BWW Interview: Isley Lynn Talks SKIN A CAT
BroadwayWorld caught up with Isley Lynn to talk about her play Skin A Cat, which debuted at the Bunker Theatre in 2016.
Tell us a bit about the play
Skin a Cat is a mostly autobiographical play about how I can't have anything in my vagina. I've always had something called vaginismus, which is a fairly common but not talked about condition.
I can't remember the statistic off the top of my head, but there's a lot of people who have it at one point in their life, and I've just had it all of my life.
The play follows a young girl as she grows into adulthood and everyone else reaches the markers of adulthood. She is failing to tick off this one thing and it is very isolating and also very funny. The play ultimately is about making friends with your body and living a life that you want to live, rather than a life that makes other people happy or is what other people say your life should look like.
How has audience response been so far?
I've had such a huge response to it. Obviously a lot of women - there's been a lot of tears and hand-holding at the end if a woman has had it. I've gotten a lot of anonymous emails, and a lot of older women as well.
There are three types of men that come to see the show. The ones that are like "Thank goodness it was a funny play". Then there are the gay men who want to talk to me about anal sex. And the third category is boyfriends who want to say hi because they've realised an ex of theirs might have had it and they've just realised they were a dick to their girlfriends.
What's nice is that men are engaging with it as equally as women, and why wouldn't they?
And you're bringing it to Edinburgh in August?
It is coming to Edinburgh and we'll be booking a few sporadic festivals before August. Then we should do an autumn tour, but we're currently trying to gets Arts Council funding. We're on our sixth application, so if we get rejected for a sixth time we have to see if we have time to apply and whether a tour is possible.
What sort of issues have you been having with the tour?
I've been having a lot of conversations trying to diagnose it in different ways. I'm very aware that touring theatre is fucked and that no one has enough money for it.
The people who I've been interacting with that have the job of programming at their regional venues are most often doing two and a half jobs with the money and the time of one. They're not able to do what they want to do all of the time. A lot of the time people want to rag on regional theatre and that's just not what I've experienced at all.
The conversations that we've had, most of them have taken about seven months before we even get to whether they want to take it on or not. It's also that everyone is on different schedules with how they programme work. A lot of venues we've gone to a year in advance and they're booked up already, but then there are places who are saying at this stage they aren't looking at autumn yet!
The people who've said no have either said that they're all booked up, or if they give any other reason it is typically that it's "too risky".
Yeah! I got into a bit of a private message argument with a friend of mine who was like "You're not giving enough credit to regional venues, because regional audiences do like risky work" and I was like, "That's what I'm saying - often venues patronise their audiences and assume that they're not ready for a female-led story about autonomous sexuality".
But actually, if your audience is white, middle class and 60/70 years old, they've had experiences and gone through periods of great change and they can handle chat about vaginas.
I have had a lot of venues say that their audiences are more conservative or older and that it's a bit risky. "Risky" is the word I hear most often. I kind of understand where they're coming from, and I don't know anything about their job and their audience, but I find it frustrating that the show can be so successful.
It was successful critically, audience wise, and it made a lot of money. And we're struggling to get it recognised as something that is bankable and not risky. I don't know what else we can do to prove that it is a safe bet. I don't know if it's a gender thing.
Do you think it would be different if it was a male story?
All I know is that my male peers have been seen as not risky sooner. I can't speak to individual plays, and I can't translate Skin A Cat into a male play. There's a wider pattern of men doing less Fringe work and scaling up both size of venues and size of institution much earlier. I think this is part of that. Of course, I would think that because I'm a woman, who has seen men escalate further, quicker.
I also think if this show was written by a man it would be seen differently. Female-led stories that have been successful have been seen through a very male lens. It's women whose overt sexuality is very masculine. So the likes of Fleabag is radical because she enjoys sex in the same way as men do and that is not what this is. We're talking about women's sexuality in the way that women experience it.
I feel safe pointing to Fleabag because Fleabag is excellent and it's a big, unassailable dog and I don't want to name any other names as I don't want to be seen as ragging on my fellow writers!
Who would you recommend comes to see it in Edinburgh?
Honestly, I would recommend it to anyone who feels weird and different.
I've had so many people come up to me and liken it to other things. The most recent one is that a couple came up to me and said that they had been having trouble trying to get pregnant for four years and that they felt wrong and weird and broken and not like everyone else. I think anyone who has felt like that will get something out of this play.
What's really heartening is that old, white, middle-class men have loved it just as much as teenage girls. Our audiences are so so diverse.
What's the main purpose for bringing it to Edinburgh?
It's a fun play, it's a great night out, and it's light relief without being stand-up. It's a guaranteed good time and I think people will have a blast at the show.
I want this play to go everywhere and get to as many people as possible. I want it to reach as many Alanas [the main character] as possible. I want to make sure that young women and people who love women and people who love men and who feel different get to see it. Which is why we want to tour it as well and get it out of London.
What have you learned from the struggles that have come from touring this play?
It's made me recognise more fully that there is a myth in our industry that you might struggle for a long time, but good work will out. Talent will rise to the top. I think that is a myth. It's like currency - we have to all believe in it in order for anything to function.
It's useful for young artists trying to make a tour work that the hustle doesn't stop when you've done a good job and proven it. That's the biggest lesson that I've learned. It means me as well doing two and a half jobs instead of just one, and I don't know when that stops. Maybe if I was a dude it would have ended sooner!
Current tour dates for Skin A Cat are available on Isley Lynn's website.