Writer and Performer Cecilia Gragnani talks about her podcast series ‘London Expat’
Revisiting her production of Diary of an Expat, originally performed at the the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival, writer and performer Cecilia Gragnani returns with an adaptation of the production with podcast series London Expat. Joined by Drag Queen Jonny Woo, the pair examine experiences of what life as an expat means within the UK, Jonny Woo taking on the role of the ‘Spirit of London’ as each episode delves into the topic of migration further. Currently available to access via Storie Libere’s website, Cecilia tells us more about what she’s taken away from the journey of creating both shows.
Hi Cecilia, you’ve launched London Expat, a timely six part podcast series following the journey to becoming a British Citizen. How have you found revisiting Diary of an Expat during this time?
It’s been an interesting and stimulating journey. Experiencing a story in the flesh in front of a performer is a completely different thing from guiding audiences through the voice. I wanted the podcast to be different from the show and that’s why with the producers of Storie Libere we decided to add a journalistic section that is not part of the show as well as breaking down the story differently from the live performance. The show is a character’s journey towards becoming a British citizen. In the podcast I wanted to keep this journey but open up the conversation about the themes of the show. We decided to include in every episode a journalistic section where we share interviews and contributions from thinkers of all sorts. We also decided to dedicate a theme which would be the thread of each episode, such as identity or freedom which are very close to my heart.
Adapted from your 2018 show Diary of an Expat, London Expat sees you join forces with Drag Queen Johnny Woo. How have you both worked together to adapt the piece?
The show has a character which embodies the spirit of London, its force and contradictions, the city that seems to give with one hand while taking away with the other. I’ve always been a fan of Johnny Woo and, when I saw her at Edfringe doing a Brexit related show the same year that I was performing Diary of an Expat, I knew that she would have been perfect to give voice to Alotta London, my character.
When I approached her to record the podcast she was extremely collaborative. I wrote the scripts with co-writer Paul Davidson and then we met in the studio and, as it often happens, we improvised and played with the material. She had the perfect energy, the playfulness and warmth that I imagined the character to have. And she’s such good fun to work with.
Produced by Storie Libere, London Expat also witnesses you collaborate with curators Gabriele Carrer and Cecilia Belluzo, artist Giacomo Botto, with music supplied by Epidemic Sound. How have you worked together to realise the series?
It’s been a very collaborative journey, I adapted the story of the show and then with Gabriele and Cecilia we worked on finding the contributions and testimonies of each episode as well as developing the structure, how we go from my narration to the moments with Johnny Woo and ending with a section which we call “vox pop” where we play a game based on the book “Life in the UK” which is the bible for new citizens and on which the citizenship test is based. There’s such great questions like “Who brought shampoo to the UK?” that we thought it would be fun to ask them to both Europeans and Brits to test their level of britishness.
Giacomo created the image working with Rossana de Michele who is the genius mind behind Storie Libere, the production company. And Epidemic Sound do a fantastic job in shaping the sound design of each episode. Once we agreed on the tone, I then let them create freely as they are just wonderful, they build almost a score to each episode which I feel serves the narration perfectly.
What has creating London Expat meant for accessibility? Have you received responses towards the series? If so, what have they been?
The podcast has allowed me to keep the story alive during these hard times when performing live isn’t an option, it has also helped to reach more people all over Europe and the world. The response so far has been extremely positive, the podcast has had a very good positioning in the charts and we have received lovely comments from people who felt like I was almost telling their story, which has been my objective from the start. I’ve always wanted to do it so that expats could have their stories heard and told which, I believe, isn’t something that has had a lot of space especially in the UK, given how much their lives have changed since 2016.
From Diary of an Expat, to London Expat, in the years that you have explored your own personal experiences of being an expat in the UK, what have you taken away from creating both shows?
I learnt to trust my instincts and it’s been reassuring to see that it’s a story worth sharing. I have also met wonderful people, as collaborators and audience members, from touring the show all over the country to the guests I’ve interviewed for the podcast. The human experience has been extremely nurturing.
What can listeners expect from the podcast?
If they want to have a laugh about trying to become a citizen of another country, to discover other people’s stories, perhaps to learn about topics they didn’t know much about but that are very much part of our society today, I think this is the podcast for them. They can expect a variety of contributions and guests, from the Royal Butler to the formidable Anglican priest and sociologist Rosemarie Mallet, to a mixed couple sharing the joys and struggles of what it means merging two cultures and random people having a blast at guessing “How many square miles does Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park cover”. They will be both entertained and informed.
What do you want for listeners to take away from the podcast?
I’d love for other expats like me to feel less lonely, to recognise themselves in some of the experiences I share. I also hope that people with a completely different background and life story will be curious to know more. And finally I really wish it can create a dialogue in a very divisive time.
To read our review of Diary of an Expat, visit here…
To read our interview with director Katharina Reinthaller on Diary of an Expat, visit here…
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