Vanessa Lee Reflections on Spin/Stir

‘HUMOUR: Central to every Spin/Stir production was humour, however dark. We simply could not have addressed the subject matter or captivated the audiences without humour. Often this was achieved by semi ridiculous and non naturalistic sets, huge over size beds and furniture, house sized spider webs stretched over 12 foot scaffolding poles, and all manner of fancy dress. Also, I would start each rehearsal with two hours of contemporary dance, clowning and circuit training. We needed to train every cast member to a highly athletic state, so they could survive the run. We used circus, clowning and acrobatic skills, traditional and contemporary dance and we would recite nail biting and side splittingly funny, epic poetic writing, over this surreal back drop. In this way, the audience could not have a cathartic response, they would have to intellectually address the issues raised rather than emotional identify with them. This style became known as ‘Social Surrealism’ and we were immensely proud to have started a new genre.

CHILDCARE: Also central to every Spin/Stir production was the strain of finding childcare. After performing in Naming while 5 months pregnant and having to change the choreography towards the end of the run because I had changed shape so significantly, it became impossible to go on tour and in order to facilitate  my needs. As a newly single Mum of two, all productions became London based and had short runs. I would sit by the phone, desperate to find affordable childcare and phone friend after friend begging babysitting favours, while applying my stage paint. I also had to work to support my children in between productions and found myself in the distinctly non feminist world of modelling and commercials, where I would be told to pinch my nipples so they looked hard on the cat walk, or to strip down to my underwear in castings, then the next evening I would be spouting Spin/Stir lines and discussing feminist  theory. It was an odd triple life as commercial performer, feminist practitioner and mother. It led to the one woman monologues performed within the Spin/Stir salons where I would give birth and breast feed on a catwalk. ‘Women’s lives are like jigsaws that they fit together.’ These monologues are now contained within my novel Break Up Break Down.  We were passionate about our politics and our theatre. We had endless energy and no ambition to make any money, only to make sense, and finally I had to admit that I had the two worst paid jobs in the world; a mother and a feminist theatre practitioner. I went to work in television, which if nothing else, at least paid the bills. It was however, my experience producing and directing plays for Spin/Stir that remains the most important, holistic and creatively happy period of my life, alongside giving birth twice and completing a novel.

MARKETING: Early on in the Spin/Stir partnership we realised the impact a great publicity photo can have. We had seen the cover of Vanity Fair featuring Cindy Crawford shaving KD Lang’s face. We decided to put a Spin/Stir take on this and ended up with KD Lang (Joelle) shaving Cindy Crawford’s (Ness) legs. This photo became very popular, it was even used to illustrate articles that had nothing to do with Spin/Stir, most memorable was seeing it under the headline ‘PENETRATIVE SEX IS RIGHT FOR THE STAGE’.

It had a life of it’s own and became a very powerful marketing tool that gave us lots of very welcome publicity. However, something we couldn’t control was that Spin/Stir were always mentioned in the gay listings of magazines. I was annoyed about this as we were a women’s theatre company and many of us were heterosexual. Some Spin/Stir members were lesbians and we did create lesbian characters but our plays were very much about Everywoman. I felt as if we were being ghettoised and that if we had been a company of straight and gay men, we wouldn’t have been put in the gay listings. It is much harder to market a ‘lesbian play’, than a ‘play’, because regretfully we live in a homophobic-misogynist society.’ (Vanessa Lee 2013)

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