Friday, 26 May 2017

Quarterife Dramaturgy: Yolanda Mercy @ Edfringe 2017

THEATRE (New Writing and Spoken Word) 
Yolanda Mercy, Gemma Lloyd and Jade Lewis in association with Underbelly Untapped presents: 
Quarter Life Crisis 


Tackling heritage, expectations, generational guilt and wanting to keep a 16-25 railcard, Yolanda Mercy asks what does it mean to be a grown up?

Written and Performed by Yolanda Mercy

Original Music composed and played live by Luay Eljamal

Underbelly, Delhi Belly, 3 – 27 Aug 2017 (not 14), 14.40 (15.40)

Part of the Underbelly Untapped season, Yolanda Mercy looks at her own life and the lives of the generations before her in a semi-autobiographical, painfully honest piece about being in your mid-twenties all depicted through the relatable character Alicia. 

She wrestles with responsibilities and expectations, tries to justify herself against generations who had a plan by the time they were 20, attempts to balance her London upbringing with her Nigerian heritage, and trying to figure out where the fun in all that is...

Alicia is a hot mess. She doesn't know what she's doing with her life. Swiping left, swiping right to find the perfect match. 

Even though she's a Londoner, born
and bred, the scent of Lagos peppers her existence in the ends. Everyone around her seems to know where they're going in life, but she's trying to find ways to cheat growing up and keep her 16-25 railcard. What does it mean to be an adult, and when do you become one? Quarter Life Crisis mixes addictive basslines, spoken word and audience participation. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

 My cousin was getting married, my friend was having a baby and all I could think about was ways to cheat the system by keeping my young persons railcard (past being 25).  Realising that everyone around me was “adulting”, I turned to my laptop and made this story into a play.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Yes, I really believe that performance is still a very good space for ideas. We spend hours listening to our favourite artist (Drake if you are me), then await the moment when you get spend an evening seeing them perform live with other people who are drawn to the lyrics, beats or energy of the artist. 

I believe the same is for theatre. We spend money to hear the thoughts or messages of an author, who has questions about the world – so places this on stage, with lights, set and a talented team. By doing this, I believe we (writers) offer up a platform for discussion which can sometimes offer a place to empower the voice of people who feel underrepresented. 

I found this when I wrote my first play On The Edge of Me, which explored graduate unemployment and mental health issues. It was astonishing to receive messages, tweets and sometimes be grabbed (physically) by audiences who would say ‘that's my story on stage’. 

I always get taken aback when I hear that, as I know it is not possible for it to be that persons direct story- because I wrote my play in Stockwell and they live in Manchester, but it is very clear to me that the themes within the play resonates with the audience- enough for them to want to start a conversation, seek support (in regards to mental health issues) and find ways to break the stigma attached.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I became interested in performance from watching…. Lord knows I used to watch a lot of people growing up. Be it the spice girls or the Matthew Bourne Company… Yes I love me some of The Car Man. I spent hours learning routines from shows, and reciting lines (from Grease)- all to the amazement of my silent audiences (who were my Barbies and Teddy bears). 

Of course this was when I was 5 years old (or maybe last week…shhh!). But I fell in love with how artists can tell a story through their body and voice. This then led me to pursue the arts further by studying dance at The Royal Academy of Dance, then attending the BRIT school (from age 14), where I learnt from amazing artists about how and why you make performance. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I would say that I prefer approaching a show in a collaborative way, because 3 heads are better than 1. I may sit down and write the script, but I share my drafts with my wonderful dramaturg (aka script doctor) Jules Haworth who really helps me to dig deeper and investigate “what am I really saying”. 

Jules is really amazing because she’s worked with a variety of artists independently and through her role at Soho Theatre (so she really knows her stuff). Alongside of Jules, I work with my core team Director Jade Lewis (Creative Associate at The Gate) and Producer Gemma Lloyd – who always find innovative ways in approaching the production, be it working with an amazing PR agent (wink wink) Mobius, or collaborating with a talented sound/visual designer Luay Eljamal. 

