In an inspiring chat, Lindsey Huebner talks to a creative of many talents, Cat Kolubayev as her show Bin Juice hits the last few weeks of Vault Festival. Expect lots of female empowerment and a little bit of John Travolta.
Increasingly, it is becoming the norm for theatre practitioners to have numerous strings to their creative bows, but Cat Kolubayev, the playwright/co-producer/AD for new play, Bin Juice, turns this practice into a fine art. We meet through the digital airwaves from opposite ends of London and from the moment Kolubayev crackles to life on the other end of the line, the confidence and warmth she exudes are obvious – traits I discover are deliberate hallmarks of the rehearsal room vibe she and her team strive to create.
Our chat is effusive and tangential and at times, we must intentionally stop ourselves in order to get back on track. Kolubayev’s insight and wit are more expansive than her current job titles and I will attempt to distil our winding chat whilst doing adequate service to this whip-smart powerhouse.
Kolubayev’s first foray into the theatrical realms came in the form of a play she wrote in an attempt to make sense of her parents’ divorce. Whilst the love of the written word percolated away, she also developed as an actor, gaining a place at LAMDA. Elaborating on these two loves, Kolubayev tells me, “The two are so intrinsically linked for me. I knew from a young age I wanted to do both but not necessarily together, I didn’t necessarily want to be in the things I wrote. If I was doing that, it wouldn’t have the same magic.” Thus, the creative multi-tasking began.
Kolubayev’s taste as a writer developed many years ago. She says, “I went to the theatre as a kid because I just wanted to laugh; I wanted to be entertained.” Indeed, this goal seems front-and-centre in the creation of Bin Juice, but pry beneath the surface and there is definitely more than feel-good fluff at the centre of this play.
The story of Bin Juice centres around three bin women whose covert jobs are to dispose of bodies. I ask Kolubayev how the story came about, and she chuckles, telling me, “I wish I had a really profound reason of how I came up with it,” before launching into the story: she was on her way to the opticians on a warm day and smelled some particularly putrid bins, thinking to herself, “something must have died in there”. Later, in the optician’s chair as puffs of dry air are blown into her eyes, she finds herself musing on murder (as one does) and concludes that bins would be an excellent way to get rid of a body… “Drop that bag and be on your way!” She laughs. That evening, she watched Pulp Fiction. Noting the dynamic between the John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson characters, she thought, “huh, you never see women playing parts like that.” At this point, the optician chair musings and the Tarantino-inspired double-act came together to create the zygote that was to become Bin Juice.
Although laughter and entertainment are a primary goal for Kolubayev in the creation of her work, she has evidently put much thought into her place as a writer. She asks herself, “what’s the best thing I can do as a writer? And what I’ve concluded for myself, is just to write plays about characters where their gender has nothing to do with them.” Continuing, she tells me, “as female performers, sometimes I feel we have to exploit ourselves for the sake of a story, and I wanted to get away from that and have women get to do something they don’t often get to do, which is just to play human, to play characters.”
Elaborating further, Kolubayev says, “I think sometimes as a woman, unless you have a story around something that’s triggering or painful, it’s almost not valid. I think that’s a dangerous place. It makes me wonder – who’s that for? Is that really what art is? Isn’t there some way we can show women where they don’t have to bear their pain and their suffering?” This isn’t to say that she is against what might be described as more ‘issue-driven’ plays. In fact, Kolubayev says she, “lives for those stories,” and maintains, “the creative world absolutely needs that kind of work, but there are writers who do it better than I do.”
The affection Kolubayev has for the entirety of the team behind Bin Juice is palpable. She attributes the success of this rehearsal room dynamic to a mutual respect for every individual’s role within the process. Speaking of the industry, Kolubayev says, “a lot of the time, I feel like we don’t know what people do. If you can get a sense of what everyone’s job is, you’ve just got a bit more empathy. There’s a lot more kindness in the room when there’s no one person that’s more important than the others. A lot of people don’t feel validated by what they do because of the hierarchy. Abolish the hierarchy!” As our time together meanders toward its natural conclusion, the progression of our conversation steers away from Bin Juice and tends toward our shared interests, similar backgrounds and looking toward the future. This interview in particular leaves me feeling incredibly grateful for the superlative chats this position brings into my life. Although we’ve had a few diversions along the way, as Kolubayev says, “I wouldn’t have gotten to that point if I hadn’t gone via a little tangent.” I couldn’t agree more.
Bin Juice plays 10-15 March. For more information and tickets, visit the Vault Festival website.