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Varjack-Lowry

I met Chuck Blue Lowry working on an intergenerational women’s project for Magic Me. We soon discovered our practices were inverses of each other; Chuck training in performance and then film, me training in film and then moving into performance. We also discovered we had a shared passion for both participatory arts and fashion, which is an intersection of a Venn diagram I have yet to experience with anyone other than Chuck. 

We got on so well  working together, that I suggested she come  on board with another project with me for Cardboard Citizens and Clean Break. And then there was that shared interest in fashion. While I was touring the Cult of K*NZO I somehow ended up being invited to review shows at London Fashion Week, as my first plus one the obvious person to invite was Chuck. It was then, waiting for shows to begin that we began to find out more about one another. We have both spent the same amount of our lives in London and lived in different parts of Europe. We both had  British fathers and foreign mothers (Mine: Ghanian, Chuck’s: Italian)  but identify with both of our parent’s cultures. But as we walked in and out of shows that day and met people, I was asked repeatedly where I was from, often before I had even spoken. This fascinated Chuck.  and sparked an ongoing conversation between us about our relationship to being “foreign”.

 

 

Meanwhile, as brexit conversations continued in the news, I became fascinated with Melania Trump. Melania Trump was an immigrant that was somehow accepted by those that hated immigrants, including her husband (also of an immigrant background) I was invited to apply for a  pilot scheme of Barbican’s Open Lab. I asked Chuck if she would be interested in making a show with me, exploring what it means to be foreign, using Melania Trump as an avatar of an acceptably foreign woman. Chuck said yes, we applied and were selected. Varjack-Lowry was born.

 

 

We became keen to bring together our video and performance experience with our work in participation. In our first phase of development of  I, Melania we explored audiovisual possibilities quite extensively in the Pit theatre, in a way you never do as an early career maker at the start of the process. We worked with an amazing group of female  participants who identified with being foreign, to devise with us. Having had such a great experience working with Maddy Costa and Janine Fletcher on TheBabyQuestion, I brought them in to collaborate. We had a residency and work in progress performance at Quarterhouse Folkestone as part of their Take up Space Festival. We were selected as associate artists by London Pleasance. We had a successful Arts Council bid for further development. Camden Peoples Theatre, The Yard and Battersea Arts Centre all expressed interest to support. Not bad for a new company!

 

 

But then lockdown happened... Our showcase at the Barbican was cancelled. Our residency at Battersea Arts Centre was cancelled. We wouldn’t be going on our residency in Leeds either. We had some time and money left from our grant. We didn’t know when we would be in a space together again. We decided to turn our upcoming residency into a digital residency. We weren’t sure what this meant, but we wanted to try.

 

 

For a week, every day, we began with a check in over breakfast on the phone, usually on speaker so we could move around. Then we would do a warm up, normally on zoom , and usually involving voguing, as we had recently done a Jay Jay Revolon workshop . Then, inspired by prompts we had recently had from Bryony Kimmings in her making autobiographical performance workshop (both of these workshops had been on Zoom btw!) We mapped out the structure of the show and then explored devising. By the end of the week we had structured the whole show, devised a bunch of new material and also created some video content for online. 

But also at the end of that week, my father died… I had been working weekly with the Yard on a youth theatre project for 11-14 years olds called Yard Youth., supported by artist Katie Greenall.  We had been working together since september last year, and also because of lockdown had to move sessions  online. It was clear we could no longer make a theatre show, so we talked about making a film. I suggested Chuck, making the case that we were already working together daily and she was familiar with the project. Chuck was only meant to run two sessions with the group. But when my father passed I had to step away for four weeks and Chuck stepped in. Though the circumstances for it happening were sad, in terms of what it meant for the project it was the best possible fit. It felt totally natural and comfortable to leave the project in her hands, to come back and co-lead, and then discuss the edit. We are proud of it. You can see it for a week only here. I love that totally by accident it became a Varjack-Lowry project.