We appear to live in an era where the concept of feminism is shrouded in an historic haze, a movement associated with the fearless protests of inspirational women fighting for equality. However, what does it mean to be a feminist in 2014? As females, are we automatically categorised as feminists? These are questions that continue to dominate discussions and debates. Shutters, a triptych of plays directed by Jack Thorpe Baker examines the roles of women within American History within the last century. Ahead of press night, I was able to speak to cast member Yolanda Kettle about the relevance of the show, working with Jack Thorpe Baker and her varied acting career.
You’ll be starring in Shutters, a performance consisting of three American plays placing a focus on the journey of women within the last century. Could you describe what each play is about
I don’t want to give too much away but… Cast of Characters is a witty family drama looking at the relationships between four siblings. The play is unconventional in its style and so will be something new for audiences – I hope. Trifles is a thriller by Susan Glaspell, written at the turn of the last century and is an example of early feminist drama. The Deer is a delicate piece looking at a woman’s attempt to deal with grief.
Two of the productions, Cast of Characters by Philip Dawkins and The Deer by Brooke Allen are contemporary works written for our day and age whereas Trifles is a piece of early twentieth century work written by Pulitzer Prize Winner Susan Glaspell. In terms of message and themes, what are the similarities and differences between the plays?
At the heart of the plays there is a woman and I think it’s this connection of femininity through each of the three pieces that brings them together. In spite of this, each play has it’s own story to tell and I feel it would be misleading for us to simply impress or impose a theme of ‘feminism’. These plays stand alone, they have their own truth and humanity embedded in them and that is what we need to uncover.
Could you describe what characters you play?
I play three characters: Vicky in Cast of Characters is a 52 year old woman from Texas who can sometimes be unintentionally catty, but in reality she has a kind heart. Mrs Wright in Trifles – I can’t tell you anything because it will spoil the show! Clara in The Deer is a young woman searching for purpose in her life, requited love and to actually discover whom she really is. She wants to make sense of past events, all the while coping with her recent grief.
Do you identify with them?
The character I most relate to is probably Clara in The Deer as I am closest to her in age. It has been a challenge to access all the facets of her character, but certainly her relationship with her younger brother is something very close to me and of course the journey we embark on at some point in our lives which sees us go through the transition into adulthood is something I can identify with too.
What drew you to the production?
Working with Jack (Thorpe Baker) again was a big draw for me, he’s so brilliant. Also to have the opportunity to be part of an all female ensemble and playing multiple characters was a huge attraction and very exciting.
Could you describe the rehearsal process for the production?
The rehearsal period has been relatively short, so for this production, more than ever, we needed to get up on our feet from the beginning. There has been, as I had hoped with Jack (before becoming a director Jack was a soloist at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet) more emphasis on movement and stage pictures. One of the pieces involves a lot of movement and some lifts which has been so fun to create – we have all been in the room together almost always so it feels like we are really part of an ensemble.
Now more than ever, the subject of feminism appears to be a hot topic within the media, how relevant is Shutters within our society?
For me the most pertinent thing is that we are an all female cast who have been granted the opportunity to play parts regardless of our age, gender or race. Feminism is something that many of us are aware of but may not necessarily understand or perhaps appreciate as a valid thing. Certainly I was brought up thinking that I am equal, but really we still have a long way to go in our society. The more we make bold decisions to say that – not just gender but also – race, class, disability, sexual orientation are irrelevant when it comes to casting someone in any production the more possibility we have for change. It’s about altering perceptions and spreading this idea to promote a positive attitude to feminism and equality within our society.
The production consists of an ensemble of six females, who’ll play both male and female roles. How have you approached playing the roles? How do you find the group dynamic?
Whenever I embark on a new role I always start a little notebook which I can fill with pictures, quotes and ideas to help me get into the world of a character. Using the text as a foundation, I start to make lists and ask questions about the character and create a timeline for their life. It’s my favourite part of the process – filling in the gaps. The rehearsal room is also one of my favourite places and this company have been a joy to work with. Everyone is so supportive of one another and to have the freedom to fail and make mistakes without judgement is really liberating. We also laugh a lot.
Your previous credits have included Birdland at The Royal Court, A Doll’s House at the Young Vic and Duke of York’s Theatre, Pride and Prejudice at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre as well as TV roles in Doctors, Holby City and Mega Tsunami. How do you find working on such varied projects?
If I’d have been told 5 years ago that I would have been able to work at those venues and in those roles I would have laughed. I feel incredibly lucky and I have loved having the opportunity to do such a varied body of work. It’s what keeps the job exciting – the spontaneity of it all can be a blessing and a curse but that’s why I think one chooses to be an actor, you never know what the next adventure is.
What advice would you give to any aspiring performers looking to get into the acting industry?
It’s a tricky one, because there is no set route or correct way into the industry. Going to LAMDA gave me a foundation of knowledge and essentially prepared me for the reality of this profession, but I know many brilliant actors who never trained and have amazing careers. Have confidence in yourself and your talent and whilst it’s a cliché – have faith, don’t give up and endure.
Interview by Lucy Basaba.
Yolanda Kettle will be starring in Jack Thorpe Baker’s production of Shutters from Wednesday 9th July until Sunday 3rd August. For more information on the production, visit here…