During lockdown, many amazing collaborative spaces have emerged for artists trying to create theatre while venues are shut. One of these is the female-led writing initiative, Light On Showcase.
The showcase, which was developed during the pandemic as a way of allowing female-identifying writers to try out new work, has been a massive hit. So far, nearly a dozen writers have had a chance to show their short plays to virtual audiences.
Now back for a second series, producer Caley Powell made time in between recordings to chat about being a COVID-bride, gender representation in the theatre industry, and her tips for budding playwrights.
Caley planned the second edition of Light On Showcase to premiere on 21 May, “hopefully one month until we’re free of lockdown,” she said. The significant date resonated with the hopes behind the showcase, as she’d planned the night to be “a celebration of resilience and connection—a big party where we show these pieces to the world.”
Organising the virtual show, which includes five monologues and five duologues all written and directed by women, has been “completely different,” to the first series, where episodes were recorded and released weekly on YouTube.
“It’s all kicking off at the same time,” she explained. “But it’s really exciting.”
Caley said that she was looking forward to sharing a wide range of stories, from “ones that are quite serious and hard-hitting,” to pieces that “are genuinely laugh out loud and go in really unexpected directions.”
To find suitable performances, she released an open call with vague briefs. This helped her to discover some “amazingly talented women,” with important stories to tell.
This includes Caley’s monologue I Wish I Was Clean, which is about her experience with OCD. Although she admits it was triggering to write, she felt like it was vital to just be “as honest as possible” to try and help others. Hoping to break down myths surrounding the condition, this extremely personal piece is something she wished was around when she was younger.
“Most people assume that OCD means you’re really clean and I’m not that,” she said. “The ‘C’ in OCD is not clean, it’s about compulsions.”
Telling underrepresented stories is Caley’s forté. As a young producer, she founded Lights Down Productions in 2018 to allow all women’s stories to be heard. She explained how “programmers are more likely to have a play by a cis white male.”
Caley wanted to create something new, to “be that person people can go to when they want to put underrepresented stories on stage.” Beyond writing, she is committed to “having a separate predominantly female crew” to try and tackle the gender divide in the industry.
She hopes the main takeaway for audiences will be a therapeutic reflection on their own time in lockdown, “because who’d have thought that we’d be able to survive this long in lockdown?”
The Creative Process
Speaking about the conception of the first showcase in May 2020, Caley said that although lockdown was “incredibly tough”, it gave her something valuable: time. This combined with boredom and a need to create helped her to put a “positive to spin on the pandemic.”
“I really wanted to produce a writing showcase,” she explained. “But I was going from project to project. As soon as we got into the pandemic, I thought even though I can’t bring anything to a physical space, online is a brilliant way to connect with people and artists.”
Alongside being experienced in producing and casting, Caley is also a playwright. Being a “COVID-bride” and having her wedding delayed inspired the duologue The Competition that kickstarted the Light on Showcase.
“I thought it’d be great to launch on the day that I was originally supposed to get married,” she explained.
From there, the weekly structure of the series blossomed, and the showcase became all-consuming for the next ten weeks. “I hadn’t hired the cast or directors,” she said. “Everything seemed quite stressful, but I’m really proud of everything that was created.”
Producing the showcase helped her feel less alone, and growing a community of supportive freelancers helped her creativity flow. Yet, after the first series was wrapped, she needed a rest.
“I wanted to immediately do a second series,” she said. “I got a bit addicted to that ‘go’ feeling. I realised, actually, I do need to step away so it’s sustainable.”
Taking a few months off helped Caley focus on her writing and implement the lessons she learned from the first series. She’s now working with a co-producer, Claire-Monique Martin, and has learned a lot about the act of creating plays.
Writing regularly to hone your craft is so important, she said, explaining that there’s no feeling like “when you get to give it to actors and directors and see them bring it to life.”
The best tip she’d ever received was to leave it all on the paper, but she also believes that your workspace is key.
“Set up your space in a certain way,” she explained. “Once you’re done writing, step away—and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.”
Looking To The Future
Coming out of lockdown, Caley thinks it would be “crazy to just go back to normal, where men are doing very well in theatre and women not so much.” Determined to make things better, she is going to incorporate everything she’s learned over lockdown.
“This experience made me realise how much I enjoy giving female playwrights the opportunity to test out pieces,” she reflected. “There’s nothing better than seeing yourself represented in theatre and feeling slightly less alone.”
Words by Elouise Hobbs
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