Q&A with Jessica Cheetham of Spun Glass Theatre

Fellow Brighton based theatre maker Jessica Cheetham and I decided it’d be nice to interview each other about our respective Brighton Fringe productions. Jessica runs Spun Glass Theatre and is doing not one, but two (I know!) shows this May. Here’s what she had to say in answer to my questions.

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Image courtesy of Spun Glass Theatre

 

E: You’re doing two performances at Brighton Fringe this year, do the two have anything in common or are they wildly different?

J: Operation Love Story and Stamp are both storytelling shows but the way they tell stories is totally different. Operation Love Story uses humour and warmth to take the audience on an imaginative journey through one women’s tale of loneliness and match making – it’s an anti-rom-com. We use very little onstage to tell the story, it all comes to life through Marie Rabe’s gorgeous storytelling and Jennifer Williams’ inventive prose. Stamp takes it’s inspiration from the worlds of cabaret and television game shows so the audience are very important and they play with us to tell the story. So similar aims – to create an authentic relationship with the audience – but really different forms for each show which is very exciting and a good challenge for me as the director.

 E: Both performances are shows you’ve staged previously, very recently in the case of Stamp and a few years ago for Operation Love Story. How are you developing the shows for Brighton Fringe? 

J: Operation Love Story was originally staged by Jennifer herself and I helped her out with producing so this is the first time that Spun Glass Theatre as a company have staged the text. This means that we are able to bring our own artistic vision to the piece and develop it from Jenny’s fantastic performance a few years ago. Stamp has undergone a lot of changes since we performed at the Vault Festival in February – the set has been revamped, we have a new lighting design and we’re casting on Monday for two new performers to take the roles of Team Leaders. The audience will also have quite a different experience building on what we learnt up in Waterloo. 

 E: Stamp takes the form of a gameshow, and has been devised by the company. Can you tell me a bit about how you created the work, what your aims are with it, and what role the audience plays? 

J: Stamp has gone on a long journey of development since February 2015. We were originally broadly looking at gender and sexuality in performance and how those themes relate to individual performers. A Midsummer Night’s Dream provided some narrative inspiration and we became increasingly interested in popular culture and how gender stereotypes are disseminated through television and the media. The first showcase performance at The Marlborough Theatre comprised of snippets of material ideas. The snippet that stuck with me and blossomed into Stamp as we know it today was an extreme masculinity game show segment where performers had to compete – downing beer and eating chillies while putting together flat pack furniture. 

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Image courtesy of Lou Rogers.

 

Stamp is essentially an extension of that segment into a full show, asking what it means to be masculine or feminine today, telling stories in a competitive game show set up. Our host Helen White has a great sense of humour and command of the show, really guiding the audience’s experience. Our aims with the show are to attract a wide range of audience members, especially young people to see how they play the game and to entertain them. Audiences always leave commenting on how fun the experience of taking part is. 

 E: Operation Love Story is a piece of new writing, what originally drew you to the story and why did you want to direct it? 

J: I was originally drawn to Operation Love Story because of the warmth and deft storytelling structure of Jenny’s writing.  The character has many twists and turns of optimism and defeat and the text keeps you bobbing alongside her, desperate for everything to work out alright in the end. 

I wanted to direct the piece because I thought I could bring out the true depth of the character’s loneliness without making the piece too heavy and convoluted. I feel that Spun Glass Theatre’s performance style – understated, spontaneous and delicate – was exactly the match for this text. I also felt strongly that I could build up the imaginative world for the audience using minimal stage elements and some carefully chosen music tracks so that they fully step into Jennifer’s imagination for the hour.

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Operation Love Story image courtesy of Spun Glass Theatre

So there you have it. A little bit of inside info about Spun Glass Theatre’s process and their two Brighton Fringe shows. You can catch Stamp at The Warren: Studio 2 6-9 May, 21st May, 3rd & 5 June 8:45pm. Operation Love Story will be at The Warren: Studio 2, 6-8 May 4:45pm. You can get tickets for both at otherplacebrighton.co.uk.

 

 

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