Interview: Rebecca Hill, Writer of Travesti

Travesti is a great play coming to the Pleasance Jack Dome in Edinburgh that deals with contemporary gender roles and explores what happens when you switch female and male voices to express the struggle of gender equality.  The play runs from 30th July to 25th August and you can get tickets here.
To learn more about Travesti’s important message, we spoke to the show’s writer, Rebecca Hill, about catcalling, feminism and the importance of listening to each other’s stories.
Can you describe what the show’s about and how you came to name it Travesti?
Travesti is a warm and witty verbatim show which takes women’s real life stories and has them performed by a cast of male actors. It is about the experiences of being a woman in modern society; from body hair to being groped on the bus to sexual violence. We interviewed 11 women, and their real stories form the script. The actors have recordings of the women’s voices and they replicate them down to every “um” “ah” and sniff. The cast are always very much men on stage – suited, booted and all over 6 foot – because it isn’t about men pretending to be women, but rather exploring the humour and impact of watching a man say women’s words.
We named it Travesti for it’s double meaning. Travesti is a South American term meaning someone born with male anatomy but with a female gender identity. It’s also a theatrical term dating back centuries meaning when a male actor plays a female character on stage. We also really enjoy the similarity to the word “travesty” as a sort of comment on the state of gender equality in modern society.

traveti1Designed by Simon Naylor

What was the inspiration for the the show?
I had the idea for Travesti back in September, when it struck me how often I would justify demeaning behaviours towards me with an “it’s just what happens”, and it turns out that a lot of women do that. The notion of putting women’s stories into male actor’s mouths came from the want to challenge and question this dismissive reaction and see whether we would react in the same way as when they happen to women. Would I still think “it’s just what happens” if a man told me my stories as if they were his own?
Like most women, I have been cat-called and touched inappropriately. That’s partly why I created Travesti – as a counter to that feeling of helplessness, but more to counter the idea that these experiences aren’t noteworthy. It has only been in the past 2 or so years that campaigns such as Everyday Sexism have arisen and given women the vehicle and permission to say “I don’t like how you behave towards me, please stop”. For some reason, it seems that women’s voices aren’t listened to when talking about these things. We’re countered with “Not all men…” or are accused of overreacting or whinging. Or it just becomes white noise. And it is important to note that it isn’t all men, but when nearly every single woman has experienced these things, at some point we have to listen and say, “well, it is enough men”.

rebeccahillWriter of Travesti, Rebecca Hill

So whilst putting these stories in men’s mouths is making these stories noteworthy, it’s also giving rise to the expectations placed on men – to “man-up”, to not wear make up, to fight rather than stay quiet and hope not to be overpowered.
My intention with Travesti was to explore both genders – the struggles of both – and remind people that first and foremost we are all human, and we’re genders second.
What has been the reaction to the play so far? What were your expectations of what the audience might feel to the content?
So far, the reaction to the play has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m not sure what my expectations were originally, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear as much laughter as we do. When you’ve been working with material for so long (we’ve been working on this show since September 2013) it is easy to forget just how surprising and entertaining it is, and just how funny the women’s stories are.
I began this project because I wanted to open discussion, and we have certainly done that. Following shows I have had audience members (mostly male) talking to me for – literally – hours about the show’s content. Something about taking women’s experiences out of context makes people think about them in a way they never have before, and audiences have begun questioning and challenging the conventions we all live by.

travesti2Photo by Greg Goodale

So how have the actors in the show responded to the content?
The process is always interesting. As I said, we’ve been developing this show since last September, so the show has seen 3 different guises, with 3 separate casts. When we first begin work on the show, the actors seem to find the women’s stories completely alien and really difficult to relate to. They talk about the experiences all from a male perspective. As the process goes on, however, they begin to recognise that the ‘emotional essences’ of the experiences are not dependent on gender. Jealously, repulsion, embarrassment, desire, insecurity, courage aren’t gendered emotions. Men and women alike experience these emotions, and that’s been the key to unlocking the scenes for the actors. It’s a wonderful thing, watching as the cast slowly begin seeing things from a female perspective as well as a male, and them becoming protective over the women and the stories they are sharing on stage.
 

Tickets to see Travesti are available now.