I’m currently in rehearsals for Damsel/Wife/Witch, the inaugural show of And So Forth (ASF), a new London-based company I co-founded earlier this year dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration. Performed by two actors, a singer and a pianist, the show was written by a close partnership of artists: a playwright, a librettist and a composer; it exemplifies ASF’s focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and mutual support. Tapping into contemporary debate, the piece explores the nuances of gender expectation and identity through fairy tale.
As the co-writer on the project, I worked closely with writer/director Laura Attridge in developing a script that both responded to the songs within the piece but also provoked our composer Lewis Murphy into reinterpreting them. Successful collaboration is as much about play as it is about push and pull: you’re making the rules as you go along whilst somebody else is already beginning to rip through them. The structure of the piece was in a constant state of flux, which was demanding for a writer who more often than not will settle on his structure first. But the rewards for landing on my feet after having the rug pulled from under them were immense. It’s made me a more versatile and playful writer, and I’m grateful to my fellow artists for their patience and understanding.
It was at Goldsmiths back in 2013, whilst studying for an MA in Writing for Performance, that I first explored the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration. Writers were thrown together with composers, translators and theatre-makers and asked to make a piece of theatre inspired by Sergei Eisentein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. The project proved divisive, with many of my fellow writers either relishing the opportunity to tear up their texts or rueing the project’s inevitable frustrations. A middle ground didn’t seem to exist; you sank, or you swam. Communication became something of a puzzle. We were all looking to express something for which we didn’t yet have a language.
The resulting piece, Nauticism, was a noble failure. Some of it worked, a lot didn’t. What remained with me, however, was a fervent desire to reach out beyond my own comfort zone and collaborate with those with whom conventional theatre opportunities may not have brought me into contact. However, it was not until a particularly disastrous first date that I was offered another opportunity to do so.
I met her online, then in person at the V&A. We looked at statues, ceramics, textiles. We talked; we laughed. She had milk with her Earl Grey and I had lemon. It was apparent very early on that we were entirely unsuited romantically.
Undeterred, I followed up by inviting her to see Sarah Ruhl’s The Vibrator Play with me the following week. Laura politely declined my invitation.
She did, however, suggest coffee and it was whilst there that she expressed her concern that there weren’t enough opportunities for emerging artists to work closely with like-minded practitioners from other disciplines. She had been working as a librettist in collaboration with composer Lewis Murphy on Now, a short opera that was soon to premiere as part of Hogarth’s Stages at the Royal College of Music, and she invited me to attend.
I was a little intimidated at first. I had only attended the opera on a few occasions and didn’t know what to expect but Lewis and Laura’s storytelling was so precise and engaging that the idea of collaborating with them on future projects was firmly planted in my head by the time I spoke with them afterwards. Fortunately, it was an idea shared by both Laura and Lewis and so we set about putting a team together to launch a new company dedicated to collaboration across disciplines.
That the resulting company, And So Forth, now stands on the brink of its inaugural show is both incredibly exciting and an opportunity to reflect on the curiosity sparked by my initial collaborations at Goldsmiths. Part of my draw to the college in the first place was the opportunity to be part of a diverse community of artists; the spirit of collaboration has continued to steer me since graduating, bringing me great joy both personally and artistically. I’m looking forward to welcoming our audience next week for what will surely be a very special occasion.
Damsel/Wife/Witch by And So Forth will be playing at the Chapel at Asylum Peckham between the 15 – 18 September. Purchase tickets.