in Angels I didn’t know of before seeing the show. On googling them to find out more about them top of my list was ‘what theatre have you done’ not ‘who are you rumoured to have slept with’ to gauge what I thought of their suitability for the role.
And similarly, I had no idea who Lee Pace was when he was announced (Sorry Mr Pace, I can be exceptionally dumb) but not for a moment did it cross my mind to wonder what the extent of his first-hand experience being gay was. Why? because it’s unnecessary and intrusive. On being asked about this Pace said (apparently controversially) ‘I don’t know why anyone would care. I’m an actor and I play roles.’ What Pace chooses to share or not share about his personal life is both his own business and a separate issue. His private life and his choices there should have zero baring on the perceived ability to play a role. He’s been accused of ‘Homophobia’ by some for this statement, that in dismissing the question’s relevance to his professional ability he’s somehow belittling the gay community. In fact, I’d argue that moving past such questions- the regimented boxing in of ‘are you gay is that why you want to play this role’ is actually a progressive attitude.
I’m closing the professional segment of this by saying; in other jobs I would never be assessed on my suitability to do my work in relation to my sexuality. My own ability to work on this play does not relate to my gender, age or sexuality and yet I’ve had it brought up repeatedly. Likewise, the sexuality of the actors who perform in this play has zero bearing on their ability to portray the parts.
My second half of this blog is the personal. What Lee Pace said in the article was “I’ve dated men I’ve dated women’ In no way did Pace dodge the question. And even if he did, frankly that’s his business. ‘Coming Out’ is a term I wish we could do away with, but it’s a difficult and often long process for many people. Nobody has any right to dictate or accuse a person for doing it rightly or wrongly. The media loves to commodify and yes even fetishize “Coming Out” and anyone who doesn’t fit into a box is somehow ‘failing’ their community. The words ‘I’ve dated men. I’ve dated women.’  couldn’t be clearer you’re not entitled to any more than that- you in fact aren’t even ‘entitled’ to that.
And on a personal level, I will fight to the death anyone who falls under the wide net of Bi/Pan sexual in any shape or form. Lee Pace, having said he has dated both men and women, falls under that net (however he chooses to self-describe, which again is his call). However, we do or don’t label ourselves, we all belong in a terrible no man’s land (pardon the gender binary) of not being wanted or understood by the heteronormative world or the LGBTQA+ world.
Saying you like/have dated Men and Women is not ‘dodging’ a question on sexuality as I’ve seen thrown about today. It’s being honest about your life, and your sexuality. It is not a ‘betrayal’ or ‘homophobic’  it is not ‘regressing’ to a former time of ‘code of a darker time’ (as one well known gay publication has said) it is simply the honest truth for millions of Bisexual people. Why, in 2018 is it either so hard, or considered so sinister that a person can be attracted to any gender? And choose to live their life in relationships as such? Why also is it so vital to everyone that we label ourselves so neatly? Why are we insulting or betraying people by simply describing our lives and experience? If I describe my romantic life, or my sexuality as ‘both men and women’ as Pace has done (and I do) am I not rejecting gay identities, or labels. I’m simply saying they aren’t my label.
   
And so, Mr Pace I don’t know you. But I want to say there are lots of us out there who have experienced that question. Or those questions. Because it never stops at one. It goes on and on until you give the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer that can be put into a box or quoted. Or used against you. Not gay enough. Too gay. Hiding something. All the above.
And so, I say, your answer was perfectly valid. And you are perfectly valid. To take on the role of Joe Pitt, and as a person.
And I also want to say thank you. Because it’s damn rare I get to hear someone describing themselves as I do myself in terms of romance and relationships. And for all the bleating about representation, all those shouting about it seem to have once again forgotten us, the bisexuals. To have someone in the public eye stand up and say those words so clearly is wonderful. But I wish you hadn’t been pressured to say them.
P.S I really like your Dog and your Rooster.