'Ask Me Anything': So We Did...
By Olamide Alao and Hal Kitchen
Image courtesy of The Paper Birds
InQuire were lucky enough to receive the opportunity to speak with Jemma McDonnall, Co-Director of award-winning theatrical company The Paper Birds about their production Ask Me Anything, where their cast members become agony aunts, sounding out the issues faced by their young audience members.
HK: Briefly, could you explain in your own words the creative process employed on Ask Me Anything?
JMD: We began by writing to young people at a range of schools and youth theatres. We sent them a letter-writing pack which included info about the project, examples of problem pages from 90’s, helpline numbers and access to support and paper and envelopes to write letters and send them back to the company. While we waited for the letters to come back we spent some time talking about our own teenage experiences. Then when the letters arrived we began to work through them, picking letters we would answer and letters we would ask other people to help us answer. Then finally we picked some performance methods by which to answer the questions and settled with Rosie answering though song, Georgie answering by reading sections of her own real teenage diaries and Kylie answering through the making of a live TV sitcom based on her teenage love life. Then we went to work!
HK: How did this concept come about? What were the creative goals you hope to achieve?
JMD: We came up with the concept as we realised that when we were teenagers, we didn’t have the internet in the way it exists now, so if we wanted to find something out or had a sensitive question or worry we would read (or write to) problem pages in magazines. We had the idea of giving young people now this opportunity, to write to us with ANY question. As a company we use verbatim in our work a lot and felt that this would give young people an opportunity to talk about the world they live in, and are growing up in, in their own words.
OA: What was your favourite part of the creative process when creating Ask Me Anything?
JMD: I enjoyed seeing the whole show come together. There are so many elements of the show - the live music, the immersive teenage bedrooms, the conversation we have with the audience, the videos people sent us to help us answer the questions, Kylies’ sitcom in which the audience are the extras, Georgie’s diary extracts. We worked on these all and pulling them into one cohesive show was a great challenge and a joy.
OA: Which character in the play do you relate the most to and why?
JMD: We don’t really have traditional characters in this show. The three performers are themselves, so there is a real rawness, vulnerability and warmth to the show as they talk about their own lives and experiences of growing up as well as the things they now struggle with in life.
Image courtesy of The Stage