Continuing our coverage of VAULT Festival 2018, theatre editor Daniel Perks catches up with duo Jessica Butcher and Tanya Loretta Dee, who are bringing two works to this year’s table – Sparksc and Boots.
They finish each other’s sentences, one picking up the train of thought as the other peters out. The chemistry and connection are completely clear – it comes from both an extended period of working together, and a natural affinity between two similar souls. Jessica Butcher and Tanya Loretta Dee spent over a year as two of the actors touring Offside, which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017. Now they’ve joined forces offstage as well, forming theatre duo Butcher & Dee to bring new, in-development work to VAULT Festival 2018:
Jessica: “I’ve always wanted to write – the only thing that stopped me was total, utter fear. Then I met Tanya and was so inspired from us working together that I thought,”
“Fuck it, we’re gonna do it together and make something”.
“It’s nice to find someone that you connect with in the work you want to do, what you want to be as a writer or actor. The chemistry that we’ve got is great.”
Tanya: “I read another play that Jess had written – Sparks. I stayed awake all night when I had a show the next day.”
“Jess has a really unique way of writing, she’s so descriptive. There’s a warmth even though what you’re talking about is quite dark. I feel at home in Jess’s world.”
I sit back and munch on a leftover Yorkshire pudding in a New Cross pub as writer Jessica Butcher and actor Tanya Loretta Dee talk about new show Boots, one of my picks for VAULT Festival 2018 after I caught a snippet at HerStory Festival back in autumn 2017. It’s been at A Night Of Small Things since then, a variety night arranged by The Small Things Theatre Company – co-founder Philip Scott-Wallace is a producer on Boots:
Jessica: “Boots is changing all the time, it’s a growing organism. Every bit of feedback, every conversation we’ve had, informs it even more. For me, that is like life blood.
Tanya: “Jess wrote something that I had a strong connection to, something that many have gone through with the rise of the #MeToo movement. It isn’t just about abuse, it’s also about fertility, which I feel on a personal level.”
“I think it’s important to make something as real as you can, but also understand that this is a theatre performance. You can physically inhabit an emotion; once you put that into your body, you still have to draw onto something from your past to connect to the character, but I can put that away afterwards.”
It’s not me, I’m not Willow, but I can relate to things that she’s been through. Chekhov has helped me as a practitioner to do that. Can I never act something if I haven’t experienced it?”
Can I never act something if I haven’t experienced it?
Willow is Tanya’s character in Boots, a woman who goes on a journey with unlikely friend Liz (Ilona Linthwaite) to track down an equally unlikely truth. Tanya brings up an interesting thought – the idea that you can only act, or even write about, your own experiences. It’s a question that I posed to writers Abi Zakarian, Joe Eyre and David K. Barnes, who as are bringing three plays to VAULT Festival 2018 under production company Joyous Gard:
Jessica: “The world is changing in theatre – it’s a complete collaboration of as many different voices as you can get. It’s all about connection; being alive in a room, with somebody who is telling you a story, and feeling like you are totally and utterly breathing it with them. People bare their hearts and souls on a plate, you’re wrecked by the end!”
Jessica’s passion comes through in waves – as long as you couch your writing (and your acting) in a tenable emotion, then the connection with the subject matter will be felt regardless of whether you have personally experienced it. An audience similarly doesn’t need to have first-hand knowledge of a subject, or a situation, in order to appreciate the theatrical performance.
We’re both doing multiple jobs to make things happen
Another play that Jess has both written and is performing in, Sparks, is also at VAULT Festival 2018. It talks about grief & love and is dedicated to the memory of her mum. I wonder how difficult it is not only to be focussing on two shows, but in each production to be wearing multiple creative hats:
Jessica: “I’ve written and am performing in Sparks, so there has to be complete separation from the script when I approach it as an actor. We have a brilliant director [Jessica Edwards] and producer [Michelle Barnette], who have told me that I need to step away and let them make the decisions.”
Tanya: “At the moment, we’re both doing multiple jobs to make things happen – when you’ve got to learn a script and find a venue at the same time, the creative flow is not as easy to find.”
So, two shows at the incredible VAULT Festival 2018, by two incredible women (Butcher & Dee), supported by a whole raft of equally exciting creatives to help propel them forward. The big question is, how are they both feeling about the upcoming productions?
Jessica: “It’s fucking terrifying. I’m still a bit stunned really – I feel very excited and very lucky. VAULT is an amazing opportunity for so many people to put on work in London that would basically be impossible otherwise.”
“The team (Mat, Tim and Andy) are really, really special”.
Now that I’ve taken back editorial control of Miro Magazine from the Witt ‘n Camp duo, I can safely say that I completely agree.
For the full programme of events at the VAULT Festival 2018, which runs until 18 March, visit the website here.
Sparks plays from 21 – 25 February 2018. For more information, visit the website here.
Boots plays from 7 – 11 March 2018. For more information, visit the website here.