Tom Wicker speaks to Molton Studios’ Bella Hird about supporting new production Two-Headed and the challenges facing younger theatre companies today.
Salt Lake City-based writer Julie Jensen’s Two-Headed tells the story of Lavinia and Hettie – two women facing the challenges of polygamy, betrayal and intolerance in the male-dominated Mormon community of nineteenth-century Utah. The play is set against the backdrop of the Mountain Meadows massacre, which saw the passengers of an emigrant train slaughtered by a militia of Mormon settlers and Native Americans.
Mylovely Productions, formed by actresses Liz McMullen and Noor Lawson, are bringing their staging of Two-Headed to the Rose Theatre Bankside. This follows a successful run at this year’s Brighton Festival.
The show – which opens this week – is being executively produced by Molton Studios, a company set up to “generate income from the arts, for the arts.” I spoke with Molton Studios’ Bella Hird about their involvement with Mylovely Productions, what appealed to her about Two-Headed and the challenges facing emerging artists when it comes to publicising their work.
What persuaded you to get involved with Mylovely Productions?
What we found most impressive about Liz and Noor was that they came to us again and again! They sent us lots of information and had a good, well-made show reel for Two-Headed. We knew that they meant business, which was why we met them initially. Once they came to us, they demonstrated a huge amount of enthusiasm and motivation. Everything we asked for, in terms of figures and things like that, they gave to us pretty much straightaway. So we knew that we were working with people who were not going to let us down.
Is a business-focused attitude even more important these days?
Oh my goodness, definitely. Actors and start-up theatre companies face all kinds of issues. The difference between Mylovely Productions and some others is that extra bit of discipline, spending time on the things that actors may not think they are good at but which they need to do in order to make things happen.
What prompted the creation of Molton Studios?
The company existed informally for quite a while. But since the arts cuts it has become much more formal. We are coming from a film-producing background and this is our first step into the theatre world. With the cuts, there are a lot more projects out there in need of support. We can help make them viable and potentially profitable. Everybody wins.
What form does your support take?
It depends on the project. We work across the board with lots of different artists and their needs are different. Normally, we assist with press, publicity or marketing and provide financial support. We are on the lookout for companies that are to all intents and purposes up and running and heading in the right direction but missing something. This could be a structural issue or how to work out cash flow and profit loss – things that actors and artists may not have thought about before. These are incredibly talented people but sometimes they don’t recognise where there is potential revenue or success or how they can take things to the next level. We set them on their way again.
What attracted you to Two-Headed in particular?
Liz and Noor initially came to the play because they were looking for writing that was interesting for women, which is a long-term issue in the industry – it can be hard. They fell in love on an emotional level with both of the characters and felt that they understood their journey. When they showed us the play – incidentally, Molton Studios is all-women – we loved it as well.
The story is set a long time ago in a country that is alien to us in London, about a religion that we do not necessarily understand. But at the end of the day it is about these two women and their relationship. And the issues they face as human beings do come up, but in different forms, in our world today. With a well-written play, you can take it and perform it at any point in history and still be able to relate to it. This is one of those plays.
Do you think that finding good roles for women still a problem?
It is easy for me to say that, speaking on behalf of women. But the thing is that, historically, if you go back in time there weren’t even any actresses. So we are kind of fighting against years of brilliant plays that were written without women in mind. We still have a long way to go before we counter-balance those years. But as more people create projects like this one and produce new writing with a female focus, we will get there.
Is it true that Two-Headed’s writer, Julie Jensen, will be coming to the show?
Yes, it is very exciting. As I say, the girls fell in love with the piece right from the start and have kept in contact with Julie to let her know their progress. They are so honoured that she is taking the time to fly over. But I think there is equal excitement on her part. If you create something and then somebody on the other side of the world recognises something in it and decides to share it with others, well, that is also an honour. Julie will be around for much of the first week and will be giving a talk on the Friday.
Why was the Rose Theatre Bankside the right venue?
The Rose is historically such a massive place for theatre in London and the world. And I think that if you stage a play in a place as special as this one, you add gravitas to the story you are telling. I know that the girls are particularly honoured that theirs is going to be one of the first contemporary pieces to be shown in that space. I believe that the Rose is planning more projects like this, so they are at the start of something exciting. Also, way back when, I studied drama and, personally, the Rose is where I caught the theatre bug.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Two-Headed?
Liz and Noor want to bring audiences on a journey. The play covers two women’s lives from childhood until they are very elderly, so they hope that anyone watching it will be able to empathise on some level. There is also an overriding sense of the importance of friendship; something that can overcome everything if you invest in it. No matter what is thrown at you, it is the strongest thing. And that is hugely life-affirming.
What is up for Molton Studios next in terms of theatre?
As far as MyLovely Productions goes, depending on their success here, we are hoping to be able to support them in the future. We are looking to get more involved in the industry generally. We are in conversation with various companies that are in a similar place to the girls, in that they are packaged and ready to go. We are particularly interested in new writing.
Two-Headed is on at the Rose Theatre Bankside from 3 July to 22 July. For more information, and tickets, go to: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/theatres/shows/90
For more information on Molton Studios, visit their website: http://www.moltonstudios.com/
First published by OffWestEnd.com