Olivia Winteringham: Women should feel confident to make the work they want to make
As part of our programme of New & Nurtured shows, we caught up with Olivia Winteringham, to discuss love stories, the women who have inspired her and the creation process behind Delightful – a tale of love, betrayal and a dog.
You grew up in Bristol – how, if at all, has Bristol inspired your work?
Bristol has a rich cultural scene and when I was younger I grew up having access to inspiring performances, exhibitions and film. I think I am very privileged to have grown up and to have lived in such a creatively and culturally rich city. Last summer I went to two of the three films programmed as part of the Watershed's Psychosis on Screen season. It was through that programme that I got in touch with Bristol Hearing Voices Network, to listen and speak with people who have the experience of hearing voices.
Tell us about your play…
Delightful is a love story, in a way. It's a love story about betrayal and that betrayal is explored in a few different ways. It's about betraying someone you love, being betrayed by someone who perhaps has a duty to love you, and I think it's also about how the state of a person's mind can betray their understanding of the world around them.
Why do you think it is important for strong women to be at the forefront of theatre?
I think there should be room in theatre for lots of differently strong voices, it's important to make room for narratives that aren't heard as frequently as others.
It can be challenging to attempt new things in theatre, particularly if you are trying something that might fail, and that is when it's important to be strong and have courage and conviction in your ideas. If being strong can make change happen it is vital because otherwise it's the same people making the important decisions and the same stories will be told over and over, reinforcing what audiences expect when they come to the theatre.
I think strong and nurturing leadership can affect change and strong women in positions of power have a responsibility to spot, facilitate and listen to those who haven't yet got a platform to speak with a wider audience.
Why do you think The REP is a great place to showcase your work?
I think The REP has a key role in Birmingham, in the West Midlands, and also nationally to champion emerging work and I think it's doing that. The REP know they have this responsibility to foster new work and my experience has been very positive. It's taken me two years to write this play and at no point have I felt pressured to do anything I didn't think was good for the show. I've had some great practical support and guidance.
I also think REP audiences are open to watching new work and to seeing how it develops. I'd hope they feel proud that it comes from Birmingham and say: 'that's one of ours'.
What inspired Delightful?
I love love stories. I think love is wonderful and I think it can also be incredibly painful. So, I'd say Delightful is inspired by love and about how far you can push a loving relationship until something breaks.
I've been very interested in the different ways people can experience the world around them and that got me talking to people who hear voices. I sat in on a few open sessions with Bristol Hearing Voices Network and then approached Birmingham MIND. Iain Armstrong (the sound designer for the show) and I worked with a group from Birmingham MIND to explore how binaural sound might be an effective way to understand what the experience of hearing voices might be like. I've since come to learn that it is an extraordinarily varied experience, as varied as each person who hears voices. Speaking with people who hear voices has informed some of Delightful both in terms of the script and also how the audience will experience the story.
Who are the women who have inspired you?
Oh man! Who do I say?!
Joan of Arc? I never met the woman because of course she lived 600 years ago but I read this book written by Daniel B. Smith called Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity. He wonders if the divine experiences that lead her to great victory against the English, but also to her barbaric execution, were the experiences of hearing voices. What I like about her story is that even under threat of death she stuck to what she believed to be the truth and didn't relent to the pressure of the inquisition. She was dangerous because she challenged the governing status quo and I think that is pretty inspiring even though it meant that she was the casualty of her beliefs.
I'd also say Lynne Enright who is part of Birmingham MIND Recovery team because her compassion, frankness and generosity is inspiring. She facilitated the sessions with Iain and me to explore the sound ideas for the show and we were welcomed with a genuine sense of curiosity and trust. I've really enjoyed the sessions.
I have also recently met Caroline Paige who was a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF. She is inspiring because of her service to this country; she flew helicopters in conflicts in Bosnia for the UN, in Iraq, the Faulklands and in the lead up to the Gulf War. She is also the first openly transgender officer to serve in the British Armed Forces and talking with her it is clear she is a woman of great determination and integrity. She has had to work incredibly hard to prove herself professionally and to be resilient when her identity was questioned and attacked.
What message would you like other women to take from your work?
I think women should feel confident to make the work they want to make, especially if that work is not beautiful or easy.
Delightful plays at The REP from 26 – 28 October. This show is part of New and Nurtured, a selection of shows celebrating work created and performed by local artists, buy 6 tickets for any of this new work for just £30.
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