One Year On: Deviant Women Gear Up For Fringe 2019

Last year we talked to Alicia Carter and Lauren Butterworth, creators of the podcast Deviant Women in the lead up to their knock-out Fringe debut. One year on, and they’re getting ready to bring Deviant Women to the stage again, this time exploring the lives and legends of the infamous female pirate duo Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

On the opening night of Fringe 2019, Tulpa’s Lisandra Linde caught up with Alicia and Lauren to talk about the experience of bringing Deviant Women to the stage and their upcoming show Pirate Ladies Give No F*cks.

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Last year you did two different stage shows – Julie D’Aubigny and Madame Blavatsky – how did that go?

Alicia: Really, really well.

Lauren: Surprisingly well received. I say surprisingly well received as though we were expecting it to be poorly received, but I think it did exceed our expectations.

Alicia: Yeah, definitely. We did two entirely different shows about a week and a half apart. For the first show [Julie D’Aubigny] we were going in blind. We didn’t have any idea what it was going to be like and we were really amazed that within the first five minutes of the show the audience was responding, like, audibly.

Lauren: I remember a moment a few minutes into the show where we could see the front row really well and their faces were just very smiley and there were these big body laughs and I was just like – ‘oh wow, this is going well’.

Alicia: If something bad happened to a character that they liked, the audience would just automatically boo, or something good would happen and they would just automatically cheer. There was actually a moment standing on the stage where I was like, ‘wow, you guys are really enthusiastic’.

Lauren: We fed off their energy and I think they fed off of our energy, so by the end of the night we came off the stage and we were totally on another planet.

Alicia: And then, of course, we were worried about whether or not the second show would live up to the standards of the first show.

Lauren: Especially because we’d had less time to rehearse the second show because we’d been concentrating so much of our efforts on the first show.

Alicia: Also, with the success of the first show, we got some pretty great reviews, a lot of word-of-mouth, so the second show sold out.

Lauren: Because [Blavatsky] was such a different show – well I guess the tone was similar but – the tone of the humour was very similar but the theme of the shows were really opposite, so we weren’t sure if what worked in D’Aubigny would work in Blavatsky. D’Aubigny was so colourful and bright and energetic and quite sexy and tongue-in-cheek, whereas Blavatsky was more spooky.

Alicia: But no, it ended up being just as much of a success as the first show and, again, we got some excellent reviews – five-star reviews – and yeah, really good feedback. I think that when we say surprisingly well, it’s not because we expected them to be a flop but it’s just that they did a lot better than we’d hoped.

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You’re back again this year with a show about Anne Bonny and Mary Read called Pirate Ladies Give No F*cks. You’ve talked about both these swashbuckling ladies in your podcast in the past – what was it that made you choose to do a stage show about them?

Lauren: The thing that we learned from the last Fringe was that while we had an amazing time doing two different shows, there’s a reason why theatrical groups tend to do a show multiple times. Not two shows once each. We just wrecked ourselves doing that, so this time we wanted to do a show that had two primary characters. We didn’t just want one of us to be the main figure, and the other one of us to be the side characters like we did in the last shows. We wanted to choose a pair of women. We actually looked at a few different pairs of women from history but, to be honest, and I think that this is saying something, there weren’t that many stories that we came across of female duos. There are a lot of male duos, and every time you did find a female duo they were either just celebrity pairings or they were frenemies. You know, like the Joan Crawford and Betty Davis sort of frenemies. And we just really wanted to tell a story about female friendship as well, because that’s something that I think is really quite underrepresented.

Alicia: If you look up something like ‘best male duos’ there’s so many from history that you can find that were real men. Whereas with women, the majority of the results that we get are of fictional characters like Thelma and Louise. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find other examples, because we did find a few, but the information that was available to us about a lot of these other female duos was very limited. With Anne and Mary, where we’re lucky that we do have so much about their lives, that’s actually really quite uncommon. We loved their story as well, and we are both big fans of pirates. We like the aesthetic of being a pirate, so it didn’t take us long to decide that it was probably going to be a lot of fun and it was also going to be a lot of material that we could use.

Lauren: A lot of their exploits are quite outrageous. Their story is one that could be turned into a really fun romp, you know? It’s also a story that shows the various shades of these women as well. They’re not just pirates who were fighting alongside men on ships. They were best friends, they were potentially lovers, they had romances, they had heartbreak… They were so amazing in so many ways, but they are also full of contradictions and full of things that make people interesting. I think a big part of the Deviant Women project is trying to think of women as being three-dimensional creatures who are full of shades of light and dark – dare I say, human?

