Tell us about your show, Too Pretty to Punch.
Too Pretty To Punch is a comedy spoken word show about gender, the media and not fitting any of the boxes. It combines interactive video projection, physical comedy, spoken word and a banjo to break down our ideas of what gender is and what it means to be non binary and transgender in 21st century Britain.
What inspired you to write a show about being trans in contemporary Britain?
I’m trans and I’ve always wanted to make a show about it. When I finished my last show, Super Hamlet 64, I’d really found my style of performance, mixing comedy, songs and video projection. I felt like I could tackle anything.
I’d been doing comedy songs at cabaret nights exploring gender and sexuality and I came across an opportunity at Camden People’s Theatre to try out 15 minutes of a show at their Come As You Are Festival. I applied to it, got in and then used that as an incentive to start putting the show together.
Initially, as I said, it was just a variety of comedy songs, but the deeper I got into it, the more important and relevant it became. It shifted from whimsical comedy cabaret to a mix of light-hearted physical humour, and cutting satire.
What made you want to directly take on the media in your show?
I think the British media has a lot to answer for regarding the general public’s idea of trans people.
There’s a huge amount of animosity directed towards us and towards the issues surrounding us and most people simply don’t understand the facts about the issues. They’ve been misled and are working on a mix of assumptions, myths and fears. While this isn’t ideal, I don’t blame the general public. How are they to know otherwise, when all of the press, even left leaning publications like The Guardian, do stories that prioritise clickbait shock factor over truthful reporting about us?
This has been going on for decades and, finally in the last 5 years or so, trans people have started having a bigger voice and have started being listened to. But a lot of people have already made up their minds about us based on the lies they’ve heard. So it’s an uphill struggle a lot of the time. This show is about redressing a lot of those lies in a fun way.
The subject of this show is tied into your identity. Was it difficult putting so much of yourself onto the stage?
I started making this show two years ago. I was living in Swindon, where I originally grew up, and every time I made myself look at all feminine I felt really out of place. Swindon isn’t the hell hole comedians often say it is, but still it doesn’t feel an especially safe place to be visibly queer.
When I first performed the show, I worried I’d get aggressive heckling, people walking out, all sorts of horrible reactions. I used to get so incredibly nervous, especially because I was confessing so much about myself every show.
But the audience responses really took me by surprise. People love the show. Whether they’re straight, gay, trans, cis, whether they’ve considered these ideas before or even if they knew nothing about it and just rocked up to see what all the fuss was about.
Touring it these past couple of years and getting such heart-warming responses has really helped build my confidence in myself as a trans person, a performer and and also in the importance of the stories I’m sharing in this piece.
How do you think talking about topics like gender identity on stage can help influence how they are perceived?
I find being live on stage with an audience is the best way of teaching and persuading someone of something. Because you’re there with them and can react to how they’re responding.
As a performer, I love to improvise and respond to the feel of the audience. If they’re lively I go with it. If they’re resistant I ease them in gently.
Gender is a really complex subject with a lot of nuance and lot of misunderstanding around it. I cover a lot in my show and I don’t expect anyone to leave understanding everything and being completely on board with everything I think afterwards. But it’s brilliant giving people perspectives and then giving them to time to figure the rest out for themselves.
Do you have any advice for anyone who has trolls of their own to take on?
Avoid them like the plague.
I get sucked into too many debates with trolls online, and by bending over backwards to listen to them and patiently correct them. Every now and again I actually get through to one and change their mind. But it’s a ridiculous thing to do and stresses me out so much.
Now my aim is to avoid them and spend my time instead lifting up trans artists and celebrating their word. You’ve only got so much time to spare and I’ve found celebrating and promoting other people’s creativity is a lot more productive for making change, than arguing with bullies is.
This show includes spoken word, music and graphics. What made you want to combine different art forms for this show?
When I’m not touring my own shows I work as an actor musician in other people’s. I also trained at Lecoq and do a lot of physical theatre, so most of the shows I act it, you’re playing several characters, several instruments, singing songs, doing clowning, and physical comedy, so working with a variety of different art forms is basically my default. I’ve been doing a lot of spoken word on the side, winning poetry slams up and down the country, so that’s started finding its way into my work more and more. I’ve always done animation as a hobby. And when I made Super Hamlet 64, I started playing with projections early on and got completely hooked by it. Now I want to use it in every show I do.
What do you hope people take away from your show?
A lot of people come up to me after the show and say it’s really expanded their perception of gender as a concept as well as where they fit into it. I love that. Especially when it comes from non trans people in the audience.
My favourite response from trans people is when they delight at seeing our stories onstage. It would be brilliant if that happened so often that it wasn’t novel, but most of the time stories are told about us, not for us and so usually people get it wrong.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into performing arts?
Find what aspect of performing you love to do and then learn as much about it as you can and find all the opportunities you can to do it. It’s especially good if you can find people as passionate about that particular thing as you are.
Edalia is performing and Vault Festival from 3rd to 8th March.