Whoop ‘n’ Wail founders Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman talk to The Public Reviews about new writing, curating their first showcase, and the Bechdel Test.
What is it that draws Whoop ‘n’ Wail to producing new writing?
D: Good question!
A: We often ask ourselves that very thing.
D: No, we absolutely love new writing – creating it, watching it. There’s something about seeing an idea progress from first thought to being staged that is really exciting
And why did you decide on a showcase?
A: It’s an idea we’ve had for a while. We’ve been collaborating with our good friend Sam Hall at 17percent for a few years now, and she had really inspired us.
D: Our first production, eXclusion, was a full length play and Ali and I committed a lot of time to writing it and getting it to the stage. Once the tour finished we started writing short plays for competitions, and we found it so much fun that we kept going.
A: We also met so many great writers at the events we were taking part in, and we wanted to create a platform for them in a Central London location.
Have the pieces in this showcase been selected by submission then, or did you invite writers you already like?
A: For The Launch we decided to invite writers and directors who we have a connection with and whose work we admire, but all our future nights are going to be open submissions.
The showcase is going to be at Waterloo East on two consecutive Mondays – was there a reason you scheduled it that way?
A: We were very sure that we wanted to have more than one performance. Everyone puts in a lot of work to get a showcase together – writers, directors, actors, technician. It seemed fair to give them more than one night in return.
D: We toyed with consecutive nights, but we all felt having the shows a week apart was the right choice for this showcase.
You say Represents… is a showcase with a difference?
D: Yes, because we are curating a night that promotes gender equality in the theatre, but without excluding anyone. It is very important to us that this is not a “girls club”. Male writers and directors have just as much of a part to play in improving the number of significant rôles for women on stage – it is imperative they are part of the conversation.
And you are using the Bechdel Test to do it?
A: Debs and I were introduced to the Bechdel Test by a friend back in 2012, and we were so struck by it we immediately wrote a play in response to it: My Bloody Laundrette. We’ve chosen to include the play in The Launch because of that connection
D: The Bechdel Test is the lowest bar for female representation – the piece must include two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. It sounds simple, but so few works pass it. Anita Sarkeesian’s blog, Feminist Frequency, has a fantastic film that illustrates it.
A: Once we knew about the test we just couldn’t stop seeing it everywhere, how often female characters are purely there as an extension of the central male rôle. Dave’s wife, John’s mum… Alison Bechdel was making an observation about that in the 80s – it’s troubling that it is still entirely relevant today.
It does seem to be very current – was that one of the reasons for launching now?
D: As Ali mentioned this has been in the pipeline for a while, but it doesn’t hurt at all that gender equality in the arts is getting some focus at the moment.
A: We certainly connected with Emma Watson’s speech at the UN and the “He for She” campaign’s ethos, and Represents… is something we feel can make a positive impact at grassroots level.
D: We both have so many men in our personal and professional lives who want to see more meaningful rôles for women on the UK stage, so it just felt right to include them and produce a night that gives that intention creative space.
So what will the audience get from a Represents… night?
A: First and foremost, an enjoyable night at the theatre! The pieces are very different, but all are entertaining, and most have a strong sense of humour.
D: A big group of talented, dedicated people sharing one stage to bring six new pieces to life. What could be more exciting than that?
Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…plays the Waterloo East Theatre on 17th &24th November.