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London Horror Festival 2021

Moi’s brother Jo is dead and it’s probably all Moi’s fault. In the aftermath, the dregs of their family drift into the uncanny; imagination overtaking reality. Ingrid spends all her time putting up posters of iconic rock stars; curating a teenage room that will never be. To be a bat is a new play that explores an un-reality of magical, corrosive grief, and a queer coming of age fractured by loss. 


Hi Ariella thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?


I've been doing well, thank you, amongst all the turmoil and sameness. I hope you've been doing well too, on average! It's definitely been an odd mix of many different experiences and adaptive, sticky change. 

Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities? 


This time has felt really important in clarifying what I want to do with my practice and why. The intent is so vital, not only in art but in life generally. I've had the opportunity to collaborate remotely with a number of different creatives around the world through online mediums and that's been very fulfilling. Being able to work across different forms has given me a deeper understanding of what is possible and the differing impact of how we tell stories. 

What does it mean to you to be bringing your new show To Be a Bat to the London Horror Festival 2021, are there be any nerves ahead of your run?


A lot of nerves! I'm a nerve-full sort of person in general though. This piece is very honest and raw and human and sometimes brutal and sometimes magical. It means so much to have found a home for it at the London Horror Festival, and at The Space in particular. This play straddles genre boundaries as it reaches towards an understanding of what can't be understood, and taking part in a festival that relishes the strange and in between is a wonderful place to share this story. 

Can you tell me a little bit about To Be a Bat, what was the inspiration behind your new show?


I wrote To be a bat in response to my own experiences of complicated grief and how that impacted my sense of self and identity as a young queer person. Grief disrupts the unified logic of the world, it creates space for possibility even as the worst has happened. People process grief in very different ways which often rub against each other. This becomes particularly stark when caregivers or parents are experiencing traumatic loss as well. I wanted to write something that held all these different experiences at once. Horror is woven into the characters’ everyday existence. They sit in it, they live with it, they find joy amongst the unrelenting brutality. 


Moi begins to fall in love for the first time while still processing the guilt and shame of feeling like they are responsible for their brother’s death and parents’ unhappiness. Moi’s identity has already been fractured by the cataclysmic loss of their best friend, but they’re also trying to figure out who and what they are, challenging at the best of times! 

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What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing To Be a Bat to the stage and what has the process been like working with your director Susie MacDonald?


Susie MacDonald is incredibly good at bringing magic to the stage. I've worked with Susie on a number of projects and I feel such incredible trust in her as well as a profound respect for her as a practitioner. I think a lot of people do. She's collaborative, incisive, visual and creates distinctly human theatre. This play would not be any of what it was without Susie and I count myself vitally lucky to be working with her. 


In terms of challenges, there is a moment in the play that two of the characters - Moi and Luna - take 2C-B and undergo a metamorphosis, becoming wolves. I suspected this was going to be harder to stage but actually between Susie, James our wonderful Assistant Director, Zyggy our soul-searing composer, and our brilliant actors Ella and Lisa, that moment was found quite readily, and feels strangely, viscerally true. Queer wolves!

Have you always had a passion for theatre?


Yes, I have! I've always loved the feeling of sharing a space with performers and audience, of everyone's attention and focus and understanding being pointed in the same direction. Though I'd say that passion extends to all empathetic acts of storytelling, in whatever forms that might be, I particularly love the collaborative, imaginative potential of theatre. 

What is it about the horror that interests and inspires you so much as a creator?


I've always loved fantasy and horror and sci-fi. I have an escapist bend and so since I was very young have learnt to understand the world through the prism of genre metaphors. Horror can be a safe (relatively), affecting, waking place to explore true, difficult experiences of the world. It acknowledges what we don't always have the words or the willingness to talk about in the day today. 

How much has your approach to your work changed since you started out?


Infinitely. I think growing as a writer has not only been a matter of practice and learning about my craft, but recognising what assumptions and hidden beliefs I'm carrying around inside myself. It's a necessary process of awareness, as you grow up, to know both yourself and others better so you can offer something honest and resonant in your art. I have such a firm belief in change now that I don't think I had when I was first starting out. I trust myself more even as I know there's so much I don't know. The possibility for change is reflected in the worlds of my work, but also in my process around writing; in allowing myself to evolve, question, and so not stall in the given. I have a much clearer sense of the types of stories I'd like to share now. 


Also, I'm much better at the structure. Still not great. It's all a journey! And not always a hero's journey! Maybe it's a completely different shape, made from interconnected mushrooms! (structure jokes...hehe)

"I think a lot of very good ideas get lost because they didn't land on the right set of ears the first time around."

What's the best piece of advice you would offer fellow theatre-makers?


This question feels out of my reach in some way. I'd prefer to hear other people's advice. I know I love seeing work that is unapologetically and wholly someone's voice. And theatre that is wildly imaginative. I'd say I know my writing is where I want it to be when it feels like a risk, even as I'm suspect of the word risk and all it connotes. 


Find some friends who believe in you. I think a lot of very good ideas get lost because they didn't land on the right set of ears the first time around. It can feel like a miracle when someone understands what you are trying to do and say. Cultivate that. 

You are not your circumstances. 

And, finally, what do you hope your audiences will take away from To Be a Bat?


I hope they feel a greater sense of peace in uncertainty. And maybe even some wonder at this varied life. 

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