Interview with Goblin Baby

Goblin Baby Femalearts promo

Goblin Baby Theatre Co. presents The Devil & Stepashka

- Tessa Hart – Artistic Director of Goblin Baby Theatre Co.
- Leigh-Anne Abela – Director of The Devil & Stepashka
- Claire Booker – Writer of The Devil & Stepashka & Associate Writer of Goblin Baby
- Lydia Lane – Artistic Associate of Goblin Baby

Your new show 'The Devil & Stepashka' is inspired by a Tolstoy short story. What makes this performance unique?

Claire: All performances are unique - that's the exciting thing about live theatre. This particular production brings with it fresh eyes from both director and actors. Their emphasis is to draw out the universal from what was originally written as a very naturalistic representation of Czarist Russia. The production's mix of nationalities and ethnicities nicely echoes the melting pot that was the Russian empire - a place of raw inequalities.

Tessa: We’re aiming to achieve a sense of timelessness with the production and show how the issues raised are not just relevant in the time it is originally set in, but also nowadays, in the world that we live in. We want to create something that can be relevant to a wide-spread variety of people, from a wide-spread variety of backgrounds.

During a selection of performances during the run, you're presenting 'The Devil & Stepashka' with a 'The Verdict is Yours' ending; inviting the audience to act as Jury & choose between one of two alternative endings to the play. Why did you decide to do this? What do you hope will be taken from the experience?

Claire: I wrote The Verdict is Yours to heighten the audience's sense of involvement already present in 'The Devil & Stepashka'. As they sit watching a trial and its repercussions, what do they think should happen? By writing two possible endings, The Verdict is Yours makes this a concrete reality, places the responsibility firmly on the audience's shoulders. For once, the playwright doesn't decide how people think. They have to do the thinking for themselves.

Tessa: I saw that Claire had written these two alternative endings and thought it would be great to experiment with it. How many people will even dare to turn up to this type of performance? And what verdict will they make in the end? With Goblin Baby we are not about lecturing people or telling anyone what to think, but we want to raise awareness, get people to think about certain things and question what they see. And The Verdict is Yours goes a step even further in doing this.

Goblin Baby are currently celebrating the first anniversary as a company. Congratulations! What have you learnt about yourselves & your craft during this first year?

Tessa: Thank you! Well, making theatre is always an endless learning process. I think most importantly we’ve learned to keep on exploring things and working hard and to keep on pushing boundaries and testing out new approaches. We’ve also learned that there is definitely a place on the London Fringe for a company like Goblin Baby. Within a year we’ve managed to grow from a two performance scratch night to a full run of a full-length play and we’re most certainly planning to continue growing and developing that way.

Do you think there is equality in the workplace?

Claire: All the current research suggests women still have fewer opportunities for success in the workplace. And theatre is particularly harsh for women practitioners - actors, directors, playwrights. In fact, the campaigning organisation 17Percent is so named, because only 17% of plays being produced have been written by women. Whenever I can, I try to write good parts for women, preferably making up at least 50% of the cast in each play. There are so many great female actors out there, who are battling for so few parts. It's as if the interests and concerns of half the population have no validity.

Lydia: Then another issue is that there are not enough roles for other ethnicities than white people. Many articles have been published concerning these matters, but I don’t think there’s has been a massive change so far. It’s not surprising that we see the creation of some companies and productions which focus on giving work to women and ethnic minorities in order to establish some balance, but we need to see much more of that, in much bigger companies and productions as well in order to have a real change. I’m very glad to be actively involved with two theatre companies (Goblin Baby is one and Sibling Productions is another one) which promote women’s work in theatre in all areas, acting, directing, producing and writing.

Who inspires you?

Lydia: Most of the great talented people I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with so far. Usually I’m mostly inspired by people who love and know their art, are pure professionals and have knowledge of what’s going on in the world today and through their art they try to make things better. Being only an actor can become self-indulgent, so I really admire the people who see beyond that, who have more things and interests on the side, care about the other people and are sensitive on the big issues that need to be solved. Eve Ensler is a good example. She has been a big inspiration to me in the last years of my life thanks to my acting teacher Monique Wilson who introduced her to me and who is also a woman and activist I truly admire. Then my family and friends have always been great examples of life and work ethics. And then there is a big list of well known people who keep inspiring me daily in several different ways.

Leigh-Anne: My mother, every time. She is a fountain of knowledge, a pillar of strength and an example of true humility.

What challenges have you faced, bringing 'The Devil & Stepashka' to the stage? How have you overcome these challenges?

Leigh-Anne: One of the biggest challenges was shifting the time and setting of the play whilst staying true to the scriptwriter's intent. The other challenge was conveying all the changes to the actors and still keeping everyone confident about the play. I guess when you are an actor it's very natural to focus on "your bit" - it's only when you start seeing the whole picture that you can eventually fit "your bit" in and not the other way round. So, I shared my vision of the play and the actors started bringing their "bits" in. Having ideas in your head is easy; the challenge lies in conveying them and being understood.

Tessa: A big challenge on the producing side was trying to secure funding. We’re a very pragmatic and creative bunch and good at working on a low budget but for a production of this scale, we needed at least some basic funding in place. We’re fortunate enough to have secured some support in the end, and are also still running a crowdfunding campaign (

Do you have any words of wisdom and/or inspiration for aspiring theatre makers out there?

Lydia: I’d say think outside of the box and you will have lots of fun! Furthermore it will enchase your imagination and creativity and solve obstacles that might get in your way.

Leigh-Anne: Think like a tiger ... Observe & pounce at the right opportunities, dive in & swim like there's no tomorrow and stay fit in the mind!

Claire: My advice to women playwrights is to keep writing about what you feel is important, what you believe needs to be heard. And to accept and offer help to other women in the industry.

Tessa: Be pro-active! Be so bloody pro-active it hurts! Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves, go find them, hunt for them or create them yourself.

Finally, what's next?

Tessa: Earlier this year we did a show at The Hen & Chickens Theatre and they’ve invited us to become one of their resident companies following that, which we’re absolutely thrilled about, so our next two shows will be presented there! In August we are joining the Camden Fringe for the first time with FORESEEN which will present four dark and comic, post-apocalyptic new short-plays on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of August. Then from 7th to 11th October we’re presenting an adaptation of Chekhov’s One-Act-Farce The Proposal, with a completely new twist to it, because it will be a same-sex marriage proposal in Goblin Baby’s version! We’re also planning and negotiating for projects end of this year and next year already, so follow us and keep up to date. But for now make sure to get your tickets for The Devil & Stepashka, which opens very, very soon!

(C) Tessa Hart, Leigh-Anne Aleba, Claire Booker & Lydia Lane 2014.

The Devil & Stepashka
Can there be true justice?
10th to 20th June at The Space
19th & 20th July at Ye Olde Rose & Crown

Twitter: @GoblinBabyCo
Facebook: /GoblinBabyCo
Youtube: /GoblinBabyCo

* With thanks to @GoblinBabyCo for sponsoring Female Arts crowdfunder

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