8 March 2018
Posted by Kirsty Cotton
Tell us a little about the history of your company Scary Little Girls…
We are a radical feminist theatre company and production hub, working with around 100 artists a year through collaboration, partnerships, casting and mentoring. We aim to create high quality productions with progressive messages that leave audiences feeling positive, engaged, and like constructive change is both welcome and possible!
I founded Scary Little Girls after becoming very disillusioned with the opportunities offered to women by the mainstream performing arts industries. I felt like the limited roles actresses like myself were going up for - girlfriends, wives, mothers or prostitutes - were always satellites, orbiting the male ‘everyman’ characters, rarely leading as protagonists or driving stories together that didn’t involve men. The impact on this on my life and the lives of actor friends was obvious (frustrating, demeaning, boring) but I also felt society as a whole was being robbed of heroines, information, excitement and creativity.
Alongside telling richer, wilder stories, we also wanted to provide working environments that were supportive and nurturing, to look at less hierarchy and stronger structure so that everyone involved can give their best in a production. Since starting back in the day (2002, which I can’t believe and makes me feel very old!) we’ve turned our hand to lots of different styles from comedy to the gothic, site specific to mid-scale touring. What unifies the work is feminism and joie de vivre - in our revolution there will be dancing!
What are your aspirations for Scary Little Girls?
I most want to be able to keep taking the company to the next level so that we can make bigger shows, employ more people and reach wider audiences. Every year we get busier and have more and more wonderful opportunities, I think what’s key for us now is capacity so we can make the most of these relationships. As Artistic Director I’m the only full time member of staff and we are looking change this to allow the company to expand and keep up with demand, to meet our potential and exceed it if possible - oh and we want to end patriarchy, obviously!
What have been some of the key challenges of your career so far?
Running a company when I was pretty young meant I learnt some things the hard way, one of the reasons that I try and make myself available to mentor others is that learning to write funding applications or company structures on your own takes forever; if the right person shows you you can level up so quickly. I’ve been very fortunate by running into a variety of industry fairy godmothers who have changed things for us at key times, and I want to hand that good stuff on.
For my first years as a professional actor, the low grade industry sexism that applies to all women definitely curtailed casting opportunities for me - I wasn’t big enough to play the comedy friend but I wasn’t small enough to play the romantic lead, so I was constantly being advised to put on weight or take it off whilst playing literally every kind of prostitute - happy hooker, mistress, tart with a heart, courtesan, lusty barmaid…I really hoped that with Scary Little Girls we could present female characters and stories that were a bit more interesting and adventurous than those I was being offered!
For the first few years of the company being feminist was still very out of vogue, the perception in the arts that women weren’t on an uneven playing field any more despite all evidence to the contrary slowed our progress in the early years in terms of support from funders and establishment. Now it's on point to say you are a feminist, but to us that is always going to be more than just a slogan, more than a buzzword. Commitment to improving the quality of life for women and girls, and looking at the way class, physicality, race and sexuality intersect with sex based oppression, is always going to drive our work methods, production choices and partnerships. Whether that creates opportunities or challenges we’ll see, probably a bit of both, it makes life very interesting though!
Tell us about a project you have worked on in the past that was a key turning point in your career…
I, and therefore the company, keep coming back to Dracula… It was our first London production in 2002 and we rewrote and revived it in 2014 as our first mid-scale regional tour. It might seem an odd choice as it’s deeply homophobic and misogynistic, but it’s such a ripping yarn that I just love messing with it!
Our first production had a female Count, and then our second one was all female and proved a really fun way to look at how we adopt gender roles, even in same sex relationships, and what kinds or power or oppression those roles bring with them. I’d like to have another pop at the production, with a little look this time at themes of motherhood, procreation and contamination and take this abroad, I think it would be a great way for us to do our first international tour.
