Image by Rory Lindsay & Keely Mangham
Yve Blake collects stories: from cherished memories to little white lies, people from across the globe visit her website to tell their tales and spill their secrets anonymously. But this is no priestly confessional – the best stories Blake receives are transformed into comedy songs and performed live on stage. Her first production in this style, Then, was staged at the London VAULT Festival 2014. This year, she returns with her follow-up show, Lie Collector.
“The inciting question behind my first show was, ‘who do you feel you used to be?’ It was a broad question, but I wanted to see how people would write their own histories and talk about themselves,” Blake explained. “I found myself drawn to stories that felt honest and brave – things that would be difficult to say to someone you knew – because turning those cringey stories into something enjoyable seems quite significant. So I started wondering what would be the last thing people would want to be honest about, and out of that came the idea for Lie Collector.”
To collect her ‘tales of dishonesty’, Blake uses the website created for her previous show, www.whowerewe.com. Contributors submit stories with no personal details except a contact email address. While handing over your secrets to the imaginative mercy of a stranger may take some courage, however, any bravery on her contributors’ part has been amply paid for in kind by Blake herself who, before Then, had no experience of working in this way.
“VAULT is an amazing festival – the people there believe in the most ludicrous ideas,” she said. “I pitched a show that was way beyond anything I’d ever done. It’s described as a musical comedy, but I don’t play an instrument, I have no background in comedy, and I’d previously defined myself as a theatre-maker. So I told them I was going to make a website and learn how to make music, and they gave me a chance.”
Happily, the project was successful, with Blake collecting enough material for Then in under three months. To date, she has acquired over 1000 stories – and counting, should you wish to contribute. Of course, crafting so many strands into a coherent show isn’t easy, but Blake has learned a few tricks along the way.
“I get lots of stories that are similar, so I can sometimes use one song to represent a few different experiences. In my last show, there was a song with 32 different stories squeezed into a sort of list format.”
Despite her preference for stories with personal significance, she was keen to emphasise that submissions needn’t all be about huge, life-changing events.
“I’m interested in stories on all different scales – from stealing food from your flatmates through to the biggest lie you’ve ever told,” she said. “One of my personal favourites is quite silly. There was this girl who loved milk chocolate as a child, but her dad started only buying dark chocolate when he realised she wouldn’t eat it. For revenge, she would pick her nose and slide boogers inside the packet.”
Those submissions that don’t make it into a show may be used elsewhere. Three of her funniest acquisitions were used to create an EP and accompanying music videos as a way of giving something back to contributors unable to attend a performance.
Collaboration has always been an essential part of Blake’s work, from sourcing her material through to polishing off her productions.
“There’s a team of about eight people helping me with Lie Collector, including the brilliant music producer, Scott Quinn, so even though I’m alone on stage, it’s perhaps the only part of my creative process where I’m not sharing ideas or being accompanied by someone.”
In future projects, she hopes to take this collaborative aspect further, and has lately been experimenting with ways of enabling viewers to make live digital contributions to her shows.
“I’m currently writing a musical about fangirls on Twitter. I want to include a kind of chatroom that people can contribute to using their smartphones. If anyone reading knows or is a mad fangirl or fanboy, please get in touch! Go to whowerewe.com and just write to me with four exclamation marks and then the number one!”
Aged just 21, Blake’s skill and confidence are certainly impressive. It’s unsurprising, then, that she’s a firm believer in not allowing fear to hold you back.
“If there’s any attitude that’s helped me, it’s knowing that it doesn’t matter how scared you are of doing something – you’d be an idiot not to try. You might fail, but that’s how you learn.”
Lie Collector is currently showing at VAULT Festival, London Waterloo, until 1 March. Tickets are available from the festival’s website.