Deviant Women is the highly entertaining and educational podcast that highlights extraordinary women from history, mythology, fiction and more, and is the brain-child of passionate academics (and nerds) Lauren and Alicia. Last year they brought their amazing podcast to life with their first series of Fringe shows, on French Swashbuckler Julie D’Aubigny and Russian Occultist Madame Blavatsky. This year they’re back, again at The Jade, with the amazing and twisty tale of two of the most fearsome pirates of the golden age: Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
As a long-time fan of the podcast, I was hugely excited to finally see the stage performance, and I was not disappointed. Lauren and Alicia bring all of the charm and enthusiasm of their audio show ten-fold to the stage, with multiple costume-changes, musical numbers, animation, bawdy props, gratuitous sword flailing, and some very energetic dancing. Alternately narrating and acting, they switch between the two characters’ stories while the other flirts with the audience or thrusts their pelvis for emphasis.
While some liberties are taken with the historical details – which should be somewhat obvious with the numerous references to 80s pop culture – the overall effect is a loving and highly engaging re-telling that really brings these historical figures to life, while musing on some socio-political implications along the way. It’s intelligent comedy spliced with pirate-based innuendos.
Lauren and Alicia are natural performers and storytellers, and there were even moments in the more serious and heart-wrenching parts of the tale where these historical figures really came to life, between their totally-accurate accents and genuine chemistry as in-character and real-life friends.
Women and their stories have been sidelined throughout history at least for centuries, but this show, and their podcast, shine an all-important light on these significant figures, in the most engaging way possible. And there’s no better way to learn about Anne Bonny and Mary Read and their spectacularly bare-chested, bloodthirsty achievements than with the high-energy, delightfully sweary and excellently costumed, Deviant Women: Lady Pirates Give No F*cks.
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.
The life of Julie D’Aubigny – swashbuckling, nun-burning, opera-singing, famously bisexual fencing connoisseur – is extraordinary to say the least and deserves a retelling of equal splendour. I am delighted to write that last night at the Jade, this was achieved with achievement to spare.
Lauren and Alicia, creators of the Deviant Women podcast, seek to uncover and celebrate historical women whose exploits have quite literally stuck it to the man. In a self-coined “multi-modal” experience, which included costumes, live fencing, comic re-enactments, and some delightful claymation, they retold the legend of Julie’s orphan upbringing in 17th century France. With comedic flair and passion, they followed Julie through her numerous duels, her disguises, her singing career, her death warrant, and her impressive list of lovers, both men and women.
Adding visuals to Deviant Women’s usual podcast format enhanced the charm and intelligence that, to their great credit, has always been present in their recorded episodes. With flamboyant colour, video and physical comedy, they traced Julie’s adventures through Paris, Spain, and the Spanish Netherlands, all the way to her grief-ridden fall into obscurity, and her death in her mid-thirties.
As they discussed in an earlier interview with Tulpa, Lauren and Alicia are both academics, and are curious about the ways that historical women subvert and redefine archetypes of femininity and monstrosity. Their comedy is thus underpinned by socio-political commentary, which last night questioned why it is so deviant for a woman to take a female lover, or to display physical strength. Whilst framed by comedy, these concerns are still alarmingly relevant to our contemporary lives, in the aftermath of marriage equality, and in conversations surrounding toxic masculinity.
In short: it was the sort of comedy that gives one delight and then gives one pause, in the best way possible.
The word “delightful” has been used several times throughout this review. This is only because, by the end, it was the only word that fit the experience, and in chatting with other audience members it became clear that the feeling was unanimous. ‘Delightful!’ several of my friends exclaimed, still laughing. ‘That’s exactly the right word!’
Deviant Women’s second and final show, which explores the mysterious Madame Blavatsky and the spookiness of the Victorian seance, will be performed at the Jade on Wednesday, March 14th. You can also find their podcast here.
Words by Jess M. Miller
Tickets available for Deviant Women: Madame Blavatsky here.
After a successful first season of their podcast, Deviant Women creators Alicia Carter and Lauren Butterworth are taking to the stage to bring you the wild and wonderful stories of two historical women– Julie D’Aubigny and Madame Blavatsky. In the lead-up to their first show, Tulpa sat down with Deviant Women to talk podcasts, dressing up and what they have in store for fans this year.
How did Deviant Women (the podcast) start out and what inspired you to start it?
LB: Both of us are doing PhDs in this kind of general area so our research interests intersect in this kind of area of Deviant women, but also issues of representations of femininity, feminist revisionism, female archetypes, monstrous women. So, we’ve talked about this for years. We’ve spent many, many hours just talking about this stuff because we both really love it. I’m a podcast fan, [Alicia is] not, she actually doesn’t listen to podcasts.
AC: It’s terrible because there’s nothing else I would do without engaging with the actual thing. I don’t write stories and not read stories… I don’t try to write novels about reading novels. And yet, I podcast, without listening to podcasts.
