Caro Meets Festivals Interview Theatre Interview

Gaynor O’Flynn: TIME

By | Published on Friday 24 February 2023

As you know, we are very enthusiastic about Vault Festival, so we are always interested in talking to people involved in the work being staged at it. When I heard about Gaynor O’Flynn’s intriguing show ‘TIME’, I knew it was something I’d like to find out more about.

The play – which incorporates digital and performance artwork – explores the inescapable passing of the years, telling the story of a middle-aged woman who feels unheard, and highlighting the way society assumes that women have an expiry date – that their worth, their capacity for meaningful contributions, decreases once they reach a certain age.

I spoke to Gaynor to find out more.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the content of ‘TIME’? Does it tell a story?
GO’F: ‘TIME’ is the story of a woman of a ‘certain age’ who feels she is slowly becoming invisible and silent.

She decides to use her new found powers of invisibility to stalk more ‘successful’ friends from her past who she feels are still seen and heard, so she can learn how they do it.

But as she stalks them, she learns about her own inner power, resilience, beauty and truth.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
GO’F: In a culture that has eroded, blurred and confused the traditional life stages for women of maiden, mother and matriarch, ‘TIME’ explores philosophical themes of how women deal with the passing of time both personally and collectively, and how we all need to learn to love who we are no matter who or what we are, or where we are in our life’s story.

I believe we are all writers, actors and directors in our own movie and at any time we can change the script, change the story and change who we think we are or can be. ‘TIME’ explores how we can look at our life with love, respect and honesty and learn to be and do good as we wonder, wander and find our own wisdom.

CM: How would you describe the show in terms of a style or genre? Would you say it is political?
GO’F: I would say ‘TIME’ is more a philosophical than a political show. However, like many feminists I believe the personal is always political. so from the feminist point of view, ‘TIME’ is political too.

‘TIME’ reflects many women’s feelings and anxiety that somehow, they are not successful enough, talented enough, experienced enough to be seen and heard. So, in this way it is a feminist play for women and men of all ages, as the personal experiences of women are rooted in their political situation and gender inequality affects us all.

But ‘TIME’ does not call on politicians or men to make the change, I believe the real change comes from us women and from our creativity, and I hope ‘TIME’ plays a role in encouraging creative women everywhere to rise up and embrace their own inner superpowers!

CM: What was the inspiration for the show? What made you want to create a work that deals with these themes?
GO’F: I came across an egalitarian tribe in the Congo, the Mbendjele, which is neither patriarchal nor matriarchal, and the women use their creativity in a form of theatre called Massana, where music, song, dance and art keep alpha male tendencies in check.

Men who have been aggressive, dominant or disrespectful are humorously yet assertively held to account and brought into line.

The women’s playful protest is not aggressive so much as to simply embody their collective power: choosing not to hold centre stage for too long, as this could lead to resentment, they willingly allow space for the men to have their turn, through their ritual called Ejengi.

The Mbendjele men’s ritual takes us back to “the beginning of the world”, telling us how humanity overcame its hierarchical primate heritage and instituted a trust-based, egalitarian society in its place. A setting that enabled language and culture to evolve.

As the men sing and dance, Ejengi shows how the female ancestors rejected the alpha male and invites other men to join them. The women’s creativity and men’s response ensure the tribe live together as equals and everyone, both male and female, are seen and heard.

And I realised, of course, therein lies the problem with our “tribe”.

From the BBC to Netflix, MoMA to Sotheby’s, Glastonbury to Coachella, Broadway to The West End, Hollywood to Bollywood, Emmy’s to BAFTAs, Oscars to Golden Globes, more women need to be seen and heard.

The seeds for ‘TIME’ were sown!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative process? How was the show put together?
GO’F: During lockdown we all had more time to think and I was at a stage in my life where I thought about my own choices, decisions and the women I could have, should, would have been if I had taken other paths.

I had also started an MA at RADA in Text And Performance pre-lockdown which had to move online. Spending hours looking at myself on Zoom – why Zoom does that I have never understood! – I started to see and feel my age for the first time in my life, so I decided to embrace what I was seeing and feeling, fully.

I started to research the reality for creative women and wrote a manifesto on how women are underrepresented and underpaid across the arts, be it in theatre, TV, film, fine art, publishing or tech.

The reality is appalling, so I decided to do something about the bias, discrimination and inequality I and many other women experience… and ‘TIME’ was born.

‘TIME’ is semi-autobiographical, as I have played and play many roles within work and life: writer, director, performer, singer, technologist and campaigner and, in a way, ‘TIME’ unites them all, literally.

The play was written as part of my final project for my MA. I worked with the amazing dramaturg and writer Paul Sirrett, who was brilliant at making me deeply interrogate my work.

Just prior to lockdown I had also been selected – along with The National, The Tate and Wallace & Gromit – by Audiences Of The Future to visit China. I was with a cohort of companies who were using gaming software to create experiences.

All these companies had much bigger budgets than me, so I started to look at how virtual production film and game technology can be used to create interesting, impactful live performance work.

‘TIME’ uses Unreal Engine to create giant women who are projected onto the theatre’s stage and act with me during the live show.

The play was selected as one of The Vault Five from 600+ shows, so we are using virtual production techniques on a fringe festival budget! We are also planning a completely digital version of it.

