Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe talks about women’s bodies in VESSEL at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name: Laura Wyatt O’Keeffe
Name of Edinburgh show: Vessel
Venue: Jersey, Bristo Square
Performance time: 1.05pm
Show length: 1 hour
Ticket price: £7.50-12

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I am an Irish award nominated performer, writer and facilitator. I make work with, for and about women and young audiences. For the last five years, I have performed, written and co-produced my own shows in the U.K. Ireland and Malta. My last show, ‘Jean, Where Memories Live’ was a promenade piece that started under a planetarium’s star filled sky and ended on the rooftop under the stars.

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Vessel is a show about women’s bodies, choice and love.

My character, Maia is a pregnant twenty-four year old who works at a reception in a refugee support centre. She meets David, a journalist at the funeral of Astur, a refugee girl who has committed suicide. It’s pre-referendum Ireland and abortion is still illegal, therefore women and couples are travelling in silence to access abortion care in the U.K. But Maia doesn’t go quietly, she tweets about her unwanted pregnancy and it goes viral. The next half hour details Maia trying to negotiate the public attention whilst making a very personal choice.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I’ve been writing in and around the subject of ‘the right to choose’ for about four years now but this script didn’t arrive until last month. I started with some scenes in January then workshopped those. Then did another workshop with (Olivier Award winning Irish Ttheatre company) Fishamble and Sonya Kelly in June. And after that workshop I realised I needed to start again. So I began with a blank page and four sleepless days later it was done.

Conversations about human rights are always relevant. As a society we can’t get complacent about the rights we have. In the society we are living in now, we have to realise how very easily those rights can be taken away from us and how many people don’t have the rights we do.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
This is my first year performing so I might say something very different at the end of the festival.

Sleep lots. See lots of shows. Talk to lots of people who are as excited as you. Have a day where you don’t see any shows and maybe just Netflix it out.

And have goals that aren’t reliant on box office, awards or reviews. Find goals that are more manageable like an audience member speaking to you after a show or tweeting you after. Or another artist chatting about your work. Or a new collaboration with a venue or artist.

For visitors…take a chance on a show. Maybe theatre isn’t your thing or you’re not a fan of cabaret but the fringe festival is about heading into the unknown and maybe surprising yourself.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I fell up a flight of stairs, onto the stage then on to a platform at the beginning of a performance of Under Milk Wood. I spent the first half hour of the show standing with my knee swelling.

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Complicite because they make work in such an exciting way. Whenever I see their work, I see something I’ve never seen before.

Ivo Van Hove because his work has made me rethink the classics. I recently devised a work inspired by Medea with a youth theatre and I don’t think I would have ever done that if I hadn’t seen his Antigone.

Fishamble for allowing writers to be storytellers, to tell stories with honesty.

Sabrina Mahfouz and Joelle Taylor because they are just incredibly inspiring women. Their work reaches beyond the page, it’s in classrooms and on the street. And it makes me want to have conversations that I’m afraid of.

Bryony Kimmings for her bravery and her ability to challenge an audience.

Druid and Landmark Productions for the sheer ambition and boldness of their productions.

Sheila Atim is an extraordinary actor. Julie Walters and Ian McKellan for being brilliant artists but also because they use their success to encourage conversation about issues that are important to them.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Warm-up. Check my props. Forget whether I’ve checked my props. Check my props again. Forget my first line. Remember it. Walk on stage, take a breath, look at the audience and begin.

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Fishamble’s Maz and Bricks by Eva O’Connor. Bottom by Will Hudson. Hightide’s Busking It by Danusia Samal. Frieda Loves Ya at Underbelly. Everything at Paines Plough Roundabout. Anything by Big in Belgium and Canada Hub.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
Vessel is about women and the choices we make. So much of the theatre I see about women acknowledges and details female struggle and that’s it. Vessel is about exploring what happens after that struggle, what happens to the female character when she has freedom, when she has choice, when she is empowered? As a theatre maker I’m excited by the possibility of female focused narratives not the retelling of female suffering. For women to keep moving forward socially and artistically we’ve got to start telling and listening to stories of female empowerment.


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