Tell us about a project you have in development that you are excited about…
I’m very excited about all of our projects, I’m a very excitable person! But at the moment I’m extra excited about three plays we have in the pipeline:
Firstly we are in talks with venues in the Ramps on the Moon Collective about a co-production for our all female Peter Pan that we toured in Cornwall with the help of Hall For Cornwall, the Minack and Arts Council South West. This will be our first full production with integrated sign and a fully diverse cast of disabled, non disabled, hearing and deaf actors and we’ve got the fantastic Meier Williams on design and the awesome Ellie Carter directing so I’m pretty giddy about this.
Secondly we have commissioned Amy Rosenthal to write us a play about the Mitford Girls, again with the support of Hall For Cornwall and the Arts Council, and talks are now underway with several leading regional venues about co-producing this and John Terry will be directing, so that’s all exciting!
Thirdly, the Minack are currently co-producing with us a show about the gardeners from Heligan who wrote their names on the sheds there before they went to WW1, most never to return. Called Before I Wake, the story centres around the friendship of a 17 year old gardener and his 12 year old neighbour who becomes the first girl to work in the gardens and it’s going to play at both the Minack and The Lost Gardens of Heligan this May. It’s fantastic working with the team at the Minack to make this production possible, it’s going to be our biggest show to date with a full adult cast, a cast of emerging talent and a full youth cast too. It’s an honour and a thrill to be creating a play about real Cornish communities, how they contended with the pressures of war and how they dealt with love and loss at that time, very exciting!
We are also working with The Heroine Collective on a heritage project about the Greenham Women, trying to capture and share their experiences and show how they radicalised a generation, and with Rebecca Hulbert and Sarah Rutherford on a verbatim play about Josephine Butler using accounts from the survivors movement to discuss prostitutes rights then and now which we have been developing through Hall For Cornwall's Creation Space programme.
What advice would you give your younger self regarding your career?
Stick to your guns, there are lots of others out there who feel like you do and you will find each other! Try to make kind, interesting work and give yourself permission for things to take a while - when I was young I was very angry with myself for not being able to action my plans at the speed I was coming up with them! Good ideas keep coming back and influencing the next project as people are fascinating, so you’ll never run out of ideas or energy but you can definitely run out of money, so always be careful with that!
You have worked with lots of brilliant women in the theatre industry, tell us about some of them that inspire you…
The women I’ve worked with through running Scary Little Girls have been the most amazing part of a really lovely life I’m very fortunate to be living and I honestly don’t know how to list them all, they just keep finding us, sharing their skills with us, teaching us and wowing us. I’m so grateful to every cast and crew member (including some scary little boys) we’ve worked with, everyone who has volunteered for us, to my stellar board of trustees, our super wicked patrons and to the mentors who advise us.
Shazz Andrew used to run the company with me and is now our lead Creative Consultant, her influence on the company and me personally cannot be underestimated, such a rare combination of wisdom and talent, she's remarkable. We’ve been blessed by writing from L.H Trevail, Christina Li, Anna Maria Murphy, Pauline Sheppard and Kate Kerrow, performances from Sally Mortemore (our first Count and much loved for her role in the Harry Potter films), Dr Naomi Paxton (a specialist on the Actresses Franchise League and awarding winning cabaret character Ada Campe), Kate Smurthwaite (feminist comedian and commentator for Question Time, The Big Questions and mucho other news and radio), the hilarious Caro Parker (soon to be seen in Ramps on the Moon's production of Our Country’s Good) and the mesmeric Kiruna Stamell (Life is Short, Moulin Rouge). Other Scaries who I love and who inspire me daily include Bobbie O’Callaghan, Sarah Annakin, Mary Woodvine, Amy Tweed, Joanna Murdock, Kate Rawson, Rosie Ede, Jenny Crowe, Tanya Myers, Alice Robertson, Bec Applebee, Kudzi Hudson, Illona Linthwaite…honestly the list goes on and on and keeps growing, thank goodness for all the Scary Little Girls out there!