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Exploring women across cultures and time - Lyna Dubarry on our R&D @ BET

As one of their 2020 resident companies Found In Translation are proud to congratulate the Blue Elephant Theatre on their 21st anniversary this week! To celebrate we asked our Creative Associate Lyna Dubarry to share her experience of our R&D week at the Blue Elephant in February, where we started to develop I Wanted To Ask, a show exploring the stories of historical women across cultures and time.

Blue Elephant Theatre holds a very special place in my heart. Two years ago I performed on their stage in Cassandra for the first leading role of my career. A year later Ollie and Rose (FIT Theatre’s artistic directors) approached me with an idea for a new play about Boudicca, asking me to develop it with them as the writer. When they told me the Blue Elephant had awarded our project an R&D residency, with 5 full days in their space to workshop my ideas, I was THRILLED... but also a bit nervous. I had already taken part in many R&Ds as an actress and noticed that not one of them is ever the same. There are as many ways to run these workshops as there are stories to tell - how was I going to make the most of these five days to create something worth the time and trust of all the artists involved?

When my co-writer Lou Stassen and I started to prepare our plans, we quickly realized the direction we both wanted to take this project in. We didn’t have a plot, but we knew we wanted to use Boudicca as a starting point to explore the representation of Women in History on a Global scale. Her story was perfect for looking at how histories impact the way we perceive women today, how myth and reality are both entangled in “historical facts”, and how we could start questioning mistaken assumptions.

We gathered a beautifully diverse team, bringing together actresses from varied ethnicities & backgrounds: Nigerian, Caribbean, Indian, Rwandan, Moroccan, French, British & Swedish heritages all represented. We wanted to make them more than just bodies on a stage. Instead, we were a precious array of creative minds, artistic visions and storytelling styles lending all our colors to this project.

This ‘global’ approach was important as our core idea was to question everything we had thought and been taught, and collectively try to reconnect with what we actually know. What we actually know is precisely whatever cannot be defined and confined by political or cultural borders. It’s our femininity, our connection to the earth, spirituality, sexuality, motherhood, and often, sadly, the intimate relationship with violence that women endure and sometimes even perpetuate. How else could we draw a clearer portrait of outstanding historical women without falling into the traps set by those who depicted them before us?

Having a stage all to ourselves made every difference in this process. It granted us a truly safe space to explore very difficult and personal discussions on sex, race, violence, nationalism… As an actor, it takes huge trust in the people and space around you to allow yourself to go to those places. To embody a character without judgement. To explore not only their courageous, epic aspects but also the dark and ugly truths of their stories which get consciously cut out of their official portrait.

As we moved forward, many questions and details we deemed so important in the first stages of research turned out to be dead-ends, while those I underestimated or were afraid to touch led me to our meatiest points - things it could have taken me months to realize had I been sitting at home writing by myself. All these extraordinary actresses taking in stories of female heroines, pushing themselves with the freedom to try every idea they desired, made our creative process much quicker and more exciting than I dreamt it could be.

This experience would never have been possible without the hard work of the FIT Theatre production team throughout my creative journey. Most of all, though, I will always be grateful to the Blue Elephant Theatre for their incredible space and support. Being their company in residence gave us the opportunity to take risks in our work, as well as enjoy a week at home in their gorgeous cozy theatre. Thanks to them, we were able to give fresh voices to stories of women from across the world and together found answers to questions we always wanted to ask.

Lyna is a French-Morrocan actor & writer and has been a Creative Associate at Found In Translation Theatre since 2017.

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