Monkey Motivation: Burning Pages present PRIDE
We love hearing what our alumni go on to do after they graduate from the Monkey House – from sharing unique pieces of theatre as part of creative festivals, to performing in work created by their peers, it is a pleasure to see them putting the skills learned during their training to use!
The first independent project from Fourth Monkey graduate theatre company, Burning Pages, PRIDE is a radical experiment in queer protest, joy and liberation and will be shared for the first time as part of the upcoming Clapham Fringe festival.
We spoke to Burning Pages’ Artistic Director and PRIDE’s Director, Amy Rushent (Two Year Rep, Class of 2019), about the project and the inspiration behind it, as well as what inspired them to create their own theatre company after graduating from Fourth Monkey…
Firstly, introduce yourself! Tell us about your background and training, both with Fourth Monkey and any other creative training you may have done.
Hi! I’m Amy Rushent – non-binary, queer theatre-maker and performer. I trained at Fourth Monkey for three whole years; I studied on the YOM and 2 Year Rep course, and graduated in 2019. Before that, I spent time training with National Youth Theatre and Redroofs School for the Performing Arts. Theatre is my first love, and it has taken me a long time to find my unique voice as a creative. I am currently a Young Associate of the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, and founded Burning Pages Theatre Company eight months ago, during the winter lockdown. If you’d have told me this is where we’d be now, I probably would have laughed in your face, but here we are. I’m so excited to be making work that champions the liberation of the queer community, and can’t wait to see where it takes us.
(Image – PRIDE promotional image)
Can you tell us about the initial inspiration behind Burning Pages, as well as what attracted you to creating your own theatre company after you graduated from Fourth Monkey?
I wanted to channel my creativity. I wanted to make, do, create, and invite others to join me – make work that broke the rules. I was becoming bored with a lot of the work I was seeing being made; the lack of representation, the lack of fire, the lack of innovation. I was saddened by how so many people didn’t feel empowered to be creative and I wanted to change that. I wanted to make work that no-one had ever seen or thought of before – and that’s not an easy expectation to set for yourself, but I feel like even if I can scratch the surface of that untapped creative work, we can trigger a bigger theatre revolution. Also, I wanted to employ my extremely talented friends (most of whom are Monkeys!) to do what they do best – perform and make theatre.
(Image credit – PRIDE promotional image)
Is there anything that you have found particularly surprising, interesting or challenging about creating your own theatre company?
The surprise came from how many people supported the company at such a pace. People just got underneath the idea and the concept of the company and uplifted it. I cannot thank my Monkey alumni cohort enough for all the support they have shown, the shout outs on socials and the constant personal support as I tried to embark on a pretty scary but exhilarating journey of creating Burning Pages. What’s been interesting is just how fluid theatre-making can be. How, even after the pandemic, it is just as fulfilling, if not more so – especially when you are making what you want to make. It never gets old. And challenging… every single part! I mean that with love. I have never been so pushed to challenge my perceived limits and break through into new territory. I have never taken so many risks, or put myself out there in such an exposed and bold way. That’s not easy, but it is certainly something I do not regret. I don’t regret a single moment so far.
Can you give us a brief overview of Burning Pages first independent project, PRIDE, and its central themes?
A radical experiment in queer protest, joy, and liberation. With our right to protest under threat, PRIDE explores how LGBTQIA+ people can rise up and tell our stories when others seek to silence us.
Pride is a protest. It always has been. It was a brick thrown in rage, before it was rainbow tote bags on every shoulder. It was a dance of freedom, before it was a proof of allyship. It was the safety of the chosen family, before it was a month for every CEO to fatten their pay-check. With government legislation, pink-washing, and discrimination making it harder and harder for the LGBTQIA+ community to stand up for our right to exist and be free, how are our methods of protest transforming?
Burning Pages invites you to experience the first sharing of a new show that represents the stories of LGBTQIA+ people in a way never seen before, exploring the collision of joy and discomfort of living life as a queer person. We want to know: how can we use theatre as a form of protest? A devised ensemble piece full of movement, music, and poetry, PRIDE will launch you into an authentic and exciting world of queer expression, liberation, and celebration.
(Image credit – PRIDE promotional image)
Where did the inspiration for this come from, how has the project evolved over time and what can audiences expect if they come to a performance?
The inspiration came from two places. One was the discovery of my own queerness, and how I had completely denied it out of fear – that made me angry and I needed to express that. The second thing is the proposed new Policing Bill. The proposal in the Bill that would make the way we protest now nearly impossible, that made me angry – but also, it made me question, what else could protest be? Theatre is my mode of self-expression, so the idea started to take shape. From the idea, to now, as we are about to enter rehearsals, it is still very fluid and not set in stone what we will create. The whole point is to discover the self-expression of our community, and how that can be a form of protest for us as LGBTQIA+ people. So… what can you expect from the performances? Music, movement, poetry, uncensored queerness, and hopefully, liberation. Expect the unexpected, I suppose!
Can you give us an insight into the research and development process for PRIDE and how you have approached devising, developing and adapting the project so far?
Our process is still developing – there is a lot to be discovered and a lot of mistakes and failures to be made! Exciting! That’s kind of why this question is hard to answer.
We just finished 3 days of free workshops for LGBTQIA+ people about Creating Protest Theatre. We tested out a lot of devising ideas here – from automatic writing, to Uta Hagen inspired object exercises, to expressive movement with flips fans (I can tell you that was a very successful game that we returned to a lot). It was inspiring how these theatre-makers jumped in and were vulnerable.
I always think creating invitations for creation and seeing what people offer you is the best way to discover the stories that really need to be on the stage. We created a piece of collective poetry, inspired by stimuli we watched of moments of change throughout history for the queer community. We could then use this poem to develop scenes, movement sequences, and more.
I’ve realised, if you offer creatives something, they will create. You never have to pull ideas out of thin air, especially if you trust the people you’re working with.
(I don’t know if I’ve answered this question, but in the spirit of Burning Pages, we’re breaking the rules and don’t have simple answers!)
Lil Nas X has been a huge part of the process so far, his music featured heavily in our workshops…!
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about starting their own theatre company?
Do it. You are going to be good enough. Put aside all your learned thoughts that you are somehow below the gatekeepers of the theatre world, and need them to give you permission to do something. You have permission. And if you still feel weird about it, then I GIVE YOU PERMISSION. I didn’t have an idea for the first show, I didn’t have a social media presence, I didn’t have a team together, all I had was a name and my why? I knew I wanted it to be called Burning Pages, and my why was; I want to empower people to be creative and lift up unheard voices. And it grew from there. So, start small, and if you believe in it and yourself enough, it will grow. Talk to other people who have theatre companies, email your favourite theatre-makers and ask for advice. Do it – it will be worth it.
(Image credit – PRIDE promotional image)
Finally, how do you think your training at Fourth Monkey has inspired or influenced your work as a theatre company?
I didn’t have my defined creative voice when I was training at Fourth Monkey. I barely understood myself during the training. But I learned so much through our classes, so many varied techniques, devising methods, and tools. Now, I can use all of that to uplift my voice and others around me. I wouldn’t be making theatre the way I am – with huge movement influence – if I hadn’t trained at Fourth Monkey. I came out of Fourth Monkey with all the tools to be a theatre maker, and now, I have found my voice and I am making theatre with those tools. I certainly wouldn’t be doing any of this with my time at Fourth Monkey and the practitioners that uplifted me and reminded me that yes, you can do it. So, I pass that message on. Yes, you can do it.