Jennifer Thompson interviews two women who are taking their show, Tea?…(With Milk) to Edinburgh. They chat about feminism, Trump and a distaste for producing.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world and is a great place to catch new shows, plays and musicals, with one particularly exciting play this year being Tea?…(With Milk). Over a bubbly Skype call I catch up with the writers and performers of the show, Niamh Callan and Elisha Lawrence as they prepare for the festival.
Tea?…(With Milk) looks into what it actually means to be a feminist in today’s society. Both writers express concerns over what it actually took, for them, to be a feminist, with Callan telling me: “we realised that the statement: ‘what is a feminist‘ is hard and wondered ‘can I do this and still call myself a feminist?’” this idea fed into the development of the characters: “throughout the play the audience realise and they realise that they’re actually not quite good feminists,” they continue.
The pair met whilst studying drama in New York, and the things they saw in the news out there played a key part in the inspiration for the show. “It was when Trump was really prominent, and Brock Turner and all of that was going on, and we’d have like deep discussions about that and then we just threw in stories about our own personal lives, and that’s kinda how we got this idea,” Lawrence tells me.
If you’re wondering what all this has to do with tea (and milk), it may help to cast your mind back to 2015 when Thames Valley Police released an animated video Tea and Consent that went viral. The video compared the idea of consent to making a cup of tea for someone, explaining how every possible answer relates to the idea of consent. The video helped Callan and Lawrence during the research and development period of the show, as well as with the title. When talking about the video and how it helped with the development of the show Lawrence says, “we found that really interesting how it explains consent really easily, and that was the initial route we were going down.”
At the centre though, is feminism and it’s clear that that’s an issue close to both the writers’ hearts. “Feminism for me just means equality for everybody,” Lawrence elaborates. For Callan, feminism isn’t just about being equal, but also celebrating the amazing things women can do. “We have this insane ability to make babies in our bellies, so that’s amazing!”
Reflecting on growing up, Callan and Lawrence agree that even if they weren’t always aware of what feminism was, there was always a sense of girl power with Lawrence explaining, “I’d do research in school on the gender pay gap [and things] and that would really aggravate me.” Continuing to talk about the struggles of trying to join in with a playground football match, she tells me, “you would always have to try and prove that you were better to try and play.”
When it came to writing the play, both women agree that it was made easier by being in a team, but that didn’t by any means make for plain sailing. “Sometimes we would sit down and we would write something, and we’d be on Google Docs talking to each other on the phone writing at the same, and it wasn’t until we acted it out we didn’t like it.” The pair eventually settled on a writing style that worked for them, much preferring being able to improv scenes and work on them before having to write them down. Other than the writing, one of the other struggles they faced was producing, with Callan saying, “I don’t think we like producing as much as we thought,” and Lawrence adding, “next time we’ll get our own producer.”
Challenges aside, Callan and Lawrence are both excited to be in Edinburgh, and both say they have most been looking forward to being able to perform everyday: “I’m such an energetic person anyway, and I can’t control it, so doing the show is the most exciting bit.” Lawrence comments on how nice the community at Edinburgh is: “everyone I’ve spoken to that’s done a show at Edinburgh before has been so willing to help, so it’s been really nice to have a community of people who are there to help and support you, it’s lovely.”
Whilst both women hope ultimately that people will simply enjoy the show, there’s also some messages they want women to be able to take away from what their characters learn. Callan says, “for me it’s probably: don’t be afraid to be you and stand up for what you believe in,” with Lawrence continuing, “especially younger people I want them to walk away thinking that your powerful story and experience is yours and no one can change that.” The chat ends with the writers talking about how great and important it is to be able to empower women, even though that’s something that their characters sometimes struggle with. Lawrence finishes off by telling me that: “it’s okay to not know how to be empowering, but overall just be a nice person.”
Tea?…(With Milk) is playing Edinburgh until August 24. For more information and to book tickets, visit the edfringe website.