A story about a relationship, one where love just isn’t enough – Lobster opens the Theatre503 2018 season. Nicole Acquah chats with director Kayla Feldman about the show’s journey:
Director Kayla Feldman developed a fascination for new writing while working as a literary associate; she has since trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, under Peter James CBE. Now she brings Lucy Foster’s latest play, Lobster, to open the 2018 season at Theatre503, in association with Snapper Theatre.
Lobster is a modern day love story; two characters, J and K, are faced with the pressures of millennial approaches to intimacy and romance…
What did you love so much about Lobster upon first reading the script?
Kayla: I think what I loved most is what I love about Lucy’s writing in general – the characters are just so real, it never ceases to amaze me just how clever her writing is. Everyone’s got one, a difficult ex – friend, partner or relative – who you had to cut out of your life. Even if you don’t have your own, you’ve helped someone else through it.
Watching someone else’s heart break is the saddest thing in the world
There is nothing you can do to stop it. There is only time. So much time.
What has the process of directing Lobster been like for you?
Kayla: Lobster has been like a whirlwind romance in and of itself. Directing it at Mountview back in June 2017 was a dream, because I really got a chance to showcase the sorts of stories I want to share. That process also fully knitted together Lucy (writer), Julia Mucko (producer) and me, both as friends and colleagues. From the Mountview showcase, Lobster was picked up by Theatre503, the script further developed, and with a brand-new cast and team, we started on this new journey.
I thank my lucky stars every day that I get to work with these incredible women
What is beautiful about Lobster is that it attracts creatives who truly care about it. It’s the first project I’ve worked on with a full team like this – everyone, both cast and creatives, has their individual ‘role’ but equally contributes to the concept and the formation of the piece. Working with people who are as in love with this project as we are has been an absolute dream.
Have there been any struggles and/or challenges throughout the process?
Kayla: When you’re working on a project that hits home as much as this one does, it does bring up the past. For me, it’s dredged up a lot of history, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about my ex and my mental health. For this reason, I’ve worked very hard to make our rehearsal room the safest one possible. It’s emotionally difficult and mentally draining to work on a piece like this, but because the entire team cares so much and is so supportive, I think that facing those struggles and challenges has actually made the work better.
Lobster presents an LGBTQ+ romance without being perceived as ‘different’ or ‘out of the ordinary.’ Is this something you were conscious of when working on the scenes as a team – love itself as the main focus, rather than any audience preconceptions?
Kayla: Absolutely. The play was originally written for a man and a woman, but when we were developing it, we realised that this story could belong to absolutely anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality. When we cast the Mountview version, we cast gender-blind and the best actors for the parts happened to be two women. The story is the same, the characters are the same – it now just happens to be a love story about two women.
Their sexuality is never stated in the play – it simply wasn’t relevant
They are in a relationship, so it’s unlikely that they’re straight. But they could be lesbians, pansexuals, bisexuals, or have only dated men in the past and happen to have fallen in love with a woman. When J talks about her ex, she uses ‘they/them’ pronouns, as we felt it important to subtly break down the gender binary, and to steer audience perceptions away from projecting their own preconceptions about sexuality onto the characters.
One of my teachers from Mountview lamented that every play about LGBTQ+ folk is about ‘the struggle’, and while that is obviously so important to have, why can’t we also have the romantic comedies and the love stories that straight people get?
What do you love about writing in particular?
Kayla: I have been writing since I could hold a pen – everyone in my family always thought I would grow up to be a writer, and my grandmother still wants to know why I chose to direct instead. Writing is something I’ve always had – my way of understanding the world, surviving difficult times and documenting my experiences.
Directing is something I found
I submitted an idea for HerStory 5, run by the feminist powerhouse Nastazja Somers. I combined three poems, added segues between them, and asked some friends to help me direct myself. Collaboration is a key part of how I work – creating work together, as a team. But I think that moment, allowing myself to be vulnerable, to take control of my words and my experiences, alone on stage with an audience full of feminists… that defines the kinds of stories I want to tell. The rest of Herstory 5, an evening of intersectional feminist greatness, defines the kinds of stories I want to hear.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
Kayla: In 2011, I went on a school trip to see King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse, starring Derek Jacobi and directed by Michael Grandage. It was the first time I had seen Shakespeare in a non-naturalistic way and something clicked in my head that day – I went home, rewrote my university application (I had planned to go to university to study psychology and perhaps become a psychiatrist) and started looking at Theatre courses. Michael Grandage will always have a special place in my heart. I also bought Katie Mitchell’s The Director’s Craft a week later – that book, and her productions of Cleansed and Anatomy of a Suicide, have also greatly influenced me.
Although there are those big-time directors that I look up to, over the past year and a half or so I think my biggest inspirations have actually come from people I know personally, the ‘new generation’ of young artists making the work we are passionate about, demanding to have our voices heard, creating space for ourselves in an industry that can be so difficult to navigate.
Do you have any advice for theatre makers/directors out there?
Kayla: Find your theatre soulmates. Find the people whose passions and ways of working match yours, and keep them close. I found mine in Julia and Lucy.
As Mountview’s principal Stephen Jameson said on our graduation day:
“If the phone isn’t ringing, make your own work.”
In Shia LaBeouf’s words:
“DO IT. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?”