Following the launch of the Lemon House Lounge during lockdown which saw Co-Artistic Directors Jen Cerys & Samia Djilli chatting to theatre creatives, Lemon House Theatre are back with a new project. This time, Cerys and Djilli are launching “Behind Closed Doors” – an online scratch night showcasing four short plays written by writers of marginalised genders. Here, the pair chat about the process and the influences behind this latest venture…
So how does it feel to be back to rehearsals, new writing and new opportunities?
Jen: It feels brilliant! We were lucky that we were still able to do some podcasts in 2020’s lockdown as part of Lemon Lounge, but getting to produce new writing again has been amazing. We got just over 140 submissions and we’re sure that we’ll see so many of those plays staged in the future. Just reading those submissions made us feel really excited about creating again, and reminded us of why we started Lemon House Theatre in the first place.
So these new works explore sex, bodies and intimacy. How did you find your way to this particular focus for the upcoming showcase?
Samia: Jennifer has previously volunteered with the sex education charity Brook and used to work for a sex educator, so it’s long been a topic we’ve been interested in. We particularly wanted to look at the relationship between sex and other identites, such as exploring how being LGBTQ+ or having a health condition may impact your relationship with your body. We wanted to create a space to have conversations that often happen Behind Closed Doors – hence the name of the night!
And how did you find your playwrights this time around; what struck you overall about the work you ultimately chose to champion?
Jen: We did a call out for scripts back in September, and there were so many incredible pieces submitted. In choosing the four we staged, we were not only looking at the strength of the stories and voices, but also about whether pariticpating in the project would be helpful for the writers. For Behind Closed Doors, our writers are working with a dramaturg both before and after the night launches, so the continued development of their plays can be supported. That meant we were thinking about the longer-term life of the pieces and about what would be most helpful for our writers, as well as choosing the pieces that ultimately just made us want to keep reading.
So the line-up includes lydia luke’s swallow, Lucy Foster’s 16, Atticus Francis’ Do You Know Who You Are and Gayathiri Kamalakanthan’s Agender. A tough question now… but if you can, can you briefly tell me what you are most impressed by for each work audiences will see?
Jen: Each play is so incredibly different but there’s also parrells between each piece that really brings the night together. With lydia’s play swallow, her dialogue is so natural that when we filmed the piece, everyone in the room said they felt like they had almost intruded on a private moment between the characters as it’s just written as such a beautifully honest piece.
Samia: Then with Lucy’s play 16, it’s a piece that really stays with you. It’s a monologue by a character who experiences the pressures of having sex for the first time and how having a health condition also impacts this, and you feel so entwined in this journey with them that when the play ends, you don’t want to leave it.
Samia: Atticus’ Do You Know Who You Are really makes the most of the fact it’s theatre – the piece explores non-binary identity and uses a really interesting format to do this that meant it felt exciting to read while also being very vulnerable in its writing.
Jen: With Gayathiri’s Agender, it’s a play that offers you everything, with moments of humour and moments of incredible tenderness. For us, the relationship between the two best friends Brenavee and Sai is particularly special and Gayathiri writes their dynamic with such warmth.
We could go on forever about how special these plays are, but we’ll just say that we feel very honoured that the writers trusted us with staging their work and can’t wait to see how these plays are developed in the future.
And this showcase has a pay what you can price tag – what are your thoughts on pay what you can performances and do you think more productions should be open to them when possible?
Jen: Unfortunately, making theatre often comes down to money, and even getting to the point of staging work is incredibly difficult for this reason.This is our first piece of live work where we’ve received Arts Council Funding (or any funding!) and the difference of having that support compared to other shows where we’ve spent sleepless nights over ticket sales – knowing we needed to hit a certain number to be able to afford to do the show – has been immeasurable. This funding meant we could make tickets pay-what-you-can, which was important for us as we want to make the show as accessible as possible. The night is also rehearsed readings, so it’s a very chilled event where audiences get to see work in its early stage and contribute to its development, so we wanted to ensure as many audience members could get involved in this process as wanted to.
Whenever possible, we’d love to see more pay-what-you-can ticketing but from having done shows without funding, we know how hard this can be and, when programming, there needs to be a focus on supporting artists to create their work so that audiences can then enjoy this work without a ridiclous price tag attached to it.
Are there plans to take this work to live audiences following this showcase of rehearsed readings?
Samia: At the moment, the readings are just planned to be online but we’re sure all these shows will have a future life, whether that’s with Lemon House or another avenue.
Beyond the plays themselves, you’re taking the central themes and placing them centre stage in a virtual panel discussion event on 24 November. What will that look like, in terms of the intended scope for discussion and accessibility for audiences?
Samia: At Lemon House, we don’t think a show should just stay within the four walls of the theatre, so we created the panel discussion so we could take the conversations we’re having in the pieces off stage. We’re going to be delving deeper into some of the topics raised in the plays and look at the impact of sex education on our lives and also the intersection of sex and other areas of identity. We’re joined by panellists Gayathiri Kamalakanthan, a sex educator who’s also one of our Behind Closed Doors writers, Dolly Padalia, who’s the Deputy CEO & COO at School of Sexuality Education, and Jennie Williams, who is the CEO of Enhance the UK, a charity who run a campaign called Undressing Disability which aims to breakdown the barriers around sex and disability.
We’re holding the panel discussion online, similarly to the scratch night, so that it’s accessible to a wider audience, and the scratch night itself will be captioned. If anyone has any questions relating to accessibilty, they can get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org
With four plays to see, what will the evening look like in terms of run times and intervals?
Jen: The scratch night launches on 16th November at 7.30pm and will run til around 8.45/9pm. But the benefit of it being online means people can join later, pause it, have a break, and even come back and watch the rest the next day if they want to. Buying a ticket gets audiences access to a viewing link that, though goes live at 7.30pm on 16th Nov, can be watched up until 7 December.
And considering the subject matter, it might be wise to ask if there’s an age advisory?
Jen: Due to the night being rehearsed readings, we’ve not staged any of the intimate moments in a way they might be staged in a full run, with our brilliant directors instead just showing these moments in other ways that don’t require nudity. But we’d still recommend an age advisory of 14.
And finally, as always – in just one sentence, tell me why audiences should tune in for Behind Closed Doors…
Samia: For an honest look at sex, bodies and intimacy, and a chance to be the first to see four exciting new plays in their early stages and support the writer’s in the development of these plays.
So there you have it! The showcase launches on November 16th 2021 and you can get your tickets here.