An Interview with Alice Sylvester
Has it been only a year since Alice Sylvester wowed Edinburgh with her one-woman play about Sylvia Plath? Time flies, but in that time she has come up with something stirringly new. The Mumble caught her for a wee blether…
Hello Alice, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Alice: I grew up in the South Wales valleys, and I still spend a lot of my time there. But over the past few years, I haven’t settled in a place for too long, (I think I get easily bored). I try to travel as much as I can especially while I’m writing. I did live in Edinburgh for a few months this year and I really loved that.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Alice: I discovered creative writing when I was 7, since then all I’ve wanted to do is write. I discovered my passion for being on stage a little later on when I was a teen. It’s kind of funny, I chose performing arts as a school subject because I thought it would be fun and easy- it turned out to be the thing I’ve worked hardest at in my life so far. During the last year of my degree I learned how to write and perform my own plays, which is becoming a little bit addictive since my two favourite things are writing and acting.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Alice: Whatever it is, I want it to move me. I want it to make me think and feel beyond myself, beyond my every day thoughts and feelings. I don’t need to understand it, I don’t need to agree with it, I don’t even need to like it; a good piece of theatre should stir within you, and you leave you a little changed.
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three box set TV shows, what would they be?
Alice: Mad Men is probably my favourite show, Game of Thrones I can (and have) watched for ten consecutive hours, and then Sex and the City is the show I can annoyingly predict every sentence of.
Can you tell us about The Bathtub Heroine?
Alice: I created The Bathtub Heroine theatre company in 2016, with the intention to produce theatre that has captivating leading female roles. More than that, I’m also passionate to allow emerging female artists to develop their skills behind the stage in all areas of theatre creation and production.
Last year you were in Edinburgh with, “Sylvia Plath, Your Words Are Just Dust.” How did it go?
Alice: I had some experience of the Fringe, I had performed there the previous year. But this was my first original show, I was in control of every aspect of producing a show and although I wasn’t scared, I had no idea what I was doing, or how it would be received. But I couldn’t have asked for a better response. I had great audience attendance even some shows were fully sold out, and I received five star reviews that were beautifully written- it was very encouraging. Since then I’ve had an attitude that if I want something, I’ll just go for it, I’ll give it a shot, life’s much more fun that way.
What have you got for us this year?
Alice: “How to Swim in Hollywood” is inspired by the 2017 Hollywood sexual abuse scandals. I wanted to write a piece that shows how cultural norms regarding beauty standards and gender ideals strongly influence sexual exploitation, and the way we understand it. The play is set in Beverly Hills in 1979, and it follows the character of Daisy, a young housewife of a Hollywood icon. Growing up Daisy never learned how to swim, and the main focus of the play flows between her memories of swimming pools at summer and experiences with men. It becomes clear to the audience that Daisy was entirely unprepared for womanhood; her stories of teenage crushes create a picture of a woman who was thrown into the deep end of a world she doesn’t understand. It is intense at moments; it shows the complex nature of rape and coercion, and the ways in which people can struggle to understand abuse.
Why did you set the play in 1979?
Alice: When I began studying the Harvey Weinstein accusations I was quickly drawn back in time to the 1970s- and I learned about director Roman Polanski’s conviction of raping a 13 year old girl (1977). What horrified me the most was not the crime Polanski had committed, but the way that the cultural perspective of the time meant people didn’t perceive his actions as rape. In the light of recent events, it reminds me that just because evil is public knowledge, does not mean that positive change will occur. I want ‘How to Swim in Hollywood’ to encourage people to consider what aspects of current culture are blurring the perspective of sexual exploitation, and how we can educate children and teens to discover their sexuality in a safe and healthy way.
How did you create the character of Daisy & how much of you is there in her?
Alice: The character of Daisy was my first point of inspiration. I had this character in my head for some time, I knew her personality, she lived in L.A, she was young and married, and had a history of sexual abuse. Then months later the Harvey Weinstein scandals hit the news, and when that happened I began to really connect with the world and story of Daisy. There is a lot of myself in the character of Daisy, perhaps even more than I realise. I think that’s necessary when I create a one-woman show; I’m enticed by characters I can understand, I can relate to them if I share an element of their pain. In comparison to the woman I am today Daisy is very different to me. But she is perhaps a version of a woman I could have become if I didn’t grow tired of allowing negative influences in my life, and if I never began to make womanhood the experience I want it to be.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street….?
Alice: This is a powerful performance, a dark and beautiful show, an important perspective inspired by the recent Hollywood abuse scandals.
Can you tell us about your stagecraft; the music, sound & stage design?
Alice: I would describe the play as dreamy- the main character is alone in her bedroom, overlooking L.A at night, and the only stage set is her vanity table, a symbol for what is at the centre of her existence. She flows from conscious thought to past memories; there is a piece of atmospheric underwater music written for the play and a few of my favourite 70s hits. I wanted everything to be soft, and hypnotic from the physicality to the sound and light design. I like the idea of creating a play that is visually sweet, soft, and delicate but gradually pulls you into its dark undercurrent.
How will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Alice: I will feel relaxed, even when I have performed scenes that were intense and dramatic. I know when a performance is great because it felt natural and organic. I should sink effortlessly into the character and welcome the audience into the world of the play with ease. It’s sort of a seductive feeling, which is a funny thing to say, but yeah, that’s how I would describe it- a good performance feels great; I’m seducing myself and the audience into the fictional world of the play.
Can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Alice: It is a financially devastating, emotionally draining, alcohol fuelled, wild, hilarious, and wonderful adventure.
What will you be doing after the Fringe?
Alice: My next stop will be New York in November, I’m performing ‘Sylvia Plath, Your Words Are Just Dust’ at Theatre Row on 42 Street, as a part of UnitedSolo- the world’s largest solo theatre festival. After that I’ll hopefully spend some time outside of the UK, find a city that excites me and start writing something new.
Greenside, Infirmary Street
Aug 5-11,13-18 (22:00)
Tickets: £10.00, 7.00 (con) BO: 0131 557 2124