Sarah Calver, Artistic Director of Flight of the Escales a female-led company bringing TAMED to Stage Two in June, sat down with us to talk about the show, the importance of women’s theatre and the creative process.
Can you start by introducing yourself and your role with the company?
Hello, I’m Sarah Calver, and I am Director of TAMED and Artistic Director of Flight of the Escales Theatre Company.
Tell us more about your company and where you’re based?
Flight of the Escales is an international theatre company. We are rooted in Suffolk, but we perform all over.
We are makers of experimental original theatre and performance. Our work is personal,
political and experimental – deconstructing narratives to reveal the human element in every situation. We focus on exploring the unseen; the unwritten bits, the lesser-explored perspectives, the ugly and unpolished. Our shows are a mashup of dark comedy, absurd surrealism, physical and visual theatricality, and stripped-back intimacy.
We work with text, devise and adapt, often drawing on the personal and autobiographical as a method of work. Collaboration is at the heart of our practice.
We’re excited to welcome you to Stage Two in June. Where did the idea for TAMED come from?
It’s been a slow burner. The show’s development began in 2019, although the ideas behind it started forming in 2016: Trump had been voted in, and the UK voted out of the EU, and both events took me (and lots of people) by surprise; I realised I had been in a bubble of like-minded folk, the echo chamber, where the prospect of either event had seemed unimaginable. From here, I started thinking about the groups we belong to and how they condition us to believe in certain things and behave in certain ways. I was responding to a sense of us becoming more binary in our beliefs and how, particularly in a social media world, we are increasingly policed and conditioned by the groups and societies we belong to.
Finally, I started thinking about the collective and the importance of this; how being a part of a group is vital for human survival, but also the dangers of this and how, with certain circumstances, group mentality can push us towards ever-increasing extremes.
The other key influence for the piece comes from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, specifically looking at women’s expectations in society and how women have been conditioned to behave. Katherine (the Shrew) does not conform to her society’s expectation of how a woman should be, and she is ‘tamed’ until her behaviour adjusts to something acceptable. In TAMED, we play with this idea; there is a chorus of women who all play Kate, and they take it in turns to present alternate versions of Kate’s story and different interpretations of the tamed and untamed woman. They draw on classic and contemporary references and work from themselves and how they conform and don’t conform to their expectations. This all links back into the idea of the collective and the individual and what happens if you rebel against the group and disrupt the status quo.
Why do you think it’s important to share women’s perspectives?
We do not live in an equal society, and female rights still need to be fought for. Drawing light on and sharing the disadvantages and unfair expectations placed on women is vital to enact change and better the societies we live in.
Over half the world’s population is female, so the stories we are telling and what is being programmed should represent this. As a female-led company, we are drawn to female narratives and the female experience, and we want to create a space and a platform for these stories to be heard. Through our work, we want to challenge and subvert unfair expectations and projections placed on women. Our shows often playfully lean into stereotypes to deconstruct and present the alternative female perspective and the lesser heard point of view.
Would you say society’s influence has tamed women’s creativity, and how do you think we can change this?
Yes. By design, default and habit, we continue to live in a patriarchal world. Traditionally advantages have been given to men, with women seen as the lesser and weaker of the sexes in almost every aspect of society. We have had to fight for the right to be heard and take space and continually fight to defend this position, which is also true in terms of female creativity.
I would say that the creative taming of women exists in the expectation of the types of stories and types of work that are deemed acceptable; women should not create work that is darker or violent, or unsavoury. Rather, we should make pretty and wholesome work that doesn’t offend.
Female actresses should be under the age of 35, skinny and attractive, and their female characters should mostly talk about men (Bechdel Test)… Of course, there are some incredible female creatives who defy all expectations and sometimes the impact of their work, perhaps because it is unexpected, causes waves and sometimes even enacts change – I’m thinking about Paula Rego. Her female-focused work led to a change in Portuguese abortion law.
I think it is also important to consider other limitations and accessibility challenges that women face when working in the arts. For example, women are often primary care providers, making working in theatre very difficult. So we need better support and more flexibility in our working environments to enable more access for women in these industries.
What has the creative process been like?
We are yet to start rehearsals for the show, but we had a Research and Development (R&D) process back in 2019, which was incredibly positive, and a lot of the ideas for the piece were developed at this time. The process has been protracted considerably because of the pandemic. But I am really excited to be heading back into a rehearsal room and the making process and finally bringing this show to life.
It is a devised process, and the work will be made in collaboration with a whole team of performers and creatives. I cannot wait to get going!
Have you come across any challenges along the way?
Flight is a small company, and we self produce our work which means we are often juggling many things at the same time! We are very grateful for the support we receive from partner venues such as Norwich Theatre and DanceEast and the funding we have received from Arts Council England and Norfolk County Council. So many people are working very hard to make this work possible, and we couldn’t do it without them!
I think that part of the draw of making original and devised work is the challenge of it and the constant question of ‘how do we do that?’ – yesterday, for example, I was talking with the designer, and we were figuring out how to make a floor of eggshells… I enjoy that these types of challenges are part of my actual job!
It’s an immersive show. What should audiences expect?
The show is set in traverse. This means the audience sits on either side of the stage, and they will be up close to the action, and at times it may feel like you are part of the scene that is being played out.
We are working with technology, video and media and part of this is about framing the action in certain ways. The chorus of Kates will be filming and being filmed throughout, and the audience will have a sense of seeing ‘behind the scenes’ at times.
We are also interested in playing with and subverting audience expectations and the piece will certainly keep an audience on its toes. Don’t worry, though. There won’t be any forced participation. Ultimately, we want to create a theatrical and entertaining space to question and provoke.