Alicia: I think that’s a part of the podcast as well as the stage show. A lot of what we do is celebrating women from history. Sometimes we think of celebrating in terms of uncovering and finding them and knowing that they exist. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re celebrating them because we’re holding them up as paragons of being amazingly wonderful people. Like, a lot of these women were quite bad people.

Lauren: To me, it’s just about breaking down those myths of femininity, breaking down those dualities and binaries that confine women to being one thing or another.

Alicia: It’s about finding that area where you don’t have to be a wonderful person in order for us to celebrate your existence.

Lauren: And these two women are really good examples of that.

Your shows mix a lot of elements, from sketch comedy to animation and even audience participation. How much work goes into creating a show with this much stuff going on?

Alicia: Actually, we’ve added a new element to this [year’s] show. We’ve branched out into the world of musicals.

Lauren: Song and dance numbers are now making their debut on the Deviant Women stage.

Alicia: We didn’t think we had enough crammed into the shows last year. So this time we thought we’d do a bit of a musical number.

Lauren: We were also really lucky this year to have another couple of artists approach us and want to get involved in the show as well so we’ve got two designers and animators who have come onboard to help us out with some of our visuals and animations this year – Levi George and Lisa Vertudaches – we’ve been able to work with them which has been really fun.

Alicia: They’ve been very generous with their time and they’ve given us some really awesome animations that we’ve thrown into the mix with some of our own crap animations.

Lauren: Of course, we couldn’t not try our hand at animation. A different form this time. So last year we had stop-motion claymation and shadow puppets. There’s a new one in the mix this year.

 

You obviously do a lot of historical research for every show (and podcast). How do you find the balance between the information you want to share about these women and the more comedic elements of the show?

Lauren: Okay, so this story, as with our two previous stories (D’Aubigny and Blavatsky), had historical facts about them that were verifiable in the historical record, but they were also both surrounded in myth and legend as well. I think it’s that space [between fact and myth] that allows us that creativity and a chance to play and have fun with their stories. We’re very upfront about the fact that A, B, and C is historical fact, and D and E are apocryphal stories. I think we’re both really interested in not simply the historical figures, but we’re interested in storytelling. We’re interested in the ways that stories about women are told, and the way that historical figures become mythologised.

Alicia: When we find gaps in the narrative, or we find interactions with other people that have been merely suggested or hinted at, it’s taking those other characters around them as well and then creating something out of it. So one of them might have a dalliance with a lover or something, and that’s about as much as you get. And that gives you so much freedom to make anything you like out of that lover because there’s nothing in the history books to tell you about them. We kind of create these characters that would have been around them as well.

Lauren: And those characters often become symbols for the feminist undercurrent of the show. Quite often we’re lampooning particular stereotypes. Particularly around things like toxic masculinity or sexual politics.

What’s your favourite part of bringing these shows to life? And what do you look forward to most in doing the show this year?

Alicia: I’m looking forward to it being over so that we can sleep [laughs]. No, my favourite part of the show is bringing to life the visual aspects. I love it when we get stuck into the costuming and the sets. What I like is the idea that you come along to the show and hopefully we can transport you to a different time. I really enjoy putting together those visual cues.

Lauren: I kind just live for that moment on stage. Performing transports you to a totally different dimension, you know? I’m a totally different person on stage than I am in face-to-face conversation. I’m really in love with the Lauren that comes out when she’s on stage. I wish she would come out more in everyday life because she is very confident, she’s very playful and she’s very over-the-top. I really love being her. Having the chance to really lean into the performing and feeding off of the energy of people, kind of getting that sense that you’re sharing an experience with people through this thing that you’re doing. That’s just such an enormous high, and I really love it.

Alicia: That’s why we came back and decided to do it again this year. That’s the thing about live performance in general, isn’t it? That you create something there in the moment that’s very ephemeral but that everyone in the room is sharing. So I think that’s what keeps us going.

 


Deviant Women will be performing at the Adelaide Fringe on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of February. You can grab your tickets here. You can learn more about Deviant Women and their podcast on their website, or listen on iTunes. You can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

Tulpa thanks Deviant Women creators Alicia Carter and Lauren Butterworth for taking the time to speak with us. Interview conducted and transcribed by Lisandra Linde.

