Why We Tell the Story: In Conversation with Lexi Clare

My next guest is Lexi Clare, producer of the Maiden Speech Festival which has returned for a third season this November. When you look at all that this project has achieved, it is difficult not to marvel at the wonder woman that Lexi is. In this interview, we discuss her motivations for creating the Festival and what her experience of staging it has been like.

Name: Lexi Clare

Role: Producer, Actress and Director

Favourite Show/Play: I honestly can’t pick one! I think my answer shifts on a daily basis, but I love work that experiments with form and work that presents a story that I haven’t heard before. I worked as Assistant Producer on the UK Premiere of Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties at Southwark Playhouse in 2018, and that will always be a special play for me.

Favourite Part About the Theatre: The people that you meet and the communities that you build. There’s a Maori proverb that I love: ‘He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.’ It means, ‘What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.’ The theatre jobs that have stuck with me the most aren’t necessarily the ones at the top of my CV, they’re the ones where I’ve just been surrounded by the most wonderful people.

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Q: Can you tell us what the Maiden Speech Festival is all about and how the Festival got its name?

A: The festival is all about providing a platform for early-career theatre makers who are creating their own work, and we are particularly looking to platform work that presents fresh perspectives on themes of identity, sexuality and gender.

In the first year of Maiden Speech, the festival was specifically focused on themes of gender and sexuality and the intention was to challenge the dominant (and often limited) image of women on stage. We quickly realised that there was so much vital and brilliant work being created that fit better under the umbrella of identity and that expanding the remit would give us an opportunity to widen our community and engage with more artists and voices. We’re trying to balance a few different aims: contributing to the theatrical landscape in a way that creates space for stories that aren’t frequently heard, as well as supporting the career of promising new artists and building a community around that.

The festival was actually named in honour of Jo Cox and her maiden speech in the House Of Commons in 2015, where she said, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” We hope to honour her memory with our own maiden speeches.

Q: The festival will showcase new work by emerging artists that explores themes of gender, sexuality and identity. What was the inspiration behind this and what do you think are the main challenges facing emerging artists in theatre today?

A: I established the festival almost a year after graduating from drama school and part of the reason for this was that I was feeling disappointed by some of the attitudes that I encountered in the industry, particularly with regards to unrealistic beauty standards and stipulations that body shapes must be either thin or large. At the same time, I was really encouraged and excited by the brilliant feminist-themed work that my peers were creating. I wanted to create a platform to celebrate and showcase this work, and to share it with industry professionals who could take projects further. There are absolutely some theatres that are brilliant at ‘taking risks’ on early-career artists, but often it can be tricky to get funding or be programmed until you have more of a track record.

It is my hope that the success of these shows and artists on a fringe level will encourage gatekeepers to expand their programming beyond what is tried and tested, and the trajectory of several shows from our first two seasons suggests that under the right circumstances, this is eminently possible.

Q: What drew you to the theatre and led you to discover that it was an area that you wanted to work in professionally? 

A: I started training in ballet when I was 3 and my grandmother likes to tell me that I would always instruct her to “sit in the princess chair and I will dance for you”. I actually grew up without a television in the house, so I was always very drawn to theatre and dance and live entertainment, and would make little shows with my neighbours and friends that we would then make our parents sit and watch. My intention was always to be an actress, but I suppose there must have been some producing tendencies even back then because I do remember charging the parents to watch us perform. I think I decided to pursue acting professionally when I was 14, and along the way, I’ve also found myself working as a producer, choreographer and director

Q: You’ve got a fantastic line-up of shows and panel discussions as part of this festival, what has it been like producing an event on this scale?

A: Challenging but ultimately incredibly rewarding! Maiden Speech receives no public funding and I undertake the sole financial risk of the festival myself, so I have been saving for this year’s festival and working on the event for the past nine months. Ultimately, I know the model we have isn’t sustainable for me in the long-term, but I really believe in the work we are putting out there and the sheer variety of stories and discussions that are part of this year’s line up is really exciting.

Q: The Maiden Speech Festival was first established in 2017. What have been some of your highlights so far?

A: The festival is intended to act as a launchpad for artists and their work, and it is such a joy to see shows transfer and succeed beyond their initial run at Maiden Speech. Some notable highlights of shows that first debuted at Maiden Speech include Purple Snowflakes And Titty Wanks, which is transferring to the Royal Court next year; Rachel Causer’s When It Happens, which was recently nominated for an Off West End award during its Camden Fringe run; and Ashleigh Laurence’s Tumours, which transfers to Soho Theatre following a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A particular highlight for me this year is having a programme of artists from all over the globe – this year’s line up features stories from every continent (except Antarctica).

Q: What are some of the challenges involved in producing an event like this that you didn’t realise when you first started?

A: I have definitely been on a steep learning curve as a producer since the festival began in 2017. Over the last two years, I have worked to develop inclusive practices – artistically and structurally – which was definitely something I was less conscious of when we started. The other main challenges are usually linked to finance and time management. We operate on a profit-share model with very slim profit margins, so it isn’t feasible for us to employ a PR company or graphic designer etc. and I’ve ended up acquiring new skills in a whole variety of areas. I do think having to juggle multiple roles can be a really positive challenge though, as it gives me a much better understanding and empathy for the roles that other creatives play in the theatre ecosystem.

Q: Finally, what should audiences expect when they attend the Maiden Speech Festival?

A: We recently had a review of our opening from a blogger who said they were ‘moved by the diversity, honesty and quality of these opening night shows’. I hope that is your experience too: an exciting variety of stories that you may not have seen before, shows that are fresh, full of heart and accessibly priced!

Thanks for reading and a big thank you to Lexi Clare for the interview! Click the link below to find out more about the Maiden Speech Festival. 

https://www.actorscentre.co.uk/theatre/maiden-speech-festival

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