Edinburgh Fringe 2022 
Interview

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Laurence
Owen
Some Other Mirror

A solo show about a gender identity crisis, in the high-pressure isolation of lockdown. The performer fights to come to terms with being a trans man, and on his journey, is visited by alternative versions of himself who offer various kinds of advice. The show explores a transmasculine experience of feminism, internalised transphobia, self-love, self-hatred and self-actualisation, with audiences calling it 'a captivating look at a trans experience' and 'a beautiful, thought-provoking tour de force'. This autobiographical performance is written and performed by Laurence Owen and produced by award-winning theatre company, Chronic Insanity.

 

Hi Laurie thank you for talking to The New Current, how does it feel to heading to Edinburgh Fringe after everything that has happened?

 

Thanks! My pronouns are he/him. COVID has always been a part of the show. This show started life as a university project, which I staged on Zoom last year. I was in the final part of my Theatre degree at The University of Leeds, COVID spiked after Christmas, and I couldn’t get back to Leeds. My tutors were amazing at allowing us to submit unconventional formats for performances during that period of time. After I finished uni, a friend introduced me to my director and producer Joe Strickland (they/them), who suggested that I adapt it for stage. It seemed like a fun challenge, but totally impossible, but actually, the process has been completely natural from day one. Lockdown is an important part of the play’s production and story, although it’s only explicitly mentioned twice.

 

Will there be any nerves ahead of your run at the Pianodrome Amphitheatre?

 

Absolutely. I last came to the festival as a volunteer with Greenside in 2018, mainly helping people out and seeing my friends’ shows, and pretending to be a woman, so, it’s surreal and exciting to come as an actual performer this year.

 

What does it mean to you to be able to bringing Some Other Mirror to the Fringe?

 

Trans rights are under attack in the UK right now. If you’re cis, it can be hard to see why everyone is panicking about names and pronouns, but the reality is that fascism is alive in the UK and trans people are among the first targets, and they were in the days of Nazi Germany too. Trans people represent the possibility of living happily in your own disruptive, weird way, simply because you want to, and when everyone, trans and cis, takes that mentality about living, it makes people harder to control. Trans stories must be told, and must be listened to, and must be understood for there to be any hope of preserving bodily autonomy in the UK. I’m just telling one story, of one white middle class trans man, but I don’t even see that story represented anywhere in the media at the moment, so we’ve got to start somewhere.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about how Some Other Mirror, what made you want to use documentary theatre to tell/share your story?

 

Trans people are just like everyone else, although right-wing reactionaries try as hard as possible to make us look like evil scheming manipulative super-geniuses, who are somehow also mentally incapacitated wild animals, only good for being put down. I’ve found that when I sit with people who are on the fence about trans issues, it only takes a few minutes of them listening to an actual trans person talk, to bust open all the ridiculous scaremongering that the right-wing media pumps out. I didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly throw all my dresses away, and testosterone doesn’t turn you into a quivering junkie. I’ve had to go to a private doctor, because while Nottingham has the shortest wait for gender affirming care, it’s three years for an initial appointment, (it’s nearly ten years in other parts of the country). And then after your ten-year wait, the doctors might come up with some bullshit reason to turn you away, because the NHS is so overwhelmed. When people hear that this is the reality, it blows their fucking noodle, and understandably so.

 

If five minutes of dialogue helps to change people’s perceptions, hopefully, 45 minutes does a bit more. And, the show is a dialogue. I feel so happy that I get to do it in Pianodrome’s space which is small, intimate, and I can really connect with audience members without having to constantly project/wave my hands about/ stand at a funny angle.

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How important was it for you to incorporate the use of genuine transgender voice training techniques in this show?

 

Super important! When I first created the show, I hadn’t started testosterone, so I to use voice masculinization training to create the voice of one of the characters who represents Laurie, a while into his transition. As I’ve now been on testosterone for over a year, my voice is now like that normally, and I’ve had to teach myself voice feminization techniques to get my voice back to how it sounded before I started testosterone, in order to play one of the other characters: Laurie, before he decides to start testosterone. So, I’m actually using techniques that some transfeminine people use to train their voices to pass as female, in a particular way.

 

Transfeminine people have a hugely extensive body of practice on this which is absolutely fascinating. A technique I have picked up from that community is using a spectrum analyzer to study the formant of my voice, in order to more easily change the fundamental frequency, which has a big impact on how the voice’s gender is perceived. I’ve observed my trans femme friends using training like this before, and it is a privilege to have an excuse to practice it myself. Cis people have literally no comprehension of the years of training, and mountains of effort and patience some transfeminine people put in to achieve a voice that truly expresses who they are (although obviously, for some, this is also a necessary strategy for survival in a world that doesn’t take kindly for people who don’t fit in boxes).

