The importance of female comedic talent: an interview with the directors of STAG’s Lysistrata

The importance of female comedic talent: an interview with the directors of STAG’s Lysistrata

[Written by Rowan Bland]

[Image Credits: Iona Bremner, Katy Green and Charlotte Smith. Edits by Jemma Clearie]

I meet Charlotte Smith (CS) and Katy Green (KG) in the local university cafe of G12. Katy and Charlotte are both fourth year English Literature and Theatre students. We are there to discuss their upcoming adaptation of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. A greek classic, they have decided to adapt it to fit modern times more accurately, and set it within the prohibition era of the 20s. It will be Student Theatre at Glasgow’s (STAG) Mainstage production for this semester, and the two are raring to go. 

Hi guys! First of all, can tell us about your production of Lysistrata?

CS: Yes! Lysistrata is an ancient greek comedy about the Polynesian war, where the wives of the Polynesian soldiers go on a sex strike in order to attempt to call the war off. We have changed the basic structure into 1920s New York – in an attempt to modernise the tale, we are instead playing with gang rivalries and factions instead of the context of the Polynesian War. 

KG: The women are dancers, creators and the entrepreneurs behind a burlesque club in New York, and this is primarily where our production takes place. 

As this is an adaptation, do you feel you have reclaimed the text of Lysistrata? Have you stayed loyal to the original text?

CS: We feel that we have dramatically reclaimed the text and brought to the forefront the female chorus, who are a background voice in the original play text. They are the engine that keeps the play running.

KG: It meant a full rewrite of the second act. The second act of the original included men walking around with wooden penises … which we did not think would work!

CS: We instead decided to make it about how women can work together, wield power and their relationships to each other. Our version is less focused on the men at war and more focused on how the women relate to each other.

KG: It is also about the means of production! Don’t forget Marx!

CS: We cannot forget Marx in this production! Moreover, there were deeply problematic elements in the original play text so we changed the end completely. The women wield their power in a different way than from the original.

KG: You’ll need to come along to find out how!

This play is a female driven comedy. How important is it for you to show audiences the capability of female presenting comedic performances?

CS: Oh, this was super important to us.

KG: Student theatre tends to focus on male driven, white men, classics. We wanted to subvert this norm completely.

CS: Basically, we wanted to bring out the hidden narrative of the text, which focuses on these brilliant female comedic performances.

KG: We felt that the university has lots of very talented, funny women who are underutilised. We have nine female presenting and five male presenting actors, so there’s a good bulk of female talent.

CS: We reclaim the text to focus on women. We wanted to take the text and give it back to the female actors and performers. It is heavily devised.

KG: Our actors are very talented. I love working with them.

CS: It’s the least sexy sex play you’ll ever see. They talk about sex but it’s not about commodifying sex. It’s about how women work together.

KG: It is primarily about homosocial relationships.

Do you think there isn’t enough female comedy in student theatre then?

KG: Yes! Our female presenting cast members are so funny!

CS: There is definitely so much more that women can do with comedy than just sexual politics. This is what we are trying to show.

How do you feel about telling a story that revolves around sex strikes given the current political climate and the Me Too movement?

CS: Well, it started with a tweet actually! Alyssa Milano tweeted about the heartbeat bill in Georgia and said that until women have bodily autonomy, women should refuse to have sex. There was something in there about highlighting the dangers of being swept up in decisions you have no role in, and the way that politics can affect women even when they don’t have a say. We felt this played into the plot of Lysistrata and worked for our adaptation to be set in the 20s.

KG: It couldn’t be a modern adaptation with this premise.

So why did you chose to set it in the 1920s?

CS: I love the 20s! The 20s was a turning point for redefining gender roles and stepping into male dominated fields. The prohibition led to a massive uptake in gang violence, and so women played a role they were never equipped for. The men never noticed the emotional labour or repercussions for the women.

KG: It’s a comedy, but about war.

CS: Yes. There is a lot of stuff about solidarity in female friendship, and women defending each other, which we think aligns with the Me Too movement.

So does your version critique the notion of a sex strike?

CS: Yes. It’s a farcical idea, but because of the war context, it is seen as a drastic action for a legitimate purpose.

KG: The women use the only things at their disposal. It is not only sex related.

CS: The women pool resources in a way they wouldn’t have before. They seize their own means of production.

KG: Therefore, Marx is the shadow who haunts this production!

As this play features predominantly a female presenting production team and two female presenting directors, do you feel it’s important to have theatre spaces that are creatively organised by women? 

CS: Yes! Our producer, stage manager, choreographer, light designer, assistant stage manager and many others are all female presenting creatives.

CS: We wanted to create a space where women can devise and create new things. There is a really creative atmosphere because we have made the women the engine of the play. We do gender split rehearsals, and the male presenting actors were pleasantly surprised by how creative the female run rehearsals are.

KG: Our cast is full of fiery women! They basically run us.

So what is your directing process?

KG: We have gone for a feminist rehearsal space. It is a collaborative process about delegating power and redefining the roles of director and cast.

CS: Basically, we wind up the toy, let it go and see where it runs.

KG: The script lends itself to devising and non traditional theatre making. We let them create and then step in and take all the credit, which is great!

And why should people should people come see the show?

KG: First of all, it’s fun.

CS: Yes. The plot is fun and entertaining, but hopefully you will be left with this lingering feeling of how it feels to be someone not in control of the choices made for them.

KG: Come for the fun, stay for the political commentary.

CS: This is more of an appropriation of the original. We problematised how the original text flattens out the female chorus. Hopefully in centuries time people will be reading our Lysistrata! This appropriation we hope will bring audiences in, to see how we have changed a well known text. Moreover, we took the bare bones of the text and took it past the farce and into a setting where the consequences of things going around the women is very real.

KG: Lysistrata is a very 2D character in the original.

CS: We wanted to take away this angry feminist man hater and make her the cleverest person in the room, who is never defined by the men around her. 

KG: Cara is amazing at that. Shoutout to her! (Lysistrata is played by fourth year student Cara Stewart)

CS: It is good for student theatre companies to take risks and introduce new adaptations such as this. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring directors or theatre creatives?

CS: At Glasgow University, STAG is great. We have NTN (New Talents Night) were new talents can get involved in acting and so forth. New Works, a festival taking place January/February, is a great opportunity to submit new writing and try your hand at directing. And also, get a fantastic producer!

KG: Get an Iona! Iona is the backbone of this production. (Iona Bremner, a third year Theatre student, is the producer for Lysistrata)

CS: I don’t breathe without Iona’s saying so, and that’s the way it should be.

Lastly, where and when can we see Lysistrata? 

KG: On the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of December! It is in the SYT (Scottish Youth Theatre) in Old Sheriffs Court. Doors open at 7.30pm, curtains at 8pm.

CS: Please come see! Tickets are £10. 

Trigger Warnings for Lysistrata: Swearing, sexual references, innuendo, alcohol and gun violence. 

To buy your tickets, follow this link: https://fixr.co/organiser/stag

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