Big Rough Stones

Big Rough Stones

Margaret Merrilees

Wakefield Press 2018


An awe-inspiring testament to the feminist movement in Australia, particularly South Australia and Victoria during the 1970s and 80s, Big Rough Stones follows the women of a collective throughout their lives together.

Focused on one particularly fiery lesbian, Ro, the novel looks back on her life, her achievements, her failures, and her relationships while firmly establishing her opinions—both those she put on and those she kept to herself. Ro spent her life pioneering to be a loud and proud lesbian who didn’t conform to the patriarchal power structures that guided and continue to guide the lives of a number of women.

Ro is dying, and in dying she wants to realise her dream of becoming a writer, even if she might have left it too late. She’s always wanted to write about her experiences being a lesbian and being involved in a number of protests and rallies. While she laments her writing dreams, she also looks back on her life, giving the audience glimpses into her past, in a natural and sometimes non-chronological order.

While the novel revolves around the character of Ro, we also get to know her friends and ex-lovers, in particular the love of her life, Gerry. Gerry is a country woman, self-sufficient and alone in the Victorian farmlands, living where there would have once been a dairy farm. She is stoic and capable, and somehow taken by Ro, who is very much loud, obnoxious and opinionated (even when contradicting herself).

The book works retrospectively, separated into four parts titled: “Now”, “A While Ago”, “A Long Time Ago”, before returning to “Now”. This shows how times have changed, how ideas from Ro’s youth have continued to inform her thinking, and how her opinions have changed as she grew older.

It was wonderful to read such a powerful, loud, book by a South Australian author and see familiar places such as Adelaide, Kingston and Grange. To hear about women living together, helping one another, and fighting for what they believe in. It was fascinating to hear about the protests, rallies, picnics, and meetings that would have contributed to the transformation of everyday life for women in Australia today.

Margaret Merrilees debut novel The First Week won the Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2013. Fables of the Queer and Familiar was published in 2014 and was also broadcast around Australia as a radio serial.


3/5 Stars

Big Rough Stones is available for purchase from Wakefield press here.


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Miss Marryat’s Circle

Miss Marryat’s Circle

Cheryl Williss

Wakefield Press


Miss Marryat’s Circle is a comprehensive and well-researched exploration of the role of women in South Australian history. Focusing on the influential Marryat family, Williss chronologically details the contributions of the Marryats from their 1836 arrival to Miss Mabel Marryat’s death in 1949.

 

Williss attempts to tell the story of the first 110 years of South Australian women’s history in one 300-page non-fiction book, under the guise of focusing on one woman. Walking through the buildings of North Terrace and the rest of the city, the reader is entreated to the history of such landmarks as Trinity Church, Adelaide University, and West Terrace Cemetery, explaining their creation and their role in influential Adelaide women’s legacies. Further highlighting the role of the Marryats, Williss has selected newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries of South Australians to recreate the atmosphere of a small settlement trying to find its feet and bloom into a functioning society.

 

Miss Mabel Marryat’s role during both World War I and II revolutionised South Australian women’s role in society, with their collective aim to provide support to Australian troops overseas. Her involvement in the Red Cross, at Keswick Hospital, and League of Loyal Women in various leadership roles, cemented her position in history as a pioneer and social philanthropist, only for her to then be denigrated as someone who simply partook in “home duties” on her death certificate.

 

It is important to record women’s role in our history as it has been dismissed in our national narrative. However, Williss seems to have bitten off more than she could chew in writing this supposed biography. It read like a history textbook with dates and names thrown at the reader with no explanation of why they were important to the life story of Miss Marryat and her dedication to her “diggers”.

 

In order to set the scene, it took Williss 100 pages to introduce and focus on the titular woman. She recounted a brief and superficial history of Adelaide, rather than providing the reader with a deep, focused biography on the aptly named “fairy godmother” of Australian soldiers. It often took paragraphs – if not chapters – of trawling through dates, names and quotes to reach the point that Williss wanted to make, resulting in a book that drags along slowly.

 

Overall, Williss has provided an extensive history of South Australia and some of the women who have been forgotten, allowing them a play a role in our state and national narrative. However, to do Miss Marryat justice, a more focused study should have undertaken to truly tell her story.

