Taking a show to Edinburgh with the Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve

Claire Rammelkamp, performer and writer of A Womb of One’s Own, talks to Spotlight about how Wonderbox theatre company secured the Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve, and how this has helped them take their show to the Edinburgh Fringe.

By Natasha Raymond

Remember that you need to enjoy it, because really, otherwise, you might as well be working in an office.
Claire Rammelkamp

Hi Claire! When did you first become involved with Wonderbox?

I went to the National Youth Theatre to do a course called Epic Stages, which was a four-week course. [It] was the first ever course with an all-female cohort, because it was 60 years since the formation of the National Youth Theatre, and 60 years ago women weren’t allowed to join the National Youth Theatre, so it was a celebration. They’d never done it before, and they were like, ‘Oh, I hope they don’t get all catty and scratch each other’s eyes out,’ but it was literally like therapy for creative women.

Five of us came together and decided that we wanted to start a theatre company, and so Wonderbox was formed. [We] knew we wanted to tell untold stories, because we’re quite big on speaking up about things which are shouted at the silence. So we were like, ‘Do we have any stories that we want to tell?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I’d really like to tell this story of having had an abortion.’ That’s something I care quite passionately about. That was our first show, and we’ve gone on from there doing lots of fun, feminist shows.

What influenced you to turn your experience into a show?

The character is quite different from me. There are similarities, but she’s got this Catholic guilt thing going on, but the spine of the story came from me. I was at university, [and I] had what I’d describe as a really, really normal abortion. There were no unusual circumstances.

A lot of the talk around abortion is, ‘This girl was raped,’ or, ‘This girl was ill, and she needed an abortion otherwise she was going to die.’ It was the wrong time, I wasn’t financially secure, I wasn’t ready, I was 20, I was half-way through a degree – I just wasn’t ready to have a baby. People don’t really talk about that.

It was quite an isolating experience, so the way I got through it really was just by making a lot of jokes with my friends, and with my mum, actually. One of the things in the show is that she’s lost her mum and she doesn’t have anyone to turn to. I did have someone to turn to. My mum was very supportive.

I realised that joking about it was the most helpful thing – not joking necessarily, but just talking about it in a really open way. I wanted to share that experience of being able to talk about something which is really quite challenging to do in an open and frank way, and help it become something that doesn’t need a lot of silence around it.

We came across this statistic that 1 in 3 women in the UK during their lifetime will have an abortion. Where are all these women? Why aren’t they talking about it? Why does anyone think they’re alone? So that was sort of the reason behind it.

And how have you adapted this into a show?

[After the experience] I stayed in my room a lot, even though talking to my friends was great, so I wanted to find a way of drawing that out more, and bringing out the emotional conflict in your head, because I [began] having all these conversations with myself and there was this part of me that was like, ‘This is bad!’ and then there was another part of me that was like, ‘Of course this isn’t bad!’ and another part of my was like, ‘Ahh everyone hates me!’

So with the script, I split the main character, Baby Girl, into four different versions of herself, and me and the other actresses each play a different version, and they’re all talking to each other. We all wear the same costume to show that we’re all part of the same person. So that’s the main device that I’ve used – how to show the conflict within someone’s own head on stage, and that’s how we’ve gone about it.

The thing we want to achieve with this show is to get people to have a great night out, and then have a really good chinwag with their friends in the bar afterwards.

Tell us about your application for the Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve. Who's idea was it? How did you go about applying?

We all wanted to apply to various awards because we just knew if we couldn’t get some kind of funding, we wouldn’t be able to go to Edinburgh. We just couldn’t afford it. The Charlie Hartill Award is the only award of its kind, really, so it’s good because it’s specifically for theatre companies who are not too far out of education, so young, up-and-coming theatre companies.

My director, Holly Bond, really spearheaded that application process, because we were producing another show at the time called Feminist Fable Series (FFS!). So we were kind of focusing on that, and we almost didn’t get round to applying for the Charlie Hartill, but she managed to get everything sorted.

We were performing in FFS! the night after the Charlie Hartill showcase, so our heads were not quite in the game. But fortunately we managed to do it, and it was so worth it, because it’s honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to this show. [The] Pleasance are so supportive – they really, really are, especially Ellie Simpson, who’s just been helping us the whole time. I really mean it – we would not have been able to go to Edinburgh without it.

Has it helped with developing the show?

[It’s been] really, really helpful. It’s going to take us to a new audience. In London, you’re not going to come to a show like this unless you’re already a bit interested in the subject. Whereas in Edinburgh, someone might just wander in.

They might have completely different views, they might be aggressively pro-life, and they might just wander in and see this as an actor. So I’m quite interested to see how it goes down with an audience who aren’t necessarily our niche.

