What was the inspiration for Everything I See I Swallow?
Everything I See I Swallow was originally commissioned by the Lowry for their biennial Week 53 Festival. Steve Cowton who was familiar with my work as Artistic Director of Actors of Dionysus invited me to submit an aerial theatre proposal for the festival on the theme of “Coming of Age”.
I was already familiar with the work of Maisy Taylor, both as an aerialist and as a performer (including shibari) and was intrigued about the female sexuality aspect of her work. I found her work beautiful and fascinating and thought that the combination of her youth and aerial expertise and my experience and age might prove fruitful, especially when connected to the theme of Coming of Age.
She also told me that she had amassed quite a following on Instagram, which became a crucial aspect of the show. Maisy and I sat down together and found that there were lots of overlaps in areas of our work and that we were both interested in our generational divide and so Everything I See I Swallow was born. Maisy came up with the title and it’s derived from a Sylvia Plath poem called Mirror (the actual line in the poem is “Whatever I See I Swallow”). Although we don’t directly relate to the poem, there are themes of ageing and reflection that are very resonant in the play.
This new version, coming after the original (which I directed during our initial period of research and development for Week 53) follows on from the idea of an art curator exhibiting her daughter as an object in a gallery. I felt that this would buy us permission to have a debate about the themes we wanted to explore. Maisy and I then devised and wrote the piece together, undergoing a lot of reading and research during the process. For Edinburgh the germ of the idea is still intact but the show has metamorphosed into something far richer, more nuanced and meta, mainly due to the influence of our brilliant director Helen Tennison (who worked as outside eye during the R&D) and who has been putting us through our paces and challenging us throughout the rehearsal period. Another very exciting element that we didn’t have in the R&D is the addition of video projection and we are indebted to our associate director, Katherine Sturt-Scobie for her tireless work putting this crucial aspect of the piece together.
What kind of wider impact in terms of conversations do you hope the work will produce?
We want to encourage debate and provoke questions, and we want audiences to come away with a more complex understanding of the issues raised in the show – what constitutes control, freedom, liberation, when does protection become control? Are the actions of posting explicit photographs a freedom of expression or exploitation, and what is the difference?
We want to encourage people to have honest conversations about sexuality and liberation, without shying away from all of the complicated issues and stigmas surrounding these things. We think that shifting attitudes towards sex and feminism across a generational divide is a really interesting thing to start conversations about, and we hope that the show will provide a platform for them to happen.
How far does the content of the work influence your dramaturgical process? (or – what is the relationship between form and content?)
Quite substantially. We wanted to create a meta-theatrical piece with a strong aerial dimension that worked on both a symbolic and a metaphorical level. The use of rope in the play is fundamental as the whole piece is framed as an art installation. The themes that we explore, of control and submission, imprisonment and freedom, censorship and creative expression, are explored physically by the way we relate to and respond to the ropes. Working with Helen has enabled us to explore these areas in much more detail and to play and take artistic risk in a way that we were unable to do as creatively last time around. Katherine’s involvement has allowed us to add another visual and theatrical dimension to the piece, with the addition of video projection. The use of a live Pico Projector has greatly enriched the storytelling and overall narrative and allowed us to explore the dynamic between mother and daughter in a new way.
How does this show relate to your usual process or content?
This is Shasha & Taylor’s first production, but as artistic director of Actors of Dionysus (aod) my work is rooted in producing new adaptations of Ancient Greek drama and new writing inspired by myth. I re-trained as an aerialist about 12 years ago because I really wanted to introduce an aerial/circus dimension in to aod’s work, so the seed was sown for Swallow then. In 2007 I took a solo piece, Bacchic, to the Edinburgh Fringe, and then I created another piece called Helen (about Helen of Troy) and an aerial version of Medea, with all performers in the air.
Everything I See I Swallow is vastly different in content, although the themes and arguments discussed are universal. With this project, I have been able to explore other avenues in my work away from ancient Greek drama whilst further developing my aerial interests, which have become a prominent feature of my work.
What makes you want to make theatre rather than another art?
I love the live aspect of performance and the feeling that you get as a performer on stage responding to an audience and to fellow performers. I like the complicity between performer and audience and how each performance is different. I like how things develop when you do a longer run and how you learn to take more artistic risk for the benefit of the narrative and the show. I like the adrenaline of being on stage and the rush you get when a show goes well.
Is theatre – and the Fringe – a good place to provoke conversations?
Absolutely. There is nothing quite like the Fringe – it’s the most exciting place to be in August. The city becomes even more of a supportive hub of creative frenzy and anything goes. There’s a brilliant rawness about a lot of the work – thousands of unknown gems waiting to be discovered, all with something to say, and it feels really special to see something which provokes those late night Twitter hashtags, or those impromptu “I saw that too!” conversations at the bar. For that blissful hour the audience are part of a club, one of “the chosen few”. Theatre is wonderful because it provokes conversation, it shocks and appalls us, it makes us think – if you are still thinking about a show 2 hours afterwards, it’s done a good job.
An art curator discovers that her daughter has amassed over 50,000 followers on Instagram by posting semi pornographic images of herself. Although appalled she decides to exhibit her daughter as a live installation and then proceeds to make a case against bondage as un-feminist and chauvinistic. And so begins a battle of wills, beliefs and family values as the bond between mother and daughter is put to the test.
In a world where #MeToo and #TimesUp have become rallying cries against female sexual harassment, how does a woman defend the objectiﬁcation of her own body and the gaze from those around her? How are the lines drawn and how is the rope tied?
In this provocative and unforgettable examination, rope becomes a metaphor to explore themes of control, gender, dominance and submission.
Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor are aerial performers with a generation between them, sharing an interest in female sexuality and its place in the modern world. Tamsin is artistic director of Actors of Dionysus and an experienced actor, performer and director. She was last at the Fringe with her solo show Bacchic in 2007, drawing favourable comparisons with that year’s production of The Bacchae starring Alan Cumming. Maisy graduated in 2015 with a first class honours degree from the National Centre for Circus Arts. She has spent the last few years in strip clubs and on the London cabaret scene, exploring the cultural and political significance of female sexuality and its relationship with performance.
Both artists see Swallow as a forum for discussion, particularly in relation to young women and the pressures of social media. Tamsin says ‘It’s about a young woman who is not a victim in any sense and who chooses to express her sexuality in a way that many find uncomfortable’. Maisy adds ‘The play’s ultimate message is positive and offers hope and understanding for the future’.
‘Clever, highly effective, an original, remarkable and mesmerising re-working … Alan Cumming will have to work hard to better the hugely talented Tamsin Shasha’ ★★★★ The Scotsman (on Bacchic)
Watch the video here https://vimeo.com/337319451
contains nudity, swearing and scenes of a sexual nature.
|Listings information: Everything I See I Swallow
|Venue: Summerhall, Demonstration Room, Venue 26
||Tickets: £11 – £13 (previews 31 Jul, 2 Aug £6)
|Dates: 31 July – 25 Aug (not 1, 12, 19 Aug) first review date 31 July
||Venue Box Office: 0131 560 1581
|Time: 18.00 (60 mins)