Among the first week of the VAULT Programme is Great Again: The Musical, a new musical about friendship, adventure and voting for Donald Trump. We got to chat to Rebecca about the behind the scenes of the show that explores the story of Trumps America from the other side of the fence, in musical format.
What drove you to make Great Again: The Musical?
I think we were really struck by the two big Western political shockers of 2016: Brexit and Trump. The common feelings were those of disbelief, fear and anger – a sense of ‘how could this happen?’ from our lefty liberal echo chambers of Twitter and the like. But, in both cases, it did happen and so we turned our attention to perhaps the more interesting question – ‘why did this happen?’
And that, essentially, is what Great Again is about: exploring that question in relation to the election of Donald Trump as president of the US.
We wanted to listen to the other side of the story, one we personally didn’t necessarily identify with or understand, and try and get to grips with it in order to tell it. From the beginning we’ve called it ‘an exercise in empathy’, one which we believe is more important than ever as apparently in the UK and the US we have never been more politically polarised at any point in recorded history than we are right now. More than ever that means we need to explore and listen to different sides of the story.
Why make the current situation in America into a musical?
Given all the above we felt it was important to approach this potentially alienating subject matter in an accessible and entertaining format. We knew we wanted to make theatre – because in our view theatre is the forum to explore and discuss ideas about the challenges of today in a community format – but we didn’t want to make a heavy, preachy issue play about it. We wanted to make something fun, something that conveyed the excitement and hope that so many Americans felt about Trump’s run for president. Also I think most people expect a musical (or maybe any piece of theatre/performance) about Trump or Trump voters to be a satire, so it’s fun to subvert that.
What theatre ‘turn offs’ do you have?
Shows that tell you what to think, or, worse still, ram it down your throat. That’s what we’ve really aimed to avoid with Great Again, it’s an invitation to join in a conversation and explore a different point of view – I think it’s a turn off for any audience to be preached at or dictated to and I think it’s a misuse of theatre to do that. The turn on of theatre is the possibility for dialogue.
Also: two-dimensional and/or objectified female or minority roles. Snore.
What was the last show that moved you to action?
Last year I saw Reasons to Be Cheerful, The Musical at Theatre Royal Straford East a new musical by Paul Sirett with the music of Ian Drury and the Blockheads presented by Graeae company. The music is, obviously, glorious anarchic, the storyline was personal, fiercely political, funny and moving but best of all its supremely talented cast and band were predominantly deaf and disabled performers and the show was signed, subtitled, and audio-described through a loop, all of which was seamlessly incorporated as part of the show as part of the songs, movement and narrative, rather than an add on. It challenged me to want to make more theatre that was as brilliant, joyous and pervasively accessible in the future, and politically it highlighted – with a euphoric yet poignant edge – the extra challenges now faced by those with disabilities as the current government gouge away at their benefits and support, but, again, in an accessible and entertaining way that everyone could enjoy.
What shows at VAULT are you looking forward to?
SO MANY. What a flipping amazing line-up this year, right? And EIGHT BLOODY WEEKS OF IT TOO. There’s too many to choose from so I’m going to list my top picks per week!
Week 1: You Having Olaf? Comedy show by the incomparable Joseph Cullen. I saw it last year and it is SO funny. On 26th Jan for one night only.
Week 2: LadyFace. Brilliant character comedy from a super talented, many-faced funny lady.
Week 3: The Poetry We Make. Ace bit of new writing about Dolly Parton and being trans.
Week 4: Frances Farmer: Zombie Movie Star. Only on for two nights, looks brilliant!
Week 5: Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho. If you haven’t seen it yet, what is wrong with you? (I’ve seen it 4 times...)
Week 6: Bismillah: An ISIS Tragicomedy. It looks really thought-provoking.
Week 7: A Hundred Words for Snow. About female exploration, polar bears, climate change, grief, loss, trauma. There’s so much in it, not to mention how beautiful it is.
Week 8: Things That Do Not C(o)unt. Three words: Feminist. Experimental. Show. Sold.
Great Again: The Musical is on from 24-28 Jan at 18.00!