All of these people are key ingredients into making a show, as our collective skills help us to create a show which we are all fully invested in and proud of. I always say to everyone I work with, lets make “our” show exciting for an audience, because it is just as much my show as it is there’s.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Quarter Life Crisis is my second show, which is kind of like giving birth to a baby- and like every baby they are so different but just as special. Audiences who saw my first show On The Edge of Me, then managed to nab a ticket for our sold out previews of Quarter Life Crisis, say that the shows definitely feel like they are from the same family- but Quarter Life Crisis is way more epic. I think when they say epic, it means the show has a stronger production value as it has projection, set, original music (which makes you want to party) and way more costume changes than On The Edge Of Me

I wrote On The Edge of Me almost 2 years ago, and I have changed as a person. I have been fortunate enough to have had more time to invest in my craft by seeing more shows in the UK/international, collaborate with diverse plethora of artists (visual designers, set designers, sound designers etc) and attend CPD workshops which have helped me to grow as an artist. I feel that Quarter Life Crisis is stronger production, as I have endured the labour pains of giving birth to my first child On The Edge Of Me- so I am better prepared….I think….

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Good question. Well this show really takes you on a journey (without giving too much away). A journey which I have been told is very relatable, but the aspect that people say that really grabs them is the heritage part. In the show, we really get into my culture more….. 

I am Nigerian. So audiences get to experience a bit of my culture, by hearing my tribes language “Yoruba” on stage, learn a bit of my country’s history and also some music (with a slight London twist). I think by mixing the relatable aspect with my heritage, it’s made audiences feel curious about their heritage. 

Discover who they are. Celebrate what makes them unique and questions western societies notion of  “growing up” in 2017.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I studied. I studied real hard. I was inspired by 3 people when thinking about creating this show Lusia Omielan, Lady Gaga and Tyler Oakley. They are all from very different mediums. But what they all have in common is their relationship to an audience. 

They truly believe in their messages and find ways to make it appeal to their audience. For example I was lucky enough to see Lady Gaga in concert a few years ago. From start to finish I felt I was taken on a journey which made me laugh, cry and then dance (like ive never danced before). Lady Gaga gave everything she could to us, so much so that she even fell over in the show- but in true Lady Gaga amazingness she got back up and continued the dance routine. 

I remember standing their frozen and thinking “I want to do that” (falling over and all). I wanted to make a show which had a strong message/theme and took an audience on a journey. I wasn't sure how to do this, so I studied Lusia Omielan’s What Would Beyonce Do?,  Tyler Oakley’s Slumber Party and all things Lady Gaga- and made my own response to this. 

I then tested this response (aka) Quarter Life Crisis at various scratch nights such as Brainchild’s Hatch and in previews in front of a sold out audience at OvalHouse, which has shaped how I deliver the show. I know that doing the show at Edinburgh Fringe it will also mould/change depending on the audience. 

Yolanda Mercy said, “‘It got to a point in my life where my friend was having a baby and my biggest concern was trying to keep my young person’s railcard. The more I looked around me it seemed that everyone was ‘adulting’; getting a mortgage, planning weddings and leaving big tips at restaurants. Feeling like Peter Pan and watching everyone leave Neverland, I turned to my laptop and started writing Quarter Life Crisis.”

Yolanda Mercy is a London-based actor and playwright who works around the globe. She trained at the Brit School, Laban and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her work is a springboard to discuss personal and social issues including mental health, unemployment and heritage. She is a winner of the Rich Mix Small Story Big City Award, Associate Artist at OvalHouse Theatre and was previously Resident at The Roundhouse and the Almeida Theatre. She has been partnered with and commissioned by: The British Council, Arts Council England, O2 Think Big, Soho Theatre, Rich Mix, Wandsworth Council, Talawa, Lyric Hammersmith, SE1 United, OvalHouse Theatre, Tamasha, The Migration Museum, Arc Stockton, Ideas Tap and Peggy Ramsey Foundation.

Quarter Life Crisis will tour after the run at Edinburgh Fringe, with dates at Attenborough Arts Centre, Cheltenham Everyman, Arena Theatre Wolverhampton, Churchill Theatre Bromley and The Albany London confirmed for October and November 2017, with more dates to be added.

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