Art & Design blog
When scriptwriters Anna Jefferson and Alice Trueman – better known as award-winning theatre company Broken Leg Theatre – set out to write a play exploring the nature of female experience in the UK over the past 100 years, little did they know that their project would eventually distill a thousand women’s voices and experiences into one powerful narrative.
Working in collaboration with a host of women’s organisations across the country – including midwives circles, children’s centres, older people’s groups and university societies – and later via an interactive website, Anna and Alice ‘crowdsourced’ the raw material for their play, Three Generations of Women.
“There’s an unavoidable sense of duty attached to listening to so many personal and profound experiences, and this is a creative conundrum, because no single story with its own shape and drive could ever truly do them all justice,” shares Alice, a graduate of Goldsmiths and an award-winning playwright and screenwriter in her own right. “But the mind is a natural editor – it will retain the most memorable and meaningful from your research.”
XETH: What is the main plot line of Three Generations of Women?
Alice Trueman: Three Generations of Women is a story of the horrors of moving back in with your mum in your 30s, of finally appreciating the best piece of advice your grandmother ever gave you and of extraordinary family secrets held across the generations.
Our story follows one family, albeit a fractured one, in which three generations of women, each shaped by the eras they live in, are uncovering the secrets that have held them together – and kept them apart – for the first time.
XETH: What made you want to focus the project on women?
AT: The idea for Three Generations of Women grew from the different challenges women have faced over the last century. With support from the Arts Council, Anna and I met with groups of women up and down the country to talk to them about their experiences of growing up in the UK. We spoke to a huge variety of women in person, from a group of midwives in London, to mums at a playgroup in Brighton, and a group of elderly women (the oldest of whom was 102) in Leeds. We started with the same series of questions, asking about the challenges they’d faced in their lives, and the best advice their mothers had ever given them. There is something hugely powerful about just getting a group of women together to talk. Something supportive and nurturing that empowers women to open up and talk honestly without any judgement.
The directions the discussions took us in were profoundly different. We then went on to launch an interactive website which has proved a popular space for women to share confessional, funny, and deeply inspiring experiences – it has received thousands of stories so far and continues to grow!
XETH: Why did you choose to base the play in Leeds?
AT: For Anna, she has family who live in Leeds and previously lived and worked there herself for several years before moving to Brighton. For me, I was a student at Leeds University, so our links and love of the city are very much alive!
Leeds City Council were kind enough to partner with us on the project, which enabled us to use The Crypt to invite groups of women to meet and share their stories.
XETH: What has changed and remained constant throughout this project?
AT: Myself and Anna have remained a constant since it’s inception, as has the support of Greenwich Theatre and the Arts Council England. It was wonderful to get the attention of our producer, Beccy Smith, who has worked tirelessly since the read-throughs to bring our vision to full production and on a national tour.
Interestingly, Broken Leg Theatre is now working with a brilliant all-female creative team to realise the production. This wasn’t an intentional decision; it just so happened that these are the artists we felt were best placed to help us tell the story. But that, like the forums, has been an eye-opening experience. Women are still embarrassingly underrepresented in theatre. So to be working with an exceptional female director, Ria Parry, and an experienced creative team of women feels befitting for a project that explores the challenge women have faced over the last three generations to find their voice and shape their world.
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