Glesga’s Gold: Figurehead Theatre

Maybe there’s something magically inspiring about the River Clyde, or is it simply the cider served in Glaswegian pubs. Anyway, Glasgow is buzzing with young up-and-coming artists creating incredible things, either on stage or on fabric, with words or with paint. Every month or so we’ll chat with a Glasgow-based artist to see what they’re up to. Today: Sine Harris and Josh Dodds, who set up their own theatre company, Figurehead Theatre, earlier this year. Their first play, ‘Mr Earhart’, written by Sine and directed by Josh, chronicles the tumultuous relationship of 20th century feminist icon Amelia Earhart and her husband/manager, the charming, manipulative George Putnam. “I realized that there’s no need to show all of the facts I learned about these women. You just have to let the characters be characters.”

How did you start collaborating creatively?

Josh: It was in first year, when Sine wrote a play for STAG and got it in. I also wrote a play, but mine didn’t get in – Sine’s a much better writer than me –

Sine: Not true.

Josh: And then she asked if I wanted to direct it because I’d done a few things at school and I said ‘yeah, sounds cool!’. It was a fairly short play – 20 minutes, two characters – so it was pretty easy to manage, and obviously being through the student theatre there’s a lot done for you. Which is great in some ways, especially starting off, but recently with a bigger project we thought we might be better doing it on our own.

Why did you decide to set up your own theatre company?

Sine: Just the complete freedom you have, really. And it’s a bit more of a challenge.

Josh: We were talking about whether we wanted to do this as an individual play, or as part of a company, where we could group our ideas together, the kind of stuff we want to make that’s of a similar sort of frame. If you have a theatre company, you can start to develop a bit of a name around Glasgow. If people come and see one thing, they’ll maybe gain a bit of loyalty in terms of ‘I know that’s the kind of thing you do, and that interests me’. So I think in terms of future projects as well, it was nice to kind of have an umbrella to put it under.

What was the inspiration for this play? Where did your interest in Amelia Earhart come from?

Sine: Back when I was in high school, I read this book about a big women’s only air race in the 1930s, which I highly recommend to everyone by the way, I think it’s called ‘Flying Flappers and Petticoat Pilots’. I just thought it was really interesting, romantic even, as it was a collection of women who were really fascinating, all of them. It struck me as strange that Amelia Earhart is the only one who’s ever really left an impact – to some extent Amy Johnson, but not as much, and only as the sort of British counterpart.

You work hard to represent other female pilots and feminist pioneers in this play, was it a conscious decision to highlight women who haven’t been given their dues by history?

Sine: That definitely was… part of me kicks myself for writing this about Amelia Earhart.

Josh: Exactly, I feel that was actually your main drive, to have the others…

Sine: Yeah, you know, a bit of intersectional feminism – because there were black women doing this and very poor women– and very rich, I mean, you need a lot of money to do this.

You describe yourselves as taking ‘a loosely realist, technology based approach to historical theatre’ – what was it about these techniques that interested you?

Josh: I was studying in Montreal last semester and I took a course – a very dense theory course – called ‘theatricality and performativity’. I ended up looking into postmodern and contemporary history plays, and I was quite interested in looking at a certain time period without having to conform to a fixed ‘this is what happened’ or ‘we need to get these characters exactly how they were’ or anything like that. And I think Sine’s play worked well in that way – it wasn’t trying be a historical re-enactment, it was staged more loosely.

Sine: That was a big worry of mine when I first wrote it actually, the fact that you can’t show everything. I realized that there’s no need to show all of the facts I learned about these women. You just have to let the characters be characters and Josh’s staging really helped with that – it made it feel more like a narrative rather than fragments from a life.

[Clare Patterson]

The review of Mr. Earhart can be found in issue 130 of qmunicate.

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