How did the Pleasance assist you with marketing?

[The Pleasance have] been really helpful with marketing. They’ve been really instrumental in redesigning all of our marketing material. They hooked us up with Chloé Nelkin, who is really great at PR. It’s a level of marketing support that we’ve never had before.

Although [there’s also] our producer, Danica Corns, who’s also in the show. [We’ve] all got ‘muggle jobs’, because we can’t quite support ourselves full time on this, and her ‘muggle job’ is marketing for the council for Greenwich, so we’re so lucky to have that wealth of knowledge. She’s been doing marketing for five years, so that’s what we’ve relied on so far.

We’ve also had access to the fabulous marketing team at the Pleasance. We’ve all brought great skills to it. Like Carla Garratt is a trained dancer. Everyone’s got these secret, amazing skills, so it’s a nice kind of mixing pot.

What advice would you give to anyone planning to apply for the Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve?

A word of advice that we got from other people that we’ve used: make sure you pick a section of your show that shows what the whole thing is like. Also, I think, if you have a piece that has a contained narrative within it, [to] really showcase the way you tell the story, I think that’s important. I think they’re interested in seeing how you tell a story.

And then, also, don’t be afraid to show where you need help, because you have a little bit where you talk, before you do your extract, about yourselves, and we were quite honest about what we needed to improve. We were like, ‘We’ve got this great story. We really believe in it, we’re really passionate about it. We have a £15 bed from Ikea that breaks all the time. We need support. We need a guiding hand to help us get to where we think it could be.’

[So] I think don’t be afraid to say what you’d like to get out of the Charlie Hartill award, because they are just very keen to help and nurture.

Why was this the year to bring A Womb of One’s Own to the Edinburgh Fringe?

Basically, this is the third year that we’ve been thinking about the Fringe. The first year we were like, ‘Let’s take a show to the Fringe!’ and then we were like, ‘We don’t have a show. Ah!’ So that was a non-starter. And then last year, we were like, ‘We really, really want to take a show to the Fringe,’ and we did not get the money to do it. The Fringe is so hard to get to without support.

Also, we were offered a place at a couple of smaller venues where we thought we might get lost. And then we were like, ‘Shall we do it in a smaller venue, or shall we try again next year in a more well-respected venue?’

This year, we went to the Pleasance [and] were like, ‘This is a Pleasance show, this is where it’ll fit,’ and we kind of essentially said to ourselves, ‘If we don’t get a spot at the Pleasance, and if we don’t get the Charlie Hartill award, we’re just not going to go, because otherwise this is the only way in which we’ll be able to do it financially, and it’ll be the only condition right for us to go to the Fringe.’

And fortunately it worked out, otherwise I don’t think we’d be there this year, or maybe any year really. I’m so glad, because I love the Fringe – I haven’t been in ages. I’ve been before as a performer, but I’ve never been on the production side before. And it’s really amazed me how much work it is producing a show for the Fringe.

Do you have any advice for any aspiring theatremakers also hoping to bring a show to the Fringe?

[What] we really learned in the last couple of years is that you really need to make time for things that aren’t theatre. You need to make time for yourself, you need to breathe in.

Go to an art gallery, watch a movie, go to the pub with your friends, remember that you need to enjoy it, because really, otherwise, you might as well be working in an office. Really take time to nurture your own artistic vision, and that will improve your work.

Also, never be ashamed if you need a ‘muggle job’. That’s fine, never apologise for needing to pay the bills. Don’t sacrifice your mental health to it, don’t sacrifice your pay cheque to it, but at the same time, be willing to throw yourself into it and take risks on it.

And just love it – it’s really important to love it. We’re quite lucky in this industry where things really blossom if people are enjoying themselves, and things really flourish under an environment and atmosphere where everyone feels good about themselves and good about what they’re doing.

Also, it does take a lot of work. The payoff is quite a delayed gratification. This show has been more than two years in the making and is only just bearing fruit, so hang on in there, enjoy yourself, keep going. Things will probably come good in the end if you keep loving them and putting passion into them.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There’s nothing more lovely than being able to create art about something you care about with a group of women you get on really well with, and art funding is so essential to that. People need bread and roses, and I just think if we’re going into a time, politically, where art funding is going to suffer, that’s really going to strangle a lot of stuff, and I think we as a country really need to hold onto the importance of art and the vital role that art plays in people’s lives generally.

Thanks to Claire for sharing her experiences with us. You can find out more about Wonderbox and their upcoming projects by following them on Twitter, and don’t forget to check out our other Edinburgh Fringe content here!

A Womb of One's Own will be on at The Pleasance at 7:45pm (from 19th-23rd November 2019) - tickets available here! 

Photo Credit: Greta Mitchell