CM: Talking of technology, can you tell us about the TIME app?
GO’F: ‘TIME’ is not only a play but an app, an artwork, and a way to use my tech superpowers to unite women and raise awareness about the need for equality for women of all ages.

Women can download the TIME app for free and send us a TIME image, chant and message. We are creating a virtual, digital art exhibition of the women’s work which will exhibit in a virtual replica of The Tate Modern’s tanks and, no, they have not commissioned this… yet…

I am also writing to 100 curators globally asking them to let us make the virtual real with an exhibition of ‘TIME’ in a physical space.

The women’s chants also form part of the soundscape for the play as we all call time for change.

CM: Can you tell us about your own experiences of the difficulties older women face when working in the arts?
GO’F: Personally, I am a positive at best, naïve at worst person, so to some extent I have chosen – like many women in the creative industries – to pretend that bias, discrimination and prejudice were no longer a reality for me, but as I got older it really became impossible to ignore.

As women we need to realise how subtle yet insidious the gender pay gap, lack of opportunity and lack of representation is and do something about it.

‘TIME’ is about facing the reality of the stats and as women finding a peaceful yet powerful way to use our creativity to “protest”. It is our songs, our words, our stories and our actions that will bring change. Until then here is the reality of those stats.

CM: How did you come to be working in the arts? Was it what you always wanted to do?
GO’F: I was a grammar school girl, passed my eleven plus in an era when there was no concept of the cultural industries, not in Ormskirk, on the south west Lancashire plain!

But Ormskirk is half an hour from the parallel inner city universe of Liverpool and I discovered punk, post- punk… in Liverpool’s legendary club Eric’s. I still have an impressive collection of coloured 7” vinyl and a love for Echo And The Bunnymen and Julian Cope – Google them young people!

I did what was needed to get to university, the holy grail for a northern grammar school girl like me.

Thatcher, tragically, got into power just as I came of age, so I studied law at Sheffield University in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, just as Heaven 17 were telling us “Brothers, sisters we don’t need this fascist groove thing” and The Specials were singing about our inner city “Ghost Towns”.

I wanted to change the world, I still do…

A terrible student, I spent my time performing in Eddie Izzard’s alternative productions and anywhere but Sheffield. I dropped out a week before my finals, driven by a need to create and find my calling.

I moved to London as the illegal warehouse scene was exploding in the warehouses of Kings Cross, now ironically home to Meta, Google and UAL.

I wrote a letter of complaint to Channel 4 about their arts and music TV, held my own, and landed a job on Channel 4’s legendary show ‘The Tube’, made my first ever film and the UK’s first ever hip-hop film and then directed TV, a rarity back then for a woman.

I have had the privilege to work with some of the greatest artists, performers and musicians on the planet.

In a way, post the counter culture revolution of the 60s and the recession of the 70s, the cultural industries and ensuing digital revolution were started by creative people like me, living in the then run down, unloved inner cities, and who did not want a “normal” job.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
GO’F: There have been so many…. From playing 22 stages at Glastonbury in 2007, to turning Tibetan nuns’ voices into light on Kathmandu’s sacred UNESCO world heritage site, Boudhanath Stupa. From my first BFI short drama ‘GIRL’ to 25 years later being selected as a BFI Female Founder…

From a retrospective of my Himalayan video work in the Habitat Centre, Delhi, to standing on a soapbox outside Venice Biennale performing with a loud hailer, my career has been exciting and eclectic and my work weird yet wonderful.

I love to keep learning, growing and to feel I am a force for good, be it working for The Dalai Lama or cycle powered events on the festival circuit in the 90s, I intend all my work to have meaning and impact not only for me but for people and the planet.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
GO’F: I wrote and directed a work during lockdown called ‘D’ that explored how, amid a global pandemic, the only thing no one was talking about was how to die well.

‘D’ was very well received so I have written my first feature film ‘GOD’, a dark, comedic love story that deals with how to live and die well and the reality of marriage.

I have had my first meeting with the BBC, BFI and Creative UK’s amazing Female Founder’s project. They are amazingly supportive and I now have a great crew on board so you never know…

I am also working on my first TV series, again semi-autobiographical, a young love story set in Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Brixton against the backdrop of Thatcher’s 80s, a time when music, art and politics changed Britain forever.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
GO’F: My company Beinghuman and my not-for-profit The Beinghuman Collective are restoring a warehouse in Newham, East London that will be run as a space for creatives across ‘CreaTech’ sectors: music, art, performance, theatre, film and tech to converge, collide and create!

I will also be working on the next stage of the TIME project. The virtual ‘TIME’ play, the ‘TIME’ game and v2.0 of the TIME app where women can connect and support each other in a not-for-profit tech space without having to resort to the predatory domain of social media and big tech which we all know is SO broken.

Beinghuman is also staging a ‘TIME’ event in Lisbon in the autumn, an ‘unconference’ for creative women to meet in the real world and plan their own ‘TIME’ event for International Women’s Day 2024, so I am looking forward to meeting more creative women.

I also hope festivals, curators and creative organisations reach out and invite me to speak about ‘TIME’ and basically that many creative women globally use the TIME app and get involved in ‘TIME’!

‘TIME’ is on at Vault Festival from 7-12 Mar. See the festival website here for more information and to book tickets.

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