2/5 Stars

Miss Marryat’s Circle is available for purchase through Wakefield Press here.


Words by Georgina Banfield

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Georgina Banfield is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English at Flinders University. When she’s not reading, writing or listening to podcasts she can be found looking at conspiracy theories and true crime. She loves anything to do with history, literature and unsolved mysteries.

Deviant Women: Madame Blavatsky

After a triumphant five-star show about the swashbuckling Julie D’Aubigny, Deviant Women returned to the stage with the story of nineteenth century occultist Madame Helena Blavatsky. This time round the pink puffy dresses were replaced with gothic black gowns and the show had an altogether darker feel. This isn’t to say that it was all serious- it wouldn’t be a Deviant Women stage show without laughter, silly hats and flamboyant acting. All the comedic goods were out on display, bringing a whole lot of fun to this tale of spirits and séances.

Using the same artful storytelling characteristic of their regular podcast, along with some spooky shadow poetry and an on-stage séance, hosts Lauren and Alicia brought Helena’s story to life with flair and attention to detail.

Deviant Women always aims to give the audience as much knowledge as entertainment. As academics, Lauren and Alicia always strive to provide rich biographical detail on the women they talk about. Their biographical run-down of Madame Blavatsky’s life was no different.

Since her childhood in Russia, where the auspicious date of her birth connected her deeply with spirits and other otherworldly beings, Helena was destined to lead a life bound with the occult. Helena rebelled against many of the rigidly moralistic ideals of the nineteenth century. She married but denied her husband sex (a big no-no in the Victorian period) and often chose to travel alone.

During her travels she held séances and decried trickery (like the ghosts in bedsheets and stuffed gloves that were mainstays of many parlour séances). Her interest in other religions led her to adopt many aspects of spiritualist practices from around the world, including Buddhist and Hindu traditions. She was the mother of the new-age movement and founder of Theosophy. She was a woman who accomplished a lot during her life (despite smoking to excess, drinking and a penchant for hashish).

The absolute highlight of the night was the on-stage séance. From inviting an audience member to join in the summoning of a ghost (which did yield a stuffed glove which Lauren used to stroke the volunteer’s face while their eyes were closed), to Lauren emerging in a bed sheet and mask to sweep about the crowd offering an ectoplasm covered arm, the séance was filled with the fun and trickery you’d expect from a Victorian era party.

The Jade was the perfect venue for the cosy but slightly spooky feel of the stage, and the dark lighting and sounds of thunder made for the perfect ambience for a story of the occult.

Deviant Women: Madam Blavatsky was a perfect blend of dark and comedic, of the spooky and the playful. It was a night any Victorian lady or gentleman would be proud of.


Words by Lisandra Linde

Five stars.

For more about Deviant Women don’t forget to check out their podcast or catch their interview with Tulpa and Jess M. Miller’s review of their first stage show: Julie D’Aubigny.

‘Crashing Waves’ by J.R. Polkinghorne

 

Wind whistled over the deck, howling through every nook and cranny, growing in strength and lowering in pitch as it whooshed around me like a cold blanket encasing my body. Waves clashed on either side of the ship in rapid hits like a hundred thrashing drummers beating endlessly away at the ship’s wooden panels.
The wind picked up and the waves grew larger around me, while the crew snored away below. I was showered in a spray of icy salt water as I clung desperately to the ship’s edge, watching as Davy Jones pulled and tugged at the vessel, trying to drag us down into the watery depths of his locker.

I tied myself to the deck, the coarse rope rubbing against my soft flesh as the waves knocked me back and forth. One moment I was standing upright, and in another a wave had bashed me down onto my hands and knees. The first time it happened I tried to scream, but nothing came out. All I accomplished was filling my lungs with water and heaving it up on the deck until another wave came.
I should have stayed below with the others; they were all tucked away in their beds, warm and dry. I should have ignored the sounds coming from above, but by god, I was stupid. The thought of drowning in my sleep sent such fear over me that I scrambled on deck in nothing but my pants and socks. What a mistake that was. Every time the icy water hit me stabbing into my skin over and over. My limbs were getting stiff from the cold and yet the waves could still toss me around as though I was a ragdoll. And although the rope didn’t let me go far I still managed to slam painfully into everything. I thought of going back. Back into the dark under the deck, and yet I stayed frozen. The fear kept me in place and the fear would be my doom.