 

As writer and performer did you have any apprehensions about sharing such a personal journey with your fringe audiences?

 

No. The political necessity is too great for me to be precious about it, and I am in a position of privilege where I can afford to be this personal without much repercussion to my ability to get work and housing.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Some Other Mirror to life?

 

Arts Council England rejected this project twice (for regional touring), and it’s still unclear why, to both me and Joe, who has a massive amount of experience submitting successful funding applications. This means I have had to put a significant amount of my own money into making it a reality, which, especially during the cost of living crisis, the collective exhaustion of the theatre industry, the cost of putting a show on at The Fringe, and COVID, it’s no joke, even for someone with my privilege.

 

Do you think it is important for theatre makers to continue to push the boundaries of the theatre and stories they want to tell?

 

I’m really inspired by the work of Sarah Kane. She wrote 4:48 Psychosis in the worst period of her whole life, and so even when things are really bad, I try and still create stuff, even if it’s really small, because someone else who’s feeling just as bad needs to know they aren’t on their own. And creating comedy in those times is important for the same reasons.

 

How much has your background as a Remote Creative Coach helped you in the writing and performing of Some Other Mirror?

 

I actually don’t practice so much in that anymore, but it was essential to the first version of the show. During lockdown, I started doing improv online, and from that, started making money on the side being a Zoom technician, so running tech for Zoom improv workshops and later, conferences. As part of that work, I did a lot of corporate workshops run by improv comedians, and we were always trying to make Zoom a bit more fun, and indicate to people that they weren’t supposed to behave with us in Zoom in the same way that they would on a meeting.

 

It was all about setting the atmosphere and giving people permission to play. We usually did this with music, virtual backgrounds, and virtual cameras, to put up images and interactive animations while we played games with the attendees. All of those techniques later got used to stage the Zoom version of Some Other Mirror, but in a totally different context, to create a totally different tone.

 

What have been some of the most important things you have discovered about yourself as a trans man throughout this creative experience?

 

I wanted the play to be affirming, uplifting, positive, but real. It’s been very therapeutic to take my own experiences, and go over and over them, ultimately affirming to myself that I’ve said and done unhealthy things, but my overall trajectory has always been ‘forward’, even when I’ve felt totally stagnant. Then, to have other people tell me that they relate to the experience I’ve shared, or it’s helped them to better understand a friend or relative, that’s so, so important to my identity as a trans person.

"Join a Facebook group, a local group, ideally, and start talking. Nobody will do this for you, you have to do it yourself, Im afraid. The first step is connecting with people and talking about it, and making it real."

Where did your passion for theatre come from?

 

My aunt Hazel, who has taken me to see dozens of shows, gave me my first acting lessons, critiqued my dramaturgical work, enthusiastically shared Some Other Mirror with a big class, mainly of retired people, who really loved it, and has always fed my interest and pushed me to look critically at theatre, even from a very young age. Lately, my passion is fed by the emerging grassroots theatre scene in Nottingham, and the beautiful improv community there too.

 

When working with an award-winning theatre company like Chronic Insanity who important and vital is the creative collaboration between you and your producers?

 

Joe Strickland really gets me. Joe has no formal theatre training, and is therefore one of the greatest things to happen to the Nottingham theatre industry. They put the wellbeing of the actors before the art, which is what enables Chronic Insanity to put out so much brilliant stuff. Every time I’ve been stressed about the show, Joe just says some stuff and suddenly I’m not stressed any more. In my creative process I have a lot of gut feelings about how things should be done, which are almost always correct, but I sometimes can’t explain why for a few days/months. Joe just lets me get on with it, unless my idea is clearly the result of pure paranoia, and then we don’t do it. It’s brilliant.

 

What has been the most important lesson you have taken away from writing Some Other Mirror?

 

A piece of work can be adapted to suit any space, as long as you respect what gifts that space is giving you, and the effect that you need the audience to leave with.

 

What has been the best piece of advice you have been given?

 

Take mixed signals as a ‘no’.

 

And for anyone out there who is facing their own gender identity crisis do you have any advice you would offer them?

 

Even if you’re super early on your journey, for Christs’ sake, join a group of other trans/nonbinary people. I literally don’t care if you think people will try and kick you out. Unless you go out of your way to try and piss people off, a trans group won’t kick you out for existing, because everyone in there is fucked up in some way, and yet is keeping going and finding joy. Join a Facebook group, a local group, ideally, and start talking. Nobody will do this for you, you have to do it yourself, I’m afraid. The first step is connecting with people and talking about it, and making it real. Please, please do this, even if it’s a tiny uncertainty at the back of your mind. You may not actually be trans, but, please don’t die wondering.

 

And finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from Some Other Mirror?

 

Being trans is messy and delightful, and all of that needs to be celebrated, and all of that can be relatable to everyone, trans or cis.