Caro Meets Festivals Interview Theatre Interview

Jessica Bickel-Barlow: All By Myself

By | Published on Friday 3 February 2023

You surely know how excited we get about the Vault Festival here at TW Towers, so perhaps it won’t come as a surprise that this week’s interview is with the creator of a Vault Festival show.

‘All By Myself’ – produced by Part Of The Main, and co-written and directed by Jessica Bickel-Barlow – is an intriguing, almost wordless piece exploring what might happen to an influencer come the apocalypse.

To find out more about the play, and about Jessica herself, I arranged a chat ahead of opening night.

CM: Does ‘All By Myself’ have a narrative? What story does it tell?
JB-B: ‘All By Myself’ is absolutely a narrative piece, it just tells its story in a different way than you might expect from a one woman show!

It’s the end of the world and a DIYing social media influencer is stuck in her flat alone. As crisis hits her city, she grapples with how to make content for a dwindling audience. Can she hack her way around disaster? The audience is a fly-on-the-wall as she makes choices about how to use her resources.

CM: What themes did you aim to explore with it?
JB-B: What expectations do we have for ourselves and how do we adapt in the face of crises?

In exploring the character of a lifestyle influencer, especially one focused on achieving that lifestyle through DIY, we confront questions about how suitable our expectations of how we should live are with the current climate.

And also how online culture affects our understanding of ourselves and our everyday choices, and the limits of what one person can do all by herself.

CM: How would you describe the piece in terms of style and genre?
JB-B: Multimedia and movement. ‘All By Myself’ unfolds almost entirely through the choreography of lead actor Charlotte Blandford’s movements.

The only dialogue occurs at the beginning of the piece when audiences will watch the influencer edit a video of herself. This is heavily visually-led theatre, supported by captions to enhance the accessibility of the piece for deaf audiences.

Although the setting of the play is dark, the piece is filled with humour, relatable content and a few gasp moments.

CM: What process did you go through in creating it?
JB-B: ‘All By Myself’ started as an outline that Charlie and I used as a jumping off point to devise the actions of the character with help from Movement Director Lily Howkins.

I remember one of our first rehearsals started with watching a vlog from an influencer on the day her city was being locked down due to COVID and exploring her movements as a way into the physicality of the character.

‘All By Myself’ was developed during the pandemic as part of Applecart Arts’ Dazed New World Festival in 2020. Certainly audiences will see the influence of lockdown on the play, although it isn’t specifically set during a pandemic.

Our R+D at Applecart led to a performance in their livestream studio and audiences viewed it online. When we went to Edinburgh Fringe, we adapted our work for a live audience and are very proud to bring it in that form to Vault.

CM: What made you want to create a show like this one? What was the inspiration behind it?
JB-B: This project grew out of a broader interest I have in how the internet – the communities, relationships and information sharing – is portrayed onstage. The way we experience the internet in our day to day lives I think feels very ‘live’ or visceral. But how do you translate this?

‘All By Myself’ started as an investigation of how expectations created online influence offline life. The audience will see an evolved form of that idea that looks at those expectations in the context of a crumbling world to reveal an influencer caught between environmental and social forces.

Something I love about this play is that it shows huge epic forces influencing the most everyday choices and smallest details of a person’s life. I think there’s so much drama and humour in stories like ‘All By Myself’ and I can’t wait to share it again with audiences.

CM: Can you tell us about Part Of The Main? When was the company set up and with what aims?
JB-B: Part Of The Main was established in 2018 by Olivia Munk to platform women-led creative teams.

I’ve been an associate artist from early on and have seen the mission expand to be more broadly inclusive and to support emerging artists, through programmes like Part Of The Grid, which offered affordable training to upskill artists at the beginning of their careers.

A key focus of our work at Vault and for the coming year is making our work more accessible – ‘All By Myself’ is captioned at every performance and we have audio described performances of ‘Bloody Mary: Live!’ and ‘The Tinker’.

CM: Ah yes, those are two other shows staged by the company at the Vault Festival this year – can you tell us a bit about them?
JB-B: ‘The Tinker’ is on the week after ‘All By Myself’. It’s a lovely piece of new writing about a couple who let a travelling tinker stay the night in their rural home. It explores themes of suspicion and duty of care to others.

‘Bloody Mary: Live!’, which delivers a stand-up set from the perspective of Henry VIII’s teenage daughter, has completed its Vault run. But if you are willing to travel, you can still catch it at Harlow Playhouse on 9 Feb and Crewe Lyceum on 15 Feb!

CM: What aims/hopes does the company have for the future?
JB-B: In the future, we would love to connect the mentors and experts who have helped us make our work more accessible to Part Of The Grid artists, so that accessible performances become more common across the fringe theatre sector.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? How did you come to be working in the arts? Was it always what you wanted to do?
JB-B: I was always circling the arts, although I was more of a dancer than a theatre kid when I was growing up.

It wasn’t until I went to university that I realised that the staging and storytelling of dance fit perfectly within the career of theatre director.

Working with Part Of The Main after completing my directing MA was my first big step into the industry and I am so grateful to have such an amazing, longstanding collaborator in Olivia Munk.

CM: What have been the highlights of your work so far?
JB-B: I am actually really proud of our work at Vault this year and think it might be our best season yet. We have a really amazing line-up of three very different plays to offer and I hope audiences enjoy them as much as we do.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JB-B: I would like to do more work with video projection and captioning. The lighting designer for ‘All By Myself’, Rachel Sampley, is also a brilliant video artist and I’m learning a lot from working with her. I hope to continue the collaboration on future projects!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JB-B: I have another play I will R+D in 2023 about friendships between artists. I’m specifically excited to R+D the design elements of the play, which will use a lot of movement, video and lights.

I’m also applying for funding to develop creative audio description for ‘All By Myself’. As it’s a visually led piece of theatre, it will take some thought, care and expertise from people already in the field, to make an experience that feels compelling for audio description users.

But it’s a challenge I am very excited to tackle.

‘All By Myself’ is on at Vault Festival from 7-12 Feb. Find out more and book your tickets here.

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Photo: Alessandra Davison