My skin was turning purple from both the cold and the bruises. I was starting to look like a prune. I was damned soul stuck forever in a loop of pain and suffering for the sins I have no doubt committed in my short life aboard this ship. This wasn’t the hell my mother warned me about, but I couldn’t think of another word to call this.
My body was going numb and all I could do was think. Right now I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my mother’s arms against her breast and cry as though I was a boy. She would sing to me, her voice sweet and soothed my aguish.

I wanted to sing, I wanted to open my mouth and let the words out, but I couldn’t, not with the fear of filling my lungs again with foul fishy water.
My thoughts left me, and all I could do was stare blankly at the deck, as it sank into the endless depth of the sea, the impending doom of my watery grave mocking me, the promise of gold and adventure sinking along with me. I shouldn’t have jumped on this ship, shouldn’t have thrown away the life my mother gave me for a chance at adventure, but the idea of sailing across the sea, my name striking fear into the hearts of men, so tempted me.

But alas, my dreams were lost and my hopes were drowning, falling deep into hopeless despair. My death was forming around me clinging tightly to my skin as the darkness crept in. Death was on my shoulder, his breath like rotten fish, as he waited for my demise.

As the gloom started sneaking in, another sound picked up through the beating of waves and screaming wind. It was just a faint whisper, carried out along the sea, settling down against my cheek. The whisper turned into a song, moving in time with the waves and floating along the breeze. It was truly beautiful and it brought a small flicker of light into my soul, fanning the fire of my heart. I tried to stand—but to no avail. I still couldn’t move, my limbs cold and numb. The best I could do was open my mouth to call out, but as I tried another waved crashed down. This was the end. I didn’t have the strength to force the water out, nor the strength to search for the angel calling out to me.

Another wave washed over, covering the ship and bringing silence with it. I was no longer cold, only the suffocating embrace of the ocean was around, squeezing my lungs. My body didn’t hurt anymore. My lungs did though, and in that moment I felt the urge to breath, to move, to swim away. My limbs sprang into action and moved against the pull of the sea, but I was tied down; attached to the ship as it sunk. The thing I thought would be my saviour was instead aiding in my death as I, too, was dragged down with the ship. I tugged at the rope, my skin rubbing raw. It was no use. I was trapped.

I was dying and there was nothing I could do about it. Scared, helpless, and small, I was held down by something bigger than me. Even though I knew it was hopeless, I still struggled to swim towards the surface. I still struggled for that last breath of crisp air.
But I only sank further, my strength leaving me, my limbs stopped moving.

It was then, in that moment of defeat that I heard it again. The sweet voice kissed my cheek, a whisper through the silence of the sea. I wanted to see it. I needed to see the angel calling out to me before I was gone, before everything was gone and the only thing left was this vast sea. I gritted my teeth and forced my eyes open, the salt stinging them every time they opened even the slightest bit.

The voice was louder now, and I could almost make out words. Against my lids I could feel light shining, begging me to open them. Again I tried, and every time I did I let out a little more breath from the pain. I was running out of time. I couldn’t let it end like this. I needed to fight through the pain, through the despair and hopelessness, but it hurt. It hurt so much, and every time I tried it seemed I only got further from my goal. Even in the water I knew I was crying, for that one little glimpse of the light that was taunting my death. I don’t believe I have ever wanted something more in my entire life.

The song kept playing, and it was now that I heard my name. The angel was singing for me and me alone. I needed to see it. With the final force of my body I flung open my eyes. Light consumed me as I was blinded by it, but after blinking I could see it. The angel calling for me was no angel at all but the captain holding a candle by my face, her gruff features illuminated by it. I was still on the ship. The storm had died down and we hadn’t sunk.
I was still tied to the ship and wet from the waves, but the air was light. I could breathe. I was cold, but I could move. I sat up and looked at the captain who gave me a puzzled look before standing extending her hand to me. “You shouldn’t sleep on the deck. Men drown doing that you know.”

I laughed. I laughed so hard it hurt my lungs but I couldn’t stop. Even though the captain kept staring I still laughed. I laughed at the captain’s words. I laughed at my foolish dreams. But most of all I laughed because I could, because I was alive.

 


Words by J.R. Polkinghorne

Art by Rhianna Carr. You can find more of Rhianna’s art on Facebook @RhiannaCarrART