LB: So I was the podcast fan, and basically I listen to a lot of podcasts that are by women and have very conversational female banter about serious subject matter but very casual, conversational, funny way. Really I was like, this sounds like a conversation Alicia and I would have– we could probably do this. I think one day in Gresham place we were standing outside of a bar and I was like, ‘Do you want to do a podcast about deviant women?’ and [Alicia] was just like, ‘Alright, I’ll text you about it’, and she did. She sent me a text with a bunch of women she’d thought of and I was like, ‘Oh shit, we’re doing this– cool.’
AC: I was like, ‘I’m along for the ride, as long as I don’t have to do any of the technical stuff.’
What were some of the issues and setbacks you had to face in setting up the podcast in order for it to have a life of its own?
AC: Well it’s easy to start it, but then to have it take on a life of its own… that’s the hard thing.
LB: There were little things, like getting a microphone. My boyfriend is a musician and a sound engineer, so he had microphones but they weren’t the right type of microphone for recording voices. So we had to get over the initial hurdle of ‘we have to get a microphone; we need a website to host the sound files on’. We had to do a little research about what are the best podcasting hosts.
AC: How do we get on to iTunes? How do we even do that?
LB: There was just a lot of Googling and learning by figuring stuff out, but we’re learning that kind of stuff constantly. That was probably the biggest learning hurdle- what are the practical things that we need to do to launch, to have a website? Luckily, we used a lot of people that we know.
AC: Yeah, a friend of mine is an art director and she did a logo for us, which was great. Our logo is such a simple idea, but it was just so perfect. All she’s done is turn [the name] upside down. But that’s the whole point. We were really lucky with how quickly that all fell into place.
LB: India is one of my oldest friends and she’s a musician and I was like, ‘We’re thinking of doing this podcast about deviant women, do you think you could make us a theme song?’ She came back a week later [and said], ‘I’ve recorded this thing. See what you think.’ Then we had to get a fan-base, and that’s been the hurdle that continues, but also, I think is one that I find a really fun challenge.
AC: You say it was a hurdle, and it definitely has been. I mean, that is the big thing: are people listening to us? Are we just shouting into the void, or what is going on? But to be completely honest, we were absolutely blown away with how many people were listening to us. And where they were listening to us from. When we started we were like, we’ll see where this goes, but oh my god, people were listening. They were leaving reviews and they were contacting us and interacting with us on Twitter. People actually care– there are people out there who are actually interested in what we’re doing.
LB: It kind of feels like we’ve broken away from the pack in terms of the really small podcasts. We might be able to graduate into the next level. We’re hoping this year we’ll crack the next level.
AC: This podcast has really been about empowering women. But [a hard part] is actually gaining the confidence to actually say ‘Oh you know, what we’re doing is actually something of worth.’ This is the whole thing with the deviant women that we talk about– as women we constantly have this reinforcement that what we do isn’t valued as much as what other people do; as what privileged white men do.
LB: This is the biggest hurdle for both of us. I mean, I would love to have more guests and have guests who are personalities in the world that people know. We’ve not ever really approached anyone – everyone we’ve had as a guest has approached us. So this year one of our biggest goals is to overcome that hurdle of having the confidence to realise our podcast is something that people like, is legitimate, and we can approach whoever– because the worst they can say is no.
AC: As naff as it sounds: the biggest hurdle is believing in ourselves.
Do you think your background as PhD students – doing a lot of research, doing a lot of study- has influenced the way you approach this podcast?
LB: I mean, I always look for peer-reviewed journals. Academic texts about the women we talk about.
AC: I remember my sister once said to me ‘Do you just read the Wikipedia entries?’ and I was like, ‘No! We’re researchers!’ We may look at the Wikipedia entry, but that’s not the end in what we research. That kind of need, as academic researchers, to know that the information that we’re finding is peer reviewed, is legitimate. Sometimes the information that we find is conflicting, there are a lot of holes, there are a lot of things that we don’t know, but I think that definitely that background as PhD students and researchers feeds into how we approach researching these women.
LB: And also particularly because we want our podcast to have a focus not only on the women’s biographies, but is also thinking about the social contexts and the way that particularly patriarchal structures play into the way that the women that we highlight engage in the world.
AC: I think that really what we do with the podcast itself is: here is a really interesting story about a really interesting person– take all of our information with a grain of salt.
Are you doing season two of the Deviant Women podcast this year?
AC: Yes, season two will begin on March 22nd.
LB: But there’s probably going to be a bonus episode or two before then. Some inter-seasonal specials. We have an enormous and ever-growing list of women we want to cover, so the challenge is going to be choosing which women to cover in this season and which will have to wait for next time. Honestly though, I would really like to know what our listeners want from us. We’ve had a very history-focused first season and we would like to know- is this what you like? Do you want more of this in season two? Do we throw in more mythology? More literature? What do people want to hear? Because we’re interested in all of it.
