Karen Cogan talks about her second play, Drip Feed which is currently playing at the Soho Theatre and why all voices are deserving of a platform.
“A word after a word after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood.
It is vital that people, ALL people feel that their story and their authentic, uncompromised voice, has a place in the theatre industry. I trained at RADA (it took several attempts to get in and I wouldn’t have got through without huge loans and scholarship help). When I graduated, I spent 6 years doing often dissatisfying work in the industry and sometimes no work at all. I felt uncreative and as though my asymmetrical face and height were more important than my burning brain and heart.
I started writing a couple of years ago. It was agonising initially but as Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” There was theatre and television I wanted to see but I wasn’t seeing it. I wrestle a lot with the fact that I am one person, one white person, who can only tell so many stories. But if we allow ourselves to be frozen by the magnitude of change needed, then we will do nothing and keep hearing the same stories from the same voices over and over until we stagnate, so I picked up a pen.
Drip Feed, my second play, vomited out of me fast, in a period of frustration. I felt tired of the conversations around female writers and characters. The phrase ‘strong women’ is used often but there’s no onus on men to be ‘strong’. They just get to be flawed creatures, but women engage in a similar spectrum of messy behaviour. I wanted to write a complex queer woman who reflects the mortifying lengths we can all go to be loved, to be seen. I wrote Drip Feed in a haze, over a few days because the need to get the story out was quite frantic so the fact that it was shortlisted for the Verity Bargate Award and is being produced by Soho Theatre still feels a bit like a fever dream. It is being developed for telly along with other original ideas I previously pitched since Drip Feed has opened some previously shut doors. It looks like an overnight shift, but it comes off the back of 6 years feeling incongruous in the industry.
When, upon getting into the world you craved entry to, you realise that the system is inherently patriarchal, racist, capitalist and flawed and it is demoralising. But I am hugely fired up by the work being done to facilitate people who have traditionally been ostracised from this industry to step forward into the theatre and screen industries and take positions of power. I am also a facilitator and regularly work with young people to encourage them to find their voice and step into worlds they often feel excluded from.
As a facilitator, many of the most exciting young performers and theatre-makers I have ever worked with have come from backgrounds that make the challenges they need to overcome steep in an already tough industry. Many young artists are facing wild systemic racism and gender inequality, ableism, homophobia and transphobia. Organisations like The Black Ticket Project run by producer Tobi Kyeremateng, Open Door, Deafinitely Theatre, the Soho Young Writers groups and the free RADA youth workshops are making a difference. Very often the change comes from individuals who are not being paid but who will not stand by and watch intrinsic inequality affect the next generation.
This summer I took Drip Feed to Edinburgh for a month and the response has got me thinking about the dearth of female LGBTQ+ stories. It is a solo play about a woman in 1998 Ireland, obsessively in love with her first girlfriend. She takes us on a grubby odyssey through 90’s Cork and the homophobia she encounters there. I received so many messages from LGBTQ+ women saying what it meant to them to see a gay woman take centre stage in a story and how unusual it still feels even in 2018. People stopped me in the streets of Edinburgh to say how rare and how good it felt to see a queer woman in a spotlight, with one writing to me after the show to say that when she saw a queer woman take the spotlight and tell a complex story, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders she hadn’t known she had been carrying.
Women’s stories, in their whole spectrum of complexity, remain underrepresented on stage and screen, let alone the stories of LGBTQ+ women. It is time to show young people across all races, bodies, sexualities, genders and creeds that their stories are deserving of a platform, a poster, a front page, an audience. Lifting marginalised voices up is a vital act, and an act of protest. There is a heavy weight bearing down on the next generation and every story that we tell or enable that speaks to a marginalised young person is a weight lifted off; a little bit of damage redressed.
So regardless of whatever is holding you back, write your story, record your voice, sign your words. Raise your voice up and as the wondrous Clare Perkins roared in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia at The Globe, let’s “BURN THIS WHOLE FUCKING HOUSE DOWN”.
Drip Feed is playing at the Soho Theatre until October 20. For more information and to book tickets, follow the link: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/drip-feed/