Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG Thursday 4th – Sunday 28th August 2016 (not 16th), 18:00
She just needs to understand that it's not her fault, that she's not to blame, that she's not a slut.
BLUSH, written by Charlotte Josephine and presented by Snuff Box Theatre, the team behind the sell-out, multi-award winning Bitch Boxer, tells five candid stories about revenge porn and all its many victims. BLUSH is a slap in the face and a call to arms.
This angry, honest and heartfelt piece seeks to encourage and broaden examination of how the scarcity culture in modern society is fuelling our shame, encouraging the destructive belief systems that we are not enough.
BLUSH is a fast-paced two-hander that explores where our desire to shame others comes from, the unwritten laws of gender-related responsibility and how the shame we feel at not measuring up spills out sideways into acts of violence.
What was the inspiration for this performance?I started writing it from a place of anger. More than anger, a place of rage, proper belly-deep-rage. Rage at the men who commit revenge porn. Rage at the term ‘revenge porn’ which in itself is hugely problematic, suggesting the victims have done something that deserves revenge. Rage at a legal system that is murderously slow at changing laws that might protect women. Rage at our pathetic excuse for sex education in school whilst ‘rape-porn’ becomes mainstream on our children’s phones. Rage at the embarrassment I feel at being ‘an angry woman’.
Rage is really useful when it’s focused right and I’ve learnt a lot of things. I’ve learnt that shame grows in secrecy and in silence, and the best antidote for shame is with empathy. I’ve learnt that anger is an emotional response to a perceived threat. I’ve learnt that most monsters are in fact victims. I’ve learnt to look deeper, I’ve not always liked what I’ve seen, but time and time again I’ve been astonished by our capacity for empathy, for forgiveness, for love.
I think gender imbalance is made far more complicated than it needs to be, I don’t know how to solve it, but I do know we have to do it together. So BLUSH is my attempt to begin that conversation, a call to arms to share the things we’re ashamed of, in the hope that by doing so we’ll re-learn we are enough.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I am one third of Snuff Box Theatre, Bryony Shanahan and Daniel Foxsmith are my favourite people to work with, so I had no doubt this needed to be a Snuff Box show. I wanted to be on stage with Dan, he really excites me as both a writer and performer.
Dan’s latest play WEALD treads similar ground to BLUSH, they feel like they’re in the same battlefield, questioning gender roles. Bryony is too busy being brilliant to direct this, she’s on tour with Headlong and then directing a Debbie Tucker Green play at the Young Vic. So we’re working with a new to us director Ed Stamboullian, who I met through Clive Judd. I was convinced I wanted to work with a female director, but I was proved wrong by meeting Ed, who’s masculine yet feminist energy works perfectly on bringing BLUSH alive.
Jake Orr has been working with us as producer this year, Chloe Nelkin as PR, and we’ve had creative support from Camden People’s Theatre and Sphinx Theatre. Sarah Dickenson, who helped me write Bitch Boxer, is back as dramaturg. It’s a fantastic creative team, I’m very lucky.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve always been in love with theatre. I’ve wanted to be an actress forever I think, but I play saxophone and I thought I wanted to be a jazz musician too at one point. I’ve always written, without really knowing it was writing. So yeah, jack of all trades, master of none.
The Contemporary Theatre course at East 15 Acting School taught me I can use all of those skills to make my own work. I write from a place of necessity, I’m either trying to understand something about life or I’m trying to write myself a good part to play. Or both. I have to make work in order to get work. I’d go mad sitting by the phone waiting.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I’m still learning what my process is. This is only the third play I’ve ever written, so I’ve got a lot to learn. I always rush in, maybe because I’m dyslexic or maybe because I’m inexperienced or maybe I’m just excited, but I always rush straight into writing. I don’t do the clever things that are suggested, like planning and researching before I start. I just sort of vomit up the words on a napkin or on my phone, on the bus or wherever. And then I can’t sleep thinking about it, and I see stuff that reminds me of it everywhere. Then I have to go back and research and plan, and try to work out what the play is about. Like putting jigsaw puzzle pieces together.
BLUSH was written like that, messy, so yeah I suppose that’s typical of me. But this year I asked for help sooner. Brene Brown says this wonderful thing about her ideas needing a mid-wife. There’s a temptation to hide away and only show your work when you’re bullet proof and perfect. But actually creativity is hugely vulnerable, and messy, and flawed. I don’t think we were supposed to make stuff alone. So Snuff Box did an R&D week at Camden People’s Theatre, where Bryony and Dan lovingly pulled apart the script, questioning the whys and teasing out the possible hows.
I got some funding from Peggy Ramsay, which meant I could quit my coffee shop job and write. We did another R&D, this time with Ed, experimenting with form and style. I stopped writing it recently, so I can focus on being an actor again. The script will change in the room, because Ed and Dan are brilliant. I trust the team I’m working with and I’m excited to make the show now.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I love theatre when it feels really live, happening right here in this room right now. I love theatre that acknowledges it is theatre, doesn’t hide anything, and in that openness somehow makes you feel something more honestly. So I hope the audience will experience that.
I want them to feel like they’re involved in the conversation. I don’t want them to feel preached at. I don’t have the answers. I hope they’ll walk out with that buzzy feeling you have when you’ve just been to a gig. I hope it sparks some new thoughts, some new conversations.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I try to write as honestly as I can. Sarah Dickenson tells me to “work very hard at telling the truth, to write from the belly”. And so I try my best to do that. Ed has some excellent questions and suggestions about how to give the audience the experience we’re hoping for, and I can’t wait to try those out in rehearsals. I think our golden rule might be that we can’t lie with this one. We can’t talk about shame without things getting ugly. And showing your ugly bits is scary but it’s the only way to grow.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I don’t know if I understand this question. It’s theatre. It’s live performance. It’s new writing. It’s all of that. BLUSH is a difficult show to pin down. There’s a lot I don’t know about it yet. It feels angry and sweet, it’s painfully honest and it’s lying through its teeth. It’s a whole load of contradictions, asking a whole load of difficult questions that no one seems to know the answers for, particularly me. This show is about misogyny, and shame, and violence. It’s also about empathy, and forgiveness, and kindness. It’s about humans. I hope it feels really human.
The catalyst for the piece was legislation passed in April 2015 to make revenge pornography a criminal act. The law now makes it illegal to disclose a ‘private sexual photograph or film’ without the consent of the person depicted. Many people consent to the creation of an image but having it made public is a very different matter.
While revenge pornography may have been the catalyst of Blush, the true focus of the work is shame. Just as politics needs fear to prosper, consumerism needs shame in order to successfully thrive. BLUSH explores why society has a desire to shame, what it’s the result of and how we allow this to happen. BLUSH shines a light on the secrets we attempt to keep in the dark, our fears of disconnection and our attempts to be part of the tribe.