VAULT FESTIVAL | 2020
"The idea of hiding was particularly important to us: the woman initially tries to hide what she’s doing from her husband, before giving in to her desires and essentially stuffing her face openly."
drop dead gorgeous
Same Same Collective
01 Feb, 15 Feb
Cavern | 15:20 | 45m
drop dead gorgeous is a darkly comic exploration of femininity and appetite. Drawing on their experiences as women from three different cultural backgrounds, Same Same delve into issues of respectability, containment and refinement. One thing is certain. They won’t be amenable for long.
Hi guys, thanks for talking to TNC, how are things going?
Things are good! We’re in production mode this week, working hard to get our set just right – it’s all feeling very real and exciting!
What does it mean to you to be bringing drop dead gorgeous to VAULT Festival 2020?
Having seen the amazing shows on offer at VAULT over the years, we are thrilled to be a part of the programme this year. We love the buzz and vibrancy of VAULT, and can’t wait to contribute to it! VAULT also feels like a really significant step on our journey with this show. We are slowly making our way towards touring, having performed the show in New Cross, in Peckham, and now it will be in Waterloo. Who knows, one day we may even get north of the river! We’re so excited by the opportunity to present our work at VAULT, and to see where it leads us next!
Are there be any nerves ahead of the festival fun?
Definitely! This is the most public showing of the piece that we’ve had, and we don’t know how audiences will react! We know the piece inside out and backwards now, but we know that the new environment and new audiences will give it a completely different feel, which is exciting but also nerve-wracking.
When did you first discover Mishima Yukio’s Han Teijo Daigaku?
During our devising process, we used to bring in different texts that centred around women’s experiences, particularly in relation to “beauty” and “ugliness”, and see what the others in the group made of them. We tended to bring things that were related to our backgrounds – Taiwanese folk tales, English and American literature, Jewish stories and texts. But Zin Tzu-Ying Yang is also very into Japanese art and culture, and one day, she brought in a translation of Han Teijo Daigaku, which translates loosely to “College of Unchasteness”. It’s a book that teaches women how to behave badly.
What was it about this short story that interested you as theatre makers?
The story we used is about a woman who eats rice crackers in bed because her mouth “feels lonely”, and she eventually chooses her habit over her husband. We fell in love with this story, and its ideas about appetite, etiquette and shame became central to the piece. The idea of hiding was particularly important to us: the woman initially tries to hide what she’s doing from her husband, before giving in to her desires and essentially stuffing her face openly. It’s that breaking point, where you can’t be restrained anymore and just have to follow your appetite, that we were most drawn to.
"Finding rehearsal space, finding funds, having good production values on a small budget – all new companies have these struggles."
Can you tell me a little bit about drop dead gorgeous, what can we expect?
drop dead gorgeous is a strange combination of theatre, dance, ritual, and performance art. We have created a superficial world where aesthetics are everything, where we play gracious, Stepford-wife hosts and dance a restrictive, feminine choreography, and definitely do not eat from the giant fruit display that forms the centre of our piece. Slowly our appetites get the better of us. We don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say, expect messy, juicy scenes.
In exploring the 'expectations of female bodies in public space' how reflective has the company been in creating this new piece of theatre?
As well as bringing in texts that resonated with us, we did a lot of trauma-sharing as part of our process, finding loads of common ground despite having grown up thousands of miles apart. The same things cropped up all the time – pressure from those around us to look and behave a certain way, and often feeling out of step with those expectations. Those thoughts of being too fat, too thin, too hairy, too scruffy, too tomboyish, too immodest, too modest, too greedy – we’ve all experienced variations of them. Of course, those coming from non-Western backgrounds had the added pressures of unmeetable Western beauty standards to contend with. Huang Yi-Ting talked about the trend for getting eyelid surgery to attain a coveted double lid. Karen D’Mello described her friend’s wish to have paler skin. Though we talked a lot about “beauty” and “ugliness”, eventually we shifted the focus to appetite because food seemed to encapsulate something incredibly basic about what we all need as humans, and creating a bizarre relationship with it symbolised everything we had talked about in terms of restriction, modifying our behaviour, and denying our humanity in order to achieve impossible ideals.
With devised theatre how much does a show change/develop once it begins its run?
The later parts of the show are fairly loose, as we break down the restrictions we’ve placed on ourselves. This gives us a lot of freedom to play, and see what resonates, and especially what makes people laugh. We do think afterwards about what worked and didn’t work with different audiences, and sometimes things that were improvised or spontaneous make their way into the “text”. We learned early on that we can’t control how audience members respond, and this is especially the case in terms of the darker undertone of the piece. We know from feedback that those who have had eating disorders find it quite hard to watch. This hasn’t changed our intentions, but we are now more sensitive to the fact that not everyone will find every second of the piece hilariously funny, and that informs our performances.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Having a passion for theatre is often a matter of exposure: the passion develops the more theatre you are able to see. Perhaps for this reason, Karen's first degree was in engineering. Ting is a fine artist and dancer before she is a theatre-maker. And while Emma and Zin have always been more straightforwardly thespy, they have only been trying to make a career out of theatre for a few years, with Zin being part of Taiwan’s first experimental theatre collective (now 35 years young!), and Emma making work with Hatch It Theatre. The more we see and the more we work together, the more we are driven to make theatre. It's now a question of how to make this passion future-proof!
How did Same Same Collective come about?
We met as part of the Goldsmiths MA course in Performance Making. While earlier in the year we had been match-made with other makers on various projects, for our final project we could choose, and we chose each other! In terms of the name, there were a lot of times in rehearsals when two members would be having a “heated discussion” about how we should proceed. A third party would then interrupt and say, “I think you’re saying the same thing.” This happened all the time – we’d say the same things with different words, without realising. Same Same.
As a theatre company what are some of the challenges you've faced creating your new shows?
Going back into the real world after a year in the university cocoon was tough. You forget how difficult the production side of things is. Finding rehearsal space, finding funds, having good production values on a small budget – all new companies have these struggles. For us, geography has added to that. We’re often not in the same country, or the same time zone. We’re thinking a lot about how to make work remotely, as well as what international residencies we can apply for to make work in the same place. But we know we’d like to make something that doesn’t exist in a physical space, to reflect the way in which we’re having to work.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
With all our different backgrounds, it would be impossible to have one quotation, or even one artist, that guides all of us. One expression we picked up last year though, from a wise woman by the name of Anna Furse, is, “That’s a bit ‘paper plate’.” It means something is a stand-in for what you really want. So now, when we’re being fussy, we’ll say, “Is that a bit ‘paper plate’?”
What has been the best advice you have been given?
When you’re just at the start of building something, one person should always leave the room, and see what happens. This is the most basic gist of the advice we were given by a wonderful tutor at Goldsmiths, Mischa Twitchin. He told us to always have someone who sets a task, and leaves the others to complete it. Usually the tasks would involve a text and an object – and you’d create a task that seemed to arise out of the text. The biblical story of Lot’s wife, and a mirror, for instance, led us to a short piece in which we were “terrified” of our own reflections. The two-step process, of one person offering a stimulus and the others letting their imaginations go to town with it, is now our most useful devising tool.
And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from drop dead gorgeous?
We hope they’ll find it funny and entertaining, while also appreciating the complexities within the darker aspects of it. They may view what they saw as degradation or liberation or something altogether more nuanced. We hope that if they do see it as a transformation from beauty into ugliness, then they also think about the ugliness involved in the restrictions surrounding idealised forms of beauty. Most of all, we hope they leave hungry.