In the latest instalment of the #Viewfinder peer-to-peer interviews, Elinor Rowlands quizzes writer and director Kate Lovell about Siege, her company’s latest project, and disability representation on stage.
Theatre Company Bread & Goose is led by Alison Neighbour (Designer/Scenographer) and Kate Lovell (Writer/Director).
For Lovell it all began when she went to see Bread & Goose perform a short R&D piece at a major artist’s event on a condemned estate. Shortly afterwards, Neighbour, one of the co-founders, asked Lovell to get involved.
Lovell offered herself as a writer who could provide narrative “to the beautiful pieces that were being created but lacked story.”
In 2012, the other co-founder of the company decided to leave “very close to the delivery of our first big commission, a piece called Stations by Heart outside King's Cross and St Pancras stations for London 2012.” At very short notice, Lovell stepped in as Director/Writer and has since taken over as Co-Artistic Director as well.
Recently, Lovell has been proactive in raising the profile of other disabled artists: “I really like working with other artists who are disabled or from a background that isn’t often represented on stage or on screen.” A disabled artist herself, she sighs when she mentions the “stock baddie in a wheelchair type Bond thing.”
The company’s latest piece, Siege, is still in the process of research and development and once funding is in place they can take it to full production next year.
Inspired by Homer’s Iliad, the company have deviated from the original story but they focus on two of the later books when King Priam and Queen Hecuba’s son Hektor is out fighting and is killed by his nemesis Achilles. Achilles refuses to return Hektor’s body and is witnessed dragging it around the outskirts of the city.
Lovell explains, “This fascinated me and reminded me of a lot of contemporary issues relating to the trauma created by a body defiled or mistreated.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Lovell describes how bodies were left out in the open and the authorities made the decision that they could not be moved. Similarly, when Michael Brown was shot by police he was left lying dead in the road for four hours. She found herself researching this act and it seemed to have traumatised people as much as the shooting itself, which speaks volumes about how much his life was valued.
It is these acts of indignity in death that cause huge trauma for people and this is what interests Lovell when “looking at this in relation to Hektor in the story.” So many plays about war end with the harrowing image of a man left with no legs or a missing arm. But she questions why few pick up the story at this point and ask, “Well what happens now?”
While Lovell is adamant that Siege “is not in any way about disability,” she is quick to point out that war creates disabled people because “arguably it is the job that carries the greatest risk of becoming disabled – but of course no one really thinks much about what becomes of people once this happens.”
The casting behind Siege is particularly remarkable due to its key theme of war. Disability is often invisible in all war zones, and yet war injures, disables and kills. Lovell explains that the majority of Siege’s cast are either disabled or come from ethnic minority groups, both of which are generally under-represented, yet she swiftly adds: “But it’s not about box ticking, it’s more about the show.”
Theatre often ignores the potential in disabled actors. More often than not, casting directors will see the disability before the talent. Lovell describes the tendencies of typecasting and her frustrations at disabled actors only being cast if the character is disabled. “I’m casting a blind actor for a blind character,” she says, “and yes being blind informs who they are but their whole character is not about being blind.”
She also sees herself as an activist:
“I believe that casting a disabled person in a role that is not specifically for a disabled actor is in itself a political act. It invites people who come to question their thinking – if they feel surprised that Priam is a blind man, why? There is no reason he shouldn't be, and in fact in my thinking it made perfect sense.”
If theatre is going to really strike bold images and smash stereotypes then Lovell is certainly a Director the art world needs to pay attention to.
“Priam is a leader of a city at war, and in my version he too was once a great warrior, who lost his sight in battle, but lost none of his skills and experience in warfare, and rose to become the leader of his city.”
As the words tumble out of her mouth it is easy to see why this upsets her and yet she talks passionately about these issues that drive her to create work that pushes for change and provokes debate.
“Disabled actors never get invited.” She says, it will never be “We’re doing Macbeth and we just want a really good Macbeth and we thought you might be the person for it. It will always be we’re doing a disabled play; a disabled Macbeth and we want a blind man for Macbeth.”
She leans forward, “While there’s nothing necessarily inherently wrong with that it just makes their casting calls always limited by their character because it has to have been written blind so it’s not as terribly common for disabled actors to be cast in productions unless it’s specifically a disability production.” Her eyes light up as she adds:
“So I find people who have a little bit of a difference about them – whether ethnic minority or disabled, or even just being a woman, which is a minority in itself – just that bit more interesting.”
Bread & Goose is attracted to creating engaging journeys in non-traditional theatre spaces that place the audience at the heart of the story. Recently, they were given the opportunity to perform for a week in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall.
She stresses that Siege will be off-stage and in a more accessible space to create something visceral and immersive “to show how hiding from the city under siege and its leadership, affects and alters people” and illustrates how they cope. If the passion with which Lovell speaks about her work translates to the show, it promises to be quite the spectacle. I for one, can’t wait to see how it turns out.