What made you want to do a stage show of Deviant Women?
AC: Oh my god, do you know what it was? Lauren and I love dress-ups– if someone has a dress-up party we’re like ‘That’s the best news, when is it? Is it in three months?’ I’ll spend the next three months planning my outfit. No worries, we do love dressing up. And I remember saying to Lauren, ‘If only there was some way we could have an excuse to dress up as some of these women from history’, and then we just looked at each other and were like, ‘We should have a live show!’
So, legitimately, what drove our passion to have this live show was wanting to dress up. That is actually what sparked the idea. It’s not what’s still driving the idea– there is some substance to the shows as well, but what started up the idea was that conversation.
LB: This is not the podcast live, this is Deviant Women: the stage show. There’s a lot of podcasts that have live recordings in front of an audience, but it’s not just going to be Alicia and I sitting on two chairs with microphones telling the stories in the same way we would if we were just recording at home. It is a stage version of Deviant Women, so it’s a different product that’s come from the same place, but it’s like the podcast is one part of Deviant Women and it kind of feels like the stage shows are another element. So, we’ll see how that goes.
How did you go about adapting Deviant Women for the stage?
AC: To begin with we actually just thought what we’ll do is we’ll sit down and we’ll record it like we would for a normal podcast. So we did what we normally do– we both decide who will take the lead on each woman. Lauren has a wealth of specialty knowledge in Victoriana, séances, the occult, etc. So it just seemed natural that Lauren would take the lead on Blavatsky, because otherwise I would be re-researching a whole bunch of stuff she already knew. So then D’Aubigny fell to me, which I was perfectly happy with. We just went about researching them separately, doing what we would normally do for an episode, and then we basically just sat down and tried to record it in a similar sort of way that we would for a podcast. From that [we] listened back to find where the really interesting parts lay. What had dramatic appeal, what we could really do something with onstage. That’s not to say that in the stage shows we don’t alter their lives. I mean, it is a fictionalised version.
LB: Well, not a fictional version. It’s a version that based on things that have become legend. It’s more like, this is the legend and these are the stories that are told about them. We can’t verify 100% that they’re true.
AC: Yeah, so listening back to those podcasts we really picked out those moments that were the most sort of interesting, that kind of deconstructed how these women functioned in their societies as well. It is different to the podcast in the fact that we are focusing more on particular parts of their lives rather than giving the entire birth to death, but kind of focusing on the really key moments of interest in their lives.
LB: Pivotal things that make them who they are or show them as being these incredible, ridiculous characters.
AC: So we kind of picked out those moments and asked, where can we go from here? How can we make these moments performative? How can we make these moments dramatic and interesting?
LB: It’s all a work in progress. Even when we perform it, it’ll be probably still a work in progress.
AC: We’re following the chronology in these women’s lives, and there’s going to be some acting– some fabulous acting, oh my god– Oscar award-winning acting will be happening, but it’s not going to be scripted down to letter, you know? It’ll still have that free-flow feeling. And that’s the free-form style of the podcasts themselves.
LB: We have a script, but we might not follow it.
What do you think your audience is going to get out of these shows?
LB: I feel part of the problem we’ve had with this show is not knowing how to categorise it. We’re not quite theatre, we hope that we’re funny but we’re not stand-up comedians. We’re not just a normal event. We’re not strictly storytelling, what are we? So I hope that what audiences get is something that doesn’t fit anywhere, but is different and interesting, entertaining but also informative and maybe gets them a little bit fired up about these women and makes them want to learn a bit more about some people who are also like this, and maybe get them to tune into the podcast.
AC: Yeah, that’s true. But also, I think that it gets them to go away from it and be like, the next person they see being like, ‘Hey, did you know this woman existed? Did you know there was this outrageous woman in 17th century France who was this bisexual swords-woman, opera singer…’
LB: [D’Aubigny] took on literally packs of men at a time. She fought three or four of them at a time.
AC: [For Blavatsky] we’re more the parlour style [séance], it’ll be more like a re-creation. I don’t know that we’ll be calling up any actual spirits.
LB: We hope that’s fun.
AC: It is going to be fun but I think the thing that we really look for with these two [women] is contrasts. Obviously that’s the aesthetic we’re going for with the posters. You look at the D’Aubigny one, it’s pink, it’s flowery, it’s a kind of light hearted, flamboyant story. And then Blavatsky is taking us to that other place. It’s taking us to that dark, mysterious place. So they’re going to be very different shows, both just as entertaining as each other but in very different ways.
LB: Which is why you should see both. We hope the show is fun. We hope that it’s very casual, tongue-in-cheek and we just hope it’s a good time.
Deviant Women will be performing at the Adelaide Fringe on the 26th of February and the 14th of March. 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 and Twitter.
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.