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  • Writer's pictureCultural Dose

GRILLS Q&A

The Camden Roar is a festival of new theatre by emerging artists by and for the people of Camden, from June 4th – June 22nd. GRILLS is a new play which will be headlining the festival, exploring the history of the now-closed Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group, which existed in Camden throughout the 1980s. The play follows four friends as they discover the archives and unpack the history of the centre, its political and social legacy, and the relevance of the loss of queer spaces in 2024. We chatted to Chloe Christian and Olivia Dowd, the co-creators of the play, about their experience making the show. 


GRILLS Q&A

This is an incredibly exciting time, with the return of GRILLS to the CPT. How does it feel to be bringing it back to Camden, and is there anything different this time around?

Yes! We’re very lucky to be working with the writer afshan d’souza lodhi who has given the show more structure and flavour. We’ve also updated the contemporary world more, as a lot has changed in a year!


Can you give us a breakdown of your process for this show? What was the moment that formulated the messaging, and how did that evolve into the finished piece?

We came across a video that GalDem did with Levi’s and Joy Yamusangie back in 2019 about the Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group. Growing up in Camden and living there in our adulthood as queers we were amazed we’d never heard of it so inevitably wanted to know more. The fact the archive was in Glasgow, 400 miles away, riled us. It made us question what happens when we don’t have access to our history and the queer elder mentors we crave. It made us ask, whose histories are preserved and shared? 


So we went to the Glasgow Women’s Library and delved into the archive, what was saved. When we were there we tried to capture as much as possible. We then brought it all to an R&D and asked the cast to explore it themselves and choose the things that interested them. Once we had these areas of interest (events, characters, context) we started to improv around them, imagining the things that we didn’t know as well as what we did and then eventually started joining the dots and weaving a narrative. Of course we couldn’t help but draw parallels to the current moment, so we started to thread in a contemporary narrative too which includes these archivists commenting on what they’re finding just as we were. 


In the archive we found a whole host of flyers, posters, references to protests opposing clause 28 as well as how it was affecting everyone in the minutiae of the meeting minutes and call logs. We struggled to build a concrete idea of the interactions between the members during the moments of tension we found in the archive so the inter-personal relationships and drama are imagined.  Although we initially spoke to a few of the original members, we were asking them to remember details from 30 years ago which is, understably, a challenge. 


We only had 4 days of R&D so it was probably on the 5th day after we’d thrown a bunch of things at the wall and realised we had to put it together into a script did that messaging fall into place. We thought, well the truth is we don’t have a clear picture because there is so much missing - both oral and material - so let’s lean into that! What does that say? 


Your work tends to cover quite poignant topics. What is it about these subject areas that compels you to place them front and centre in your art?

I think we’re exhausted by modern politics and 14 years of a Tory government. We want marginalised voices and those who have suffered most to feel seen and heard, whether that’s through the creative process itself or watching the final product of the show. The theatre landscape itself is quite grim, funding is scarce and places are really struggling to keep the lights on - there’s a meta narrative there within GRILLS for sure - but it also means that the opportunities we do have to grab an audience, in a dark room, all paying attention, feels so precious, so we might as well try and use it to talk about the things we need to be talking about. Our hope is that our shows can be a jumping off point for people to go home, into their work life, their friendships, relationships and feel empowered to discuss and confront some of the topics we raise. 


GRILLS Q&A

What do you look for in a performance, as an audience member? And does that inspire your own work?

I think we look for a lot of heart and soul but also a lot of detail. It’s cliche but there can definitely be universality in the specific. And I think generally theatremakers that aren’t afraid to stick their neck on the line, politically or theatrically. I don’t mean we’re looking for ‘issue’ plays all the time, but something different, daring, risk-taking, which can sometimes mean a really still, considered performance or something totally embodied and abstract. 


How do you challenge yourself as an artist?

Well GRILLS has been a challenge for sure and we’ve stepped into roles beyond our usual comfort zones of director and actor - we’ve had to produce, write, research, for example. So I think CPT has challenged us there and we’re very grateful for being given that opportunity to expand, learn, fail, learn again!


How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

We both try and see as much theatre as our bank balances can afford. Chloe, probably more so as a Director. They’re also obsessed with the news and so are constantly on the look-out for next stories to tell. Liv, as an actor tries to keep training - movement in particular - to stay connected to the craft and learning from peers. I think the latter we both try and do actively. We support friends’ work and take time to talk to them about their processes and learnings, there’s a lot of informal networks we’re incredibly grateful for. 


What tips do you have for young people just starting out in their careers in the field?

Stay curious. Stay connected to what piques your interest and what keeps you feeling light and bubbly or fired up or confused. Don’t let low confidence stop you from making, if you don’t feel good enough find some collaborators who can encourage you and keep you going. There is strength in numbers and that way you can learn from each other and support each other too! 


GRILLS will be performed at the Camden People's Theatre from 4th June to 22nd  June 2024. Tickets and more information can be found at https://cptheatre.co.uk/whatson/grills. GRILLS is part of the Camden Roar, a theatre and performance festival celebrating 30 years of the Camden People’s Theatre – full programme and tickets at https://cptheatre.co.uk/festivals/camden-roar.


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