Interview with Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth

Damsel Productions recently announced details of a new project, Damsel Outdoors, which embraces theatre and performance outside. I spoke with Damsel Productions’ Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth to find out more.

Can you tell me more about Damsel Productions?
We started Damsel as a theatre Company in 2015 to produce our inaugural production – Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land at Jermyn Street Theatre. We set up with the aim to develop scripts written by womxn and to produce them with womxn and non-binary creative and production teams, so as to, in our small way, address the lack of representation of womxn in theatre, on and offstage. We are intersectional in our outlook and our feminism, and strive to work with diverse teams of womxn, to put on stage diverse, lesser-told aspects of womxns’ experiences. We have produced six full-scale productions, sketch comedy, a new writing night and London’s first all-womxn Directing Festival, Damsel Develops.

What inspired the idea for Damsel Outdoors?
When lockdown hit, there was a good amount of time when we felt a little paralysed in terms of what to do and how to be useful to other artists. There was a fear of just ‘adding to the noise’, and we wanted to proceed carefully. When we began speaking to other creatives, we heard a few of them express missing ‘back to basics’ theatre and sharing our desire to experience work live with other audience members.

Reflecting on theatre’s history, the prevalence of promenade theatre and performance in amphitheatres, the idea of Damsel Outdoors was born. We knew we wanted to make work that would be enhanced by being outdoors and that would be possible to watch as a live audience, even if socially distanced. We also knew we wanted to include directors and designers, as well as actors, from the beginning stages of creating the pieces. We noticed a real dearth of opportunities particularly for designers, when making online work. Designers are experts on space and how to enhance an environment, and so they are an integral part of Damsel Outdoors and the project ideas.

What can audiences expect?
Audiences can expect anything from monologues and straight theatre scenes to music, poetry and beyond. The only requirement is that their pieces are enhanced, not hindered, by being outdoors. It is a chance for the artists to explore the creative potentials of the outside, with no limits on the subject matter.

The four creative teams consist of some of the most talented, established and emerging womxn and non-binary theatre-makers working today, most of whom Damsel is delighted to be working with for the first time. Damsel Pink is made up of writer Abi Zakarian (who Damsel worked with on Fabric at Soho Theatre then a community-centre London tour), director Lakesha Arie-Angelo (Soho Theatre’s Associate Director and director of The Hoes, Hampstead Theatre), and Sound Designer Nicola Chang (recently White Pearl, Royal Court). Damsel Blue is writer Timberlake Wertenbaker (writer of six-time Tony nominated Our Country’s Good), director Dr Sita Thomas (director of outdoor promenade piece The Rose and the Bulbul, Kadam), and Damsel’s associate designer, Anna Reid (recently The Sweet Science of Bruising, Wilton’s Music Hall). Damsel Yellow is made up of writer Benedict Lombe (rise from the wreckage and writer at Theatre503 and The Bush), director Beth Pitts (Spine, Soho Theatre and UK tour), and designer Khadija Raza (A History of Water in the Middle East, Royal Court). And, finally, our Damsel Green team is made up of writer Iman Qureshi (winner of the Papatango Prize for The Funeral Director and on commission with Damsel for Soho Six), director Abigail Graham (Carmen the Gypsy, Arcola theatre and tour), and sound designer and composer Anna Clock (I WANNA BE YOURS, The Albany, Bush Theatre and UK tour).

The pieces will be no longer than 25 minutes, and will take place multiple times throughout the day, in a different outdoor space across London, on four separate days in August. As it is free to watch (with a donate if you can option), we hope audiences will be a mixture of theatregoers, people from the local communities across London, and passers-by who bump into us! We can’t wait to see what our fantastic teams create.

How are you finding creating theatre for the outdoors, and what is the creative process like for a project like this?
The creative process is one of openness and flexibility. It is exciting to feel both prepared and a novice in a new project – theatre outdoors is uncharted territory for Damsel, and for many of our creatives too. We have encouraged our creatives to see this, not as a project to make the most polished piece of work, but as an exciting learning opportunity.

We have also given our creatives freedom in ideas: it needs to be best served by being outdoors so anything in terms of genre and style is possible, as long as it doesn’t require hefty production costs. They are explroing what is interesting to them: there is no thematic link or expectation to talk about lockdown or the pandemic. We have asked the writers, directors and designers to meet in their group a couple of times before settling on an idea. Once we have their idea, Damsel will help scout their finalised location.

What would you like Damsel Outdoors to achieve?
The primary thing we hope to achieve is providing live performance to audiences, before our beloved theatres and performance spaces reopen. We want to be able to give a group of people, large or small, that experience of being in an audience waiting for a performer to speak, sing, move, and create memories. We also hope Damsel Outdoors gives a group of talented womxn and non-binary artists an exciting opportunity to flex their creative muscles and leads to new relationships between our fantastic creatives.

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