Features Q&A and Interviews Published 29 June 2015

Spill: A Verbatim Show About Sex

Rosemary Waugh talks to young company Propolis Theatre about sex, Ikea beds and telling it like it is.
Rosemary Waugh

Rosemary Waugh: Ok, so to start can you give us a general over-view of Spill and what it is about?

Propolis Theatre: Spill explores the sex lives of a group of young people, all in different transitional stages. We asked 32 people a pretty extensive list of questions, tracking their sex lives and sexual identities from their early perceptions of sex to their aspirations for the future. Spill is a celebration of sex and the people having it, or not having it.

We chose to work in verbatim – we have had to learn the inflections, every stutter and nuances of our interviewee’s speech patterns to make our telling as truthful as possible. We chose to work in this way because we wanted to hear the stories of real people, not just what the media tends to force down our throats. We felt there were so many great stories out there, why would we make them up? Verbatim allows us to explore real experiences from real people.

On the whole, our company is all of a similar age, which obviously offers in itself a number of viewpoints – but we wanted to open this up to include points of view from a wider range of people. We felt that, as we’d like real people to watch the show, we wanted to find real people whose experiences might be reflected on stage.

We decided to take artistic license with some of the interviews, using people’s natural speech pattern to create music and rhythm – using electronic beats and acoustic guitars alongside their words, we were able to create soundscapes and songs from the material we had collected.

RW: Why did you feel this was an important show to make?

PT: We as a company (and group of young people) felt uncomfortable with the way sex is portrayed in the mainstream media, as well as porn and the education system. The sex we are shown, and taught about is only a fraction of what sex really is- and we wanted to show that. It doesn’t have to be straight, skinny and hairless. There may not be mood lighting and simultaneous orgasms are not guaranteed. You might not have a rampant sex drive, or any sex drive at all. And actually, that’s okay. Also, everybody wants the chance to talk about it. And hear other people talk honestly and openly about it. What’s the point of being so secretive about something that affects everybody, whether they’re having sex or not?

RW: You’re a young company making a show about sex.  Do you think that young people’s experiences and attitudes towards sex are particularly unique to this time period?  In particular, how do you feel about the prevalence of internet porn and the ideas this creates about sex?

PT: We don’t necessarily feel that attitudes today are unique to this time. Everyone has always experienced the same things – their first kiss, their first time, their first love (these things not always at the same time). We definitely feel like there is more pressure these days, because in a day when we tend to share everything about ourselves online, it seems like everyone is talking about (and having) sex all the time – this might make young people feel differently about sex, feel like they more urgently need to get started, but fundamentally sex has remained the same for thousands of years.

The Spill cast in rehearsal

The Spill cast in rehearsal

RW: Were the responses to your questions as you expected or did they raise unexpected issues?  If so, what?

PT: Often, the interviewees seemed to think their answers were pretty unusual, but mirrored a lot of other things we heard! The main thing we found was that everything is normal, and that’s what we’re trying to show with the piece. We interviewed a few people who were in quite specific transitional states. These interviews were probably the most enlightening in terms of looking at gender and sexuality in ways we hadn’t personally experienced.

RW: Did you feel that the people you talked to had basically ‘healthy’ relationships with sex or not?

PT: It really depended on the characters we spoke to. We did definitely feel that most the characters in their 20s felt that they had a healthy relationship with sex, that it was appropriate for their age group, but a couple of the older characters felt that though they had a healthy frame of mind, the reality of their sex life wasn’t living up to that.

Lots of people we have focused on don’t fit into “the norm”. The idea of a “healthy relationship” is hard to find for those people who don’t have a norm to conform to. How can we compare what is perceived as healthy to what they experience, if they’re constantly told (by the media, by sex ed, by their parents) that what they fancy is not OK?

I think it’d be true to say some of the characters play up to the expectations placed upon them by how they identify their sexuality and their gender – it’s not until you get deeper into the interview that you find the truth, the inner person. It’s sometimes easier to put up a front, to show bravado when discussing something so intimate.

RW: How do you think people’s attitudes towards sex and talking about it should change?

PT: One of the most important things for us is that we wanted to make a show about something that wasn’t usually discussed. We felt “the norm” that is drilled into us is not the general consensus anymore – what you are taught at school and by our parents doesn’t and shouldn’t necessarily apply. We wanted to talk about it openly, to start that discussion so things will change. I think there’s a fear of not speaking about it – but if we don’t start speaking, it can throw up all manner of problems. If you feel like you can’t communicate problems or desires with your partner, how can we expect to start discussing sex with strangers?

RW: What would you like audiences to take from this show?

PT: Two things: we want them to be able to walk out thinking “it’s not just me who thinks that” – that everyone can be more comfortable in the knowledge that others share feelings they had previously never spoken aloud. Another thing we’d like them to think about are the things they maybe previously didn’t know about – things like pansexuality, asexuality, identifying as transgender – to not just think about sex from your point of view. We of course also want them to have fun – sex should be fun! It shouldn’t be closed off and boring. It shouldn’t be taboo. We don’t think it should be in the dark, with the lights off, quiet”¦.

RW: What are your plans for the future, both as a company and as individual actors?

PT: The plan for Spill – we’re headed to the Inspiring Curiousity Festival at the Belgrade Theatre in July, then we’d like to take it on tour.

As a company, we’d like to stick together and start to create work on a regular basis. A few of us are going to drama school in September, so it’ll be a case that people come in and out but at its core Propolis Theatre will remain the same.

We’ve all got projects we’d love to work on and we work well as a team. We’ve been put together to work in such an intense environment, it feels like there’s nothing we can’t do.

RW: To finish, tell me the most interesting fact about sex you now know!

PT: Did you know that one in ten European babies is conceived in an IKEA bed? That’s a nice nod to our set design!

Spill’s performance is on at Bristol Old Vic on the 1st-4th July – watch their trailer and read more here




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