A young playwright wants her upcoming Dublin theatre production to offer an alternative perspective to young girls regarding the “perfect princess only being straight”.
22-year-old Leigh Douglas aims to challenge conventional storytelling with her new play Waking Beauty. The production, which was a success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015, will make its Irish debut in Dublin next month at The Pearse Centre Theatre.
Douglas said the idea for the play came from a conversation about fairy tales, which tend to give kids a view of life showing heterosexual relationships as the norm. As one of three founding members of the feminist themed Minerva Collective Theatre Company, she intends for this project to represent 21st century society, and offer another reality to young girls growing up.
“I wrote it at university in York and submitted it for a university scriptwriting module which they almost failed me on,” said Leigh who put on Waking Beauty at the Interuniversity Drama Festival in York in March 2015 before its successful run later in the year in Edinburgh.
Almost a year later, the play will feature at The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival for its first professional production. Hundreds applied for its open casting call earlier this year.
“It’s not specifically for children,” she said, explaining that the theatre company had to put a 12+ rating on a previous play so as not to market it as a children’s production.
“It’s awful, but you do have to be conscious of the fact that this isn’t your typical content for children’s theatre, and it’s quite a new concept for that reason. If a family come in and bring their kids we do inform them of the subject matter and ask them if they are comfortable with their children being exposed to it, and for the most part they are like ‘Yes! Amazing! Thank you!’ which is great.
“Edinburgh was a really exciting experience because not only did we get a lot of positive reviews for Waking Beauty, but the kids in the audience always responded so well to it which was just an amazing feeling.
“We did have one woman who stood up when the actors were taking a bow one night and said ‘everything you’ve seen here today is wrong, they’re spreading lies, they’re trying to brainwash you’, which was quite unexpected behaviour, even though we knew there would be people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with it,” she said.
“On the other hand, one of the actors performing for us at the Fringe invited her pastor, who was trying to make up his mind about how he felt about homosexuality at the time, to come along to see it. He told us that he found the play ‘thought provoking’, so it was great and really interesting to get such an unexpectedly positive response.
“You can make a whole different range of political points when you’re mixing genres,” said Leigh, who is currently in a full time actor training programme at the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin.
“By putting a lesbian into a fairy-tale genre you’re essentially saying that homosexuality could absolutely be part of our folklore and cultural heritage as much as heterosexuality is, and I think in that way mixing genres can be really powerful in terms of making a political point.”
The playwright admits to getting questioned frequently about her sexuality due to the subject matter, but she explains that the play is aimed at all young women and is based around the idea of self-acceptance.
“I think it’s really interesting because if I was writing a heterosexually themed show nobody would ask me what my sexuality is, but because I’m dealing with LGBT issues, it’s just assumed that I’m a lesbian,” she said.
The mission statement of The Minerva Collective is to create theatre “for and about young women” as the company feel they are able to represent issues with an authenticity and an immediacy that is lacking elsewhere.
“I really think it’s important for us, as women, to reclaim what we ‘symbolise’ or represent, broadly speaking, gay or straight, and make sure that all young women today feel represented”, said Leigh, adding that “it will always be important to us as a theatre company to make work that empowers young women.”
Waking Beauty performed at the Pearse Centre Theatre from May 2 – 7 and will be at the Ovalhouse London 13-16 July.