"I love theatre. I love its immediacy." - In Conversation With Elinor Coleman
As part of our programme of New & Nurtured shows, we caught up with Elinor Coleman, to discuss her brand new play Baby Daddy – an autobiographical piece that sheds a crude, humorous and honest light on motherhood in your twenties.
You are a REP Foundry member – why is The REP a good space in which to showcase your work?
As the leading theatre in the Midlands, The REP is an exciting place to be; the building buzzes with the combined knowledge of dozens and dozens of theatre professionals from all disciplines, who are supportive and encouraging in pushing forward new work. There is always something happening to inspire or make you look at your own work in a different light.
Tell us about your play…
Baby Daddy is an autobiographical piece based on my experiences as a young single mother. I was twenty when I got pregnant, and there were many people who warned me about the difficulties I would face as a lone parent – but the really, really hard and personal stuff was never mentioned. To begin with, this play was me writing about all the things that I wish somebody had told me, and over time wider themes have emerged about the nature of family and feeling the pressure to fit your happiness to other people's expectations. It's a very frank exploration of some extremely personal things. It is intended to be humorous and it's fairly crude in places, but the play also picks apart some very painful topics. This said, ultimately, it is a hopeful and celebratory piece, with lots and lots of music. I do like a good knees up!
Why do you think it is important to have strong women at the forefront of theatre?
I don't like the term 'strong women' – I don't know what it means really, or who gets to decide who fits that criteria. Theatre needs to be the place where unheard narratives, the ones that are neglected by the mainstream, find their home. By default this will include a lot of women – but I think it's important that all genders and all backgrounds are represented.
Theatre is a place where we can connect very directly with performers and their stories as they happen right there before our very eyes. It is a place to learn about each other; a place which can challenge our views and shape our understanding of the world around us and the people in it. For that reason, all stories should be heard.
What inspired you to want to share your own experiences?
I've worked as an actor for many years, but this is my first solo show. I knew I wanted to write about something that I knew. I had also had a difficult time personally and the writing process itself was cathartic and helped me to understand many more things than I could have anticipated. Once that process began, I realised that much of what I was writing about were things that I've never heard anybody talk openly about in public. Probably because self respecting people just don't share such intimate things – but luckily, I have no shame!
Why did you choose theatre as the platform from which to share your experiences?
Because it's my home. I love theatre. I love its immediacy. I love that it's a shared moment in time between the audience and performers. I love the symbiotic nature of it; that we are all physically there in the same space, circulating the same air and going on a journey together. My performance style is very personal and I need people there to tell the story to, live and in the flesh. You're never really alone on stage if you treat your audience with love and respect!
What message would you like women to take from your work?
Although the play itself is written by a woman and is about motherhood and existing as a single female in charge of a small female child, I would like to think that there are universal messages that transcend gender. Of course I would like people to question their views on single parents and other non traditional family models, but there is a message in this piece that is about accepting who we are and what we have. It asks that if you have tunnel vision pursuing something that you think will make you happy, or you think will make people view you in a better light, what other beautiful things are you going to miss along the way?
Why do you think the honesty of your performance is important to women in the audience?
I share a lot of very embarrassing and painful things in this play. And a lot of the time I think 'Is this too much? Do people really need to know this?'. The answer is yes. Because none of us are alone in experiencing embarrassing and painful things in our bodies and our hearts, but if we don't talk about them we feel like we are alone. As I said, I have no shame – or what very little reserves I had are being rapidly depleted by this rehearsal process – so I'm happy to take one for the team and put these things out there. I'm sure not everybody will like it. But if it encourages some to be honest with feelings that they didn't think they were allowed to feel, or to come to terms with things in their bodies that they hate, then I think that is a marvellous thing.
Baby Daddy plays at The REP from 2 – 4 November, with a parent/baby matinee at 2pm on 2 Nov. This show is part of New & Nurtured, a selection of shows celebrating work created and performed by local artists.