Associate Artistic Director of LegalAliens Becka McFadden talks about podcast series ‘THINGS I AM NOT’

Responding to the powerful statement “Things I am Not!”, ten female artists were asked to use this as a basis to ultimately create ten original monologues produced by LegalAliens Theatre Company. Highlighting the experiences of female artists who have migrated to the UK, the THINGS I AM NOT podcast series gives voice to the often underrepresented. Currently available to access via the LegalAliens website, Director Becka McFadden tells us more about why the company were inspired of to use the “Things I am Not!” statement as a starting point, how she’s approached directing the podcast series, and what she’d like for listeners to take away from the project.

Hi Becka, LegalAliens will be presenting ‘THINGS I AM NOT’, a podcast series consisting of 10 episodes by 10 artists. How are you feeling ahead of the launch?

We’re looking forward to launching these voices and stories into the world and also to seeing what sort of listener responses come back. And of course, podcasting is a new medium for us, so that’s very exciting.

LegalAliens Theatre asked 10 female artists to respond to the theme ‘THINGS I AM NOT’. A powerful statement, what inspired this particular theme?

The theme comes from a monologue by actor Emmanuela Lia, called “Things I’m Not” – it’s actually the piece that inspired the whole project and gave it its name, as well as the first monologue to be released. Emmanuela wrote “Things I’m Not” during the first lockdown last spring, as she found herself thinking about all the assumptions that are projected on her as a migrant woman and wondering what would happen if she had the chance to define herself. Emmanuela approached LegalAliens with the idea to expand this monologue into something that could involve other voices and together we decided, along with artistic director Lara Parmiani, to focus on the stories of women migrants. As a women-led ensemble working almost exclusively with migrant artists, it’s a topic that’s close to home for us. We wanted to make space for migrant women artists to share stories inspired by their experiences, which are of course far more nuanced than the stereotypes we often see in the media or pop culture.

You’d asked writers to start from a first person point of view and choose a style that best represents them. What was it about the first person perspective that you felt would work best for this series?

We didn’t actually specify first person, but I think it’s a natural choice in this instance. The pieces aren’t journalistic or documentary in nature, but many of them will emerge from an individual artist’s experience, so telling them in the first person makes sense. It also allows the narrator to relive a story while also reflecting on it; there is an element of time travel to many of the pieces.

How have you approached directing the pieces, especially for a digital format?

As a company, LegalAliens has historically concentrated on new translations of contemporary plays, so in many ways the process was similar to how we usually work on a text, even though these pieces are new writing in English. That means working with the artist on the text to make it play as well as possible and then thinking about how to best tell the story with the tools and technology that are available in the audio/digital space. We haven’t wanted to overproduce these pieces – there’s been a conscious decision to focus on the power of the voice, rather than various effects – but things we’ve considered include the addition of other languages and voices and how to evoke different environments. The dramaturgy also extends to the visual experience of the piece; each monologue features an original digital artwork by artist Laura Rouzet; and how we support each episode, build community and hold discussions on social media.

How have you found creating this important podcast series during this time?

For those of us in the core team, the project has been a great opportunity to work together for the first time in a year, albeit via Zoom; our last live production closed just before the March lockdown.

This project is quite wonderful in that it feels very much in line with our aim to platform work by migrant artists in the UK and to bring an innovative, visual approach to theatre making. At the same time, it’s a project that has been designed to be digital from the outset, rather than an attempt to translate a live experience into the digital environment. The project has also been an amazing opportunity to meet a new group of inspiring artists. We feel very lucky to have been able to do this work at a time when so many of us feel isolated and unsure about how to move forward. We also really hope that the project will inspire listeners to share their responses and that we can create a real community around the project that extends well beyond our team. Whether people choose to feedback or not, we hope the stories make everyone listening feel less alone.

What can listeners expect from the series?

Since last Monday 8th of March, we’ll drop one new monologue a week for a period of 10 weeks. You’ll encounter a wide range of stories, voices and experiences that we hope will challenge, move, inspire and intrigue you. Expect to see a gallery of listener-generated response art grow from week to week on our website and if you join us on Instagram you can also get to know our artists better with live interviews and take part in discussions on the content of individual pieces. You are also welcome to contribute by sending your artwork in!

What would you like for listeners to take away from the podcast?

A more nuanced and complex understanding of the multitude of experiences and individuals that fall under the heading of “migrant woman.”

An understanding that the designations of ‘migrant’ and ‘artist’ are not mutually exclusive.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, that while our artists’ experiences are not at all comparable and should not be thought of in terms of equivalency, there’s still more that unites us than separates us.

It’s something we’ve often spoken about, the reality that no matter where we are from or how different our journeys to the UK have been, we recognise elements of ourselves in each other. When we can do that and find common cause in this way, we’re all stronger. I think that’s a realisation that can be exported to many areas of life and if it can be a takeaway of this podcast, we’ll feel we’ve done our job.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To access the THINGS I AM NOT podcast, visit here…

To read our interview with writer and performer Sabrina Richmond, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop