Interview with Tanya Bridgeman

Part of Iris Theatre’s Summer Festival, Shoes to Fill is a new one-woman play about the coming together of new cultures. I caught up with writer Tanya Bridgeman to find out more.

Can you tell me about Shoes to Fill?
Shoes to Fill follows the character Granddaughter who loses her grounding and must go on a journey to find it again. Through stories told to her by her grandmothers, she regains a sense of self whilst also finding a closer connection to her heritage and the lives that both women lived. This story celebrates stories from an older generation intertwined into a story of today – because without them there would be no us. It celebrates Bajan and Irish culture and takes the audience on an uplifting and thoughtful journey.

What was the inspiration behind the play? 
Shoes to Fill was inspired by my two Grandmothers. I grew up spending two days a week with my Granny and she would always tell me stories about when she immigrated to London from Ireland. She moved over with her two sisters, and they created some amazing memories during their twenties, and I was just in awe of how much fun they had.

I was also lucky enough to have spent time with my Grangran in Barbados who I found had an equally amazing and interesting life. Unfortunately, Grangran passed away in 2020 and I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. Through talking to family, I was able to find out answers to my questions and even found out that she wanted to write a memoir about her life. This inspired me to create the piece about them. There is so much of both my grandmothers in me, and I think their stories don’t just speak to the Irish and Bajan communities but there is something everyone can connect to.

What can audiences expect? 
Audience can expect spoken word, a fast pace and relatable story, happiness, laughter, growth, trainer (shoe) references, music and festival vibes.

How does it feel to be one of Iris Theatre’s 2021 Seed Commissions winners?
It is completely humbling to have been awarded one of Iris Theatre’s 2021 Seed Commissions. I started my writing journey in the first lockdown and it’s just such an amazing feeling to know that people believe in you and the stories you are writing about. I am also amazingly proud of Alex Miller and myself for setting up our theatre company Fair Play and just running with it and trusting in one another.

How important is it to champion new writing, particularly as we emerge from lockdown?
So important. So many people have amazing stories to tell, and yet big theatres continue to programme the same stories over and over again and wonder why theatre isn’t ‘diverse’ enough. Most new writing isn’t going to be amazing, but I’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and if new writers are not getting the chance to practice and gain feedback how are we ever going to create new repertoire?

Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
From my family, my upbringing, from not seeing a version of myself portrayed on stage or screen. From knowing that my life is individual and unique from every other person in the world and from that I know there is inspirational stories from every single person I meet or even walk past.

What would you like Shoes to Fill to achieve?
After a long year I just want the audience to feel connected. I want them to connect to the piece and to each other for an hour and to walk out smiling. Maybe even call up their grandmother and ask her about her life. I want us all to get talking again.

Of course, if I am dreaming big, I would love Shoe’s to Fill to go on a lil tour. Like I mentioned before there is something about these stories that everyone can connect to, and I would love to share that even further than London.

Shoes to Fill is playing at the Actors Church, Covent Garden until 10 July.

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