Torn Apart (Dissolution) – a play that puts women centre-stage. HerStory – a festival that also puts women in the middle. The link – Nastazja Somers. Cindy Marcolina talks to Nastazja about combining feminism with theatre:

In the cozy café of the Royal Court Theatre, I meet actress and producer Nastazja Somers, who is currently handling two decidedly relevant projects: building the fourth edition of HerStory Festival at Theatre N16 and starring in the new highly anticipated production of Torn Apart (Dissolution) at The Hope Theatre.

Trained at The Court Theatre Training Company, Nastazja is not only a Polish producer, actress, and writer, but she is also the co-founder and co-artistic director of No Offence Theatre. No Offence put women centre-stage and are the company behind the acclaimed Torn Apart (Dissolution), running at The Hope Theatre from 4 – 22 July 2017:

“Set in “three different times and three different bedrooms”, Torn Apart (Dissolution) deals with feminism, love, fate, immigration, homosexuality and male repression in a story inspired by real-life events. BJ McNeill, writer and director of the piece, wrote it specifically for some of the actors involved, who also had massive inputs on what happens on the stage.

Sarah Hastings & Monty Leigh (image courtesy of Yuebi Yang)

This is one of the focal points Nastazja believes that people will perceive:

“By being actual circumstances and not made-up storylines, which are too far-fetched to be relatable, audiences who have seen Torn Apart are able to get invested and connect to it. It’s a very human story, but by essentially stripping it of any characters per se, it becomes universal and personal at the same time.”

 “The women on stage are people – they’re not pretending and they’re not put into boxes”

 

Representation is Nastazja’s main battle flag, who says that her frustration was “born out of reading so many scripts that presented one-dimensional, underdeveloped women, or no women at all” when she was a literary manager at Theatre N16. This inevitably sowed the seed for HerStory Festival.

She threw the idea into the world and the response she got was, as expected, huge. Fellow women who were tired of being unrepresented or whose role was placed out of reach submitted all kinds of works of art. From spoken word to music, from plays to performance art, HerStory Festival’s heart beats with bold, unapologetic work.

Helping these women get their creations out on a visible stage is exactly what lies at the core of Nastazja’s concept:

“I’ve had the chance to meet amazing, powerful women who are not afraid of showing their voice. It’s not about me”

Christina Baston & Elliott Rogers (image courtesy of Yuebi Yang)

She explains the process of going through the hundreds of submissions she gets and the need for the final pieces of work to fit a certain kind of criteria. The daring element of the festival is crucial to its essence:

“I don’t like to read between the lines with feminist theatre – we don’t have time anymore”

 

That is precisely why, in the given political climate, an event like HerStory Festival gains even more meaning. Forget the white-washed, unicorns-and-butterflies view of feminism that they shove down our throats, Nastazja’s eyes are set on an all-inclusive, intersectional, feminist celebration of women and it’s starting with racial inclusion.

“If you’re putting on a feminist theatre festival and everyone is white, you need to ask yourself what you’re doing, because that is not feminist”

 

By putting intersectionality and inclusion centre-stage, Nastazja reveals that this is going to be the last time Theatre N16 hosts the festival. She points out how the theatre’s inability to cater for disabled-bodied guests has an impact on her work and leads her to make choices that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. However brilliant the work that Theatre N16 does for new writing, their lack of a disabled access puts them in a condition where it is simply not inclusive enough at this point, and HerStory Festival (as well as feminism) is all about that.

Nastazja hopes her work will start to have an even bigger impact with the new season:

“Having a great range of women who are all different and not apologetic about being different”

 

The diversity and multi-discipline array of shows she has put on in the past attracted large crowds, with an estimated audience of 700 people attending the three previous editions. Nastazja’s public is bound to grow by the autumn, with the festival’s move to a bigger and more central venue. Having 25 more people at each performance signifies 25 more possible feminists-in-the-making who have the chance to change our future. As it goes for her crowds, Nastazja has grown a lot from her experience building the festival, from the language she uses to her views on feminism and women:

“I don’t have to apologise for anything”

she says in a defying tone, and for a moment, her passion and purpose make me feel at the top of the world.

 

To read more about Torn Apart (Dissolution), which plays at The Hope Theatre from 4 – 22 July 2017, follow No Offence Theatre on Twitter (@NOffenceTheatre) or visit the website – thehopetheatre.com