Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Changing Dramaturgy: Kate O’Donnell @ Edfringe 2017

A Trans Creative and Contact co-production

Kate ODonnell
You’ve Changed
Tech Cube, 5 – 26 August 2017, 20:30 (21:30)

Award-winning transgender artist Kate ODonnell challenges the idea that genitals equal gender in a brand new show about the ups and downs of transitioning. 

In the follow up to hit show Big
Girl's BlouseKate shines a light on the ins and outs and ups and downs of transitioning. Through song, dance, hard-won wisdom and hilarity You’ve Changed looks at the so-called 'trans tipping point' and asks if the world is changing fast enough, or whether we are still stuck in the dark ages as far as gender is concerned. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Good question. Someone commented that since I transitioned and started making shows I’d “changed.” In all my work, I like to take something negative and turn it around into a positive. This led me to think about change.  How much I’ve changed, how much youve changed. And what hasn’t changed. I transitioned in 2003, but in trans terms it might as well have been the 1930’s. People were so unaware, it may as well have been some time between the wars for the amount of readily available information ther was.
The 30’s was interesting in so many ways. There was lot of stuff around gender, think about Merlene Dietrich, performers playing with gender in Berlin. Things got a bit more genderfluid, women started cutting their hair and wearing their trousers. It was a time of change politically, scientifically, stylistically. People were opening themselves up to new ways of thinking. To me it seems like a queer time.
This all let me to thinking about Fred and Ginger and the music and style of that time, as well as the richness of Hollywood as this incredible form of escapism. I always use music in my performance and I absolutely loved the sentiment and the challenge to the phrase “let’s face the music and dance.” There was also a quote from Ginger “I did everything Fred did, but backwards and in high heels” which really struck a chord with me as a trans woman, because this is often how it feels!
I’d been thinking a lot about the idea of the so called “trans tipping point”, the fact that trans people have gotten more air time lately so to speak, but also trying to marry this with the perception of trans people in the media and some of the statistics surrounding them, which got me wondering, how much really has changed for trans people, where are we at right now? Stories of people transitioning are beginning to enter the mainstream, but I wanted to tell the story of transitioning from first hand experience as trans person, not as a plot twist or a sensationalised headline.  

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Theatre and live performance is a live experience of meeting a trans person, which many people have not done. It’s a really interesting space to explore gender in the flesh. I recently did a show in Blackpool, which was the first time many people in the audience had knowingly met a trans person. As a medium it really appeals to me as it’s uncensored and undiluted. There’s a direct dialogue between audience and performer, not something watered down by TV execs or sensationalized by news stories.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I have always performed. As a child, I think I used it as an escape, theatre was one of the only acceptable outlets to covertly explore gender. I went to an all boys school and got to play all the girl parts! Later in life I performed as a drag queen, Angel Valentine.
I re-found my energy for performance after quite a big gap when i felt there wasn’t enough trans work being made, and the representation of trans people I saw was always very negative. I wanted to be a trans positive voice, especially following on from the homophobic and transphobic attacks in Russia. I was aware that I felt a lot of privilege within my trans identity and wanted to use that in a productive way. But as I saw, I’ve always been a show off. .

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
The show is autobiographical, so I use the personal for the political. I draw on music, humour and costume to create my work. For my previous show Big Girls Blouse, we worked with choirs and music, this time we’re working with dance with seminal choreographer Lea Anderson.
Youve Changed features the talents of many fantastic collaborating artists such as Olivier award winning director Mark Whitelaw, designer Katharine Heath, composer Steve Blake and trans stylist and style icon Grace Oni-Smith. In terms of the process I’ve been writing the show on and off for a year in my head, and am undertaking a mixture of self led rehearsals and rehearsals led by different collaborators.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

What I find quite exciting about my recent work is that there isn’t a usual production. In the past year I’ve made a film (Mum, also showing at the Edinburgh Film Festival), starred in a musical about gender, been part of a trans television series, taken my previous solo show to London, hosted vigils, performed cabaret shows and most recently made casting history as the first ever trans woman to play Feste on the main stage of The Royal Exchange Theatre! So, my work is constantly changing and developing, but I feel they all inform one another in a way.
Compared with my last full scale solo show Big Girls Blouse, (which dealt with growing up as a trans child in the 1970’s when no-one really knew what being trans was) it feels more grown up and more challenging for audiences. It asks for audiences to take some more responsibility, get up to speed, listen up, play their part. The show is about change. It’s obvious that I’ve changed, the question is, have you?

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the show will raise some questions around gender and identity of trans an none trans audiences. I make shows for queer audience that lots of none queer people happen to like! Everyone has issues around gender and identity, but it’s often the queers who are the ones who have to get on stage and talk about it. I hope audiences will be entertained and challenged by Youve Changed. A lot of people say that I make people laugh, and I make people cry, so hopefully some more of that!

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I am always finding different ways to engage audiences with my work . I try tofind the universal in the personal, sometimes that can be with music, because some people love a certain song, or connect to music in itself. Youve Changed features familiar songs (Let’s Face the Music and Dance) and original songs. I tend to use familiar cultural reference points then take the off road into the often unfamiliar territory of my world, which is not necessarily everyone's experience.My policy is, draw them in, then hit them with the message. I like to look after my audience and make them feel comfortable and safe. But not too safe.

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