Interview with Writer Yve Blake

Yve Blake THEN

Yve Blake & Co. are delighted to announce that THEN will play a limited season at Soho Theatre Upstairs this July. The show, which has been co-created with the Internet, has already seen a phenomenal response from sell out audiences at Battersea Arts Centre, the Vault Festival and Australia New Zealand Festival of Art & Literature.

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THEN has been created from people across the world anonymously donating their memories to you, over the internet. Such an interesting concept! Why did you choose to work in this way and use strangers' memories as a starting point?

I reckon we constantly play audience to our friends’ lives online, but forget that scrolling through Facebook is like viewing someone else’s highlight reel, it’s easy to feel behind in the race.

I was interested in the power of the internet to alternatively offer a space to un-perform. I built WhoWereWe.com as a portal for strangers to anonymously reveal memories of dumb decisions, terrible haircuts, of self doubt and censored dreams so that I could transform these stories into music and celebrate them. It’s exciting and heartwarming to recognise ourselves in the words of others, so I figured, the more ‘others’ the merrier. So far the project has attracted more than 500 co-writers in 154 cities.

You had quite an overwhelming response; people of all ages, from many countries, engaged with the task. Did you come across any 'donations' that we're too controversial or intimate to work with?

Definitely. An exceptional few of the stories received were even quite harrowing. A couple of times it was challenging to know how to handle it.

The anonymity that the website provides has enabled people to send me some fabulous, cringy, honest and resonant stuff - but for some people, maybe it seems to provide a chance to let go of some stuff or make secret admissions.

Did any of the 'donations' you received particularly resonate with you, personally?

To all those who have sent me stories of childhood obsessions with stickers, gel pens or origami - I deeply feel you. However, there were also some surprising stories that really suckerpunched my heart.

On my quest to diversify my collection of stories, I interviewed 38 people face to face, and most of those interviews were deliberately with older folks, including a 93 year old lady who I know LOVES the internet, shoutout to you babes! Many of the older people I spoke to described the experience of watching their parents gradually deteriorate into old age, and then death. Thankfully, both my parents are still alive and hustlin’ but it was so powerful and scary to be reminded that one day they won’t be. That conversation became the basis for a whole song in the show, which, while being sung from an older perspective is still deeply personal.

Through THEN, you invite the 'online' community to engage with theatre, where they may not normally. Why is this important to you?

For about a year when I was a keen and obsessive teenager, I was very good at getting free theatre tickets and I went about twice a week. I loved it, but was usually the youngest person there, and it made a lot of sense to me because, let’s face it - there’s a lot of great entertainment on the internet which is free, instant, and doesn’t require you to put on pants. Or sit still for an hour and a half. Or not pee for the same amount of time.

Being 21, I think the internet is awesome, and am still aware that for most skint people my age it beats theatre in a cage match on the grounds of price, comfort, convenience and having more cats. Therefore, when I make theatre I look at the internet as a collaborator, rather than as a competitor. I want to see and make work which responds to the hyperactive and jam-packed way we can experience entertainment online. I think it’s really important to occasionally share entertainment in the same physical space as strangers, to hear them giggling next to us, or sniffling back tears, to be reminded that we all share a fears and hopes - and to put on pants.

Do you think there is equality in the work place? If not, why?

Being early in my career, I can only speak from a limited and largely positive experience. The only scenarios I can think of where I’ve felt to be treated in a way that is distinct because of my gender are these 2:

1 - A reviewer writes a wonderful, warm & encouraging review. They so happen to describe how you look physically. You wonder if the reviewer would write the same thing about a male performer.

2 - Anyone describes you or your work as ‘Quirky’. Bekah Brunstetter, this writer I really like once wrote this on her blog 2 years ago and I’ve found it to be often true: "I really feel like Quirky is used a lot to describe women, or things written by women, whereas if a dude did it, it would just be straight up funny."

Who inspires you?

This week, Sia. Every press appearance I’ve ever seen of her seems to be glorious. I believe she is the queen of comedy. Take this 2008 vintage as a prime example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URHjpwnSRzk Plus she’s an extraordinary musician so there’s that too.

What were your biggest challenges in bringing THEN to the stage? How did you overcome these?

My 2 biggest challenges were 1. Resources and 2. the heebie-jeebies.

'THEN’ would not have been possible without the hard work of 2 Designers, 2 Video designers, a Dramaturg, a Musical Director, and 2 Producers. That’s a lot of people to divide a next-to-non-existent budget between.

I was really lucky that every member of the team saw a potential in the project and agreed step on board despite our limited resources. Now our show is about to play it’s 4th venue and we’ve just received a grant from Arts Council England, but we would never have managed all this had we not decided to pitch in our time at the start.

My second challenge was much trickier to solve, the Heebie-Jeebies. Because I’d never made a show with music before, I had no proof for myself or others that I could actually pull it off. I was privately terrified, and my biggest fear was that I if the show ‘failed’ I would have wasted other people's time and energy by being the idiot who said ‘Who wants to make a show for 3 months?’. Eventually I realised that the heebie-jeebies are natural. I think if you let the heebie-jeebies stay at your party everyone else will just end up having a boring time.

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

Floss? I’m no authority but something I believe very strongly is that the size of your ambition should always be bigger than the resources you already have. This means that to get anything fabulous done, you will have to ask lots of people for favours - and then find a way to make them feel like they aren’t doing you a favour, but doing something rewarding and peppered with joy. Be kind. Find out why your collaborators get out of bed every day and keep reminding yourself of that, because a motivated team is the team you want to be on. So, when you find people who get what you’re trying to say and want to say it with you, find out how they like their tea and hold on to them.

What's next in the creative pipeline for you?

I plan to make more music out of the ever growing collection of stories this year, and luckily some really exciting new collaborators have come forward from seeing THEN. I’d also like to find a filmic expression of some of the songs, so filmmakers, animators and engineers of all shapes - get in touch.

I also have a play on in Melbourne until the end of June, (It’s called Sugar Sugar). Also, no one hold me to this, but I’ve just started writing a musical about a teenage international pop star sensation who is also a manta ray*. I’m very serious.

*just to avoid any speculation, it is not going to be about a manta ray cyrus.

(C) Yve Blake 2014.

Twitter: @YveBlake
Facebook: facebook.com/yveblake
Web: http://yveblake.com

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Show information:

THEN has been supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

THEN has been developed with support from the National Theatre Young Studio supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Theatre: Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE
Dates: 8 – 13 July 2014
Performances: Tue – Sun, 7pm. Matinees: Sat, 3.15pm. Sun, 5.15pm.
Prices: Tue 8 £10. Thereafter: £15 (£12.50)
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Website: http://www.sohotheatre.com, http://www.whowerewe.com,
http://www.WhoWereWeMuseum.com, http://www.yveblake.com
Twitter: @yveblake @sohotheatre
Facebook: http://facebook.com/YveBlake

Photo: MARTHA WEBB & NAOMI KUYCK-COHEN

* With thanks to @robertbradish for sponsoring Female Arts crowdfunder http://www.sponsume.com/project/female-arts-magazine-femaleartscom

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