Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Vicki Baron: Ok, Bye

By | Published on Wednesday 28 February 2018

As you’re no doubt aware, the Vault Festival is a truly awesome thing, and if you’ve been reading the tips we’ve been writing over the last few weeks, you’ll note that rather a lot of shows from it have ended up among our Threes To See.

One of the shows that really jumped out and demanded our attention when we perused the programme of events for this coming week was ‘Ok, Bye’ by RedBellyBlack, a company we’ve been watching interestedly for some time now. To find out more about the show, I spoke to co-creator and director, Vicki Baron.

CM: Can you start by telling us what the show is about? Does it have a narrative? Where does it take us?
VB: ‘OK, Bye’ is a collection of stories about saying goodbye to things. The stories are all taken from interviews with real people who have had to let something go: a pet, a parent, or even a religion. There is also a written narrative about three siblings who are trying to reconnect as adults after a turbulent time in the family. The two strands of the play combine to take the audience on a journey that connects their lives with the content of the show.

CM: How would you describe the show, in terms of genre, to prospective audience members?
VB: I always struggle with this question! Because the show contains so many different stories I’d say it’s a bit of everything: comedy, tragedy, physical theatre, music. It’s what Kate and I like to call “theatrical tapas”. I think we must have been hungry when we came up with that one.

CM: What themes does it explore?
VB: ‘OK, Bye’ explores what it means to say goodbye, and that covers everything from bereavement to losing weight. The main themes that have come out of our devising process are family, self-awareness and unexpected joy.

CM: What inspired you to approach these specific ideas? Why did you think it was a good topic for a theatrical piece?
VB: I wish I could say that Kate and I came up with this idea while we were sipping champagne at a rooftop bar or something, but actually the notion came from the fact that Kate and I process a lot of our own problems by making theatre. That’s not to say that we take our personal lives and put them on stage by any means, but the idea for ‘OK, Bye’ came from a period in our lives when were both struggling with losses and we needed to do something positive with those feelings. We believe that it’s a good topic for a theatrical piece because we knew that we were not alone with those feelings: everyone has had to say goodbye to at least one thing in their life and we wanted to open a dialogue with our audiences about it.

CM: How did you go about creating it? What was the process?
VB: Once we knew what our topic was, we began approaching people in our lives for their input. Our friends, families, colleagues and acquaintances told us their stories and we recorded them.

Once we have the audio file of an interview, we take it to a rehearsal and play it to the actors. We pause it to ask questions about the context of the interview; we write down words or phrases that give us clear mental images, and we discuss how we might begin to bring the conversation to life on stage.  We gradually edit and refine the contents of the interview as a team so that the personality of the participant shines through as clearly as possible, making sure that we are retelling the story as clearly and faithfully as we can.

We never know exactly where a scene is going to end up because we’re not precious about anything, and that’s extremely liberating as a creative approach.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your co-creatives on the project?
VB: I could talk about these brilliant people for hours on end. Kate Goodfellow is the Artistic Director of RedBellyBlack Theatre and my creative partner in crime. We have an incredibly productive working relationship, partly because between us we bring such a wide variety of skills to the table. Kate’s focus is on movement and visual aesthetic, while mine is on script and narrative.  Between us we cover all aspects of the show and work together to make our joint ideas into a fluid performance.

Andrew Armfield is an actor/musician who brings a lot of joy to the rehearsal process.  He’s also a professional improviser which means that his ideas are very responsive, generous and exciting. He has written most of the music in the show, and his performance live on stage is going to be a huge part of what makes this show so engaging.

Oscar Scott-White and Sam Cornforth are both very funny, energetic and hard-working performers who are an utter delight to work with.  Their contributions to this show have been miles beyond what Kate and I hoped for when we were casting this piece.

The all-girl production team – shows before bros and all that – is completed by producer Sally Collett, set designer Jessica Sinclair Martin and production manager Abi Toghill, without whom Kate and I would be completely lost. Their ideas, their support and their hard work at anti-social times of day are the driving force behind this show.

CM: What made you want to stage this at Vault Festival?
VB: We had an incredible experience at the festival in 2017 and we were desperate to work with the Vaults team again. The organisers, staff and our fellow performers have been unbelievably supportive and we are thrilled to be part of London’s most important theatrical festival. So much wonderful innovation comes out of this festival every year – this year, in fact, Kate co-founded a support network for female vaults participants, which the Vaults team were fully in support of. There are opportunities and relationships at this festival which just don’t exist anywhere else.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about RedBellyBlack? How did you get involved with the company? What are its aims?
VB: RedBellyBlack is focused on making theatre that can’t be ignored. Our shows are made of heartfelt stories and hot messes. We go on stage to talk about the things that most people are afraid to say because we’re not normal, and we like that. Our passionate team of creatives builds shows brick-by-brick. We talk to people about their life experiences and bring their stories to the stage. We use whatever we can get our hands on to tell a story with integrity and innovation; and absolutely nothing is off limits. We are not interested in broadcasting an idea to our audiences: we want to start a conversation and explore it with them. Everything we do is designed to open a dialogue. We want to open a can of worms and confront what’s inside.

As for how I got involved with the company, the short version of the story is that I took a birthday present round to a friend’s house, met Kate, and two hours later had agreed to direct ‘Tumbling After’.  If you want the full story you’ll have to come to ‘OK, Bye’ and ask me about it afterwards.

CM: And what about you? How did you end up creating and directing theatre?
VB: I always thought that I was going to go into acting, but as I worked my way through a Drama and Theatre Studies degree at the wonderful University of Kent I realised that I enjoyed being able to shape and facilitate performances more than I enjoyed being part of them. I ended up doing a Masters in Directing for Theatre and I’ve been lucky enough to study and work with some incredible people ever since then.

‘OK, Bye’ is on as part of Vault Festival from 7-11 Mar, see this page here for more information and to book your tickets.

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Photo: Robert Boulton