Can art help to combat hate crime? Outrage over Donald Trump, Leave Means Leave and much more, including the real-life experiences of close friends, inspired Liane Grant to write Half Me, Half You, which now comes to London’s Tristan Bates Theatre after a successful New York run. Check out our interview below – and then get booking!
The premiere production of Half Me, Half You runs at Tristan Bates Theatre from 26 March to 6 April 2019, with a press night on 28 March and a post-show panel discussion chaired by Mates co-founder Terri Paddock on Monday 1 April.
What if you were black, gay and a woman in America right now?
In Half Me, Half You, Jess and Meredith are a married, interracial, gay couple living in New York in 2017 – the era of Trump – weathering a new wave of intolerance, discrimination and oppression, which is sweeping the nation and seeping into their home.
16 years later, Maya, a biracial British teen is forced into American life, braving the aftermath of a second civil war, and changing Meredith’s life irrevocably.
In a remarkable writing debut, Liane Grant’s Half Me, Half You confronts the reality of the current global climate and explores the consequences for future generations, while reminding us that we are all simply people searching for love and acceptance. The play returns for this full London season after its highly praised 2018 tryout stints in New York and London.
Half Me, Half You runs 26 March to 6 April 2019 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NP. Performances are Mondays to Saturdays at 7.45pm, except Monday 1 April when a 6pm performance will be followed by a Q&A chaired by Terri Paddock. Tickets are £18 (concessions £15). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Talking to… Liane Grant
Debut playwright Liane Grant also features in the production, alongside Kalea Williams and is the co-founder of the transatlantic production company RoL’n Productions.
What made you want to write for the stage?
My acting career has been largely in theatre and theatre is magic. It’s what I studied; it’s what I know; it’s what I love, and it felt like a natural choice to put this idea into play form. I love coming out of the cinema after a brilliant film, but leaving the theatre after an incredible play, a shared-live experience, is unlike anything else in the world to me, so writing for the stage is a privilege.
Which other playwrights have most influenced you?
Almost too many to name. I’ve soaked up so much from so many playwrights, and they’re probably all in there somewhere, in some way, and I’m still learning. I saw Danai Gurira’s The Convert at the Young Vic and it was brilliant for so many reasons, but I was struck by her ability to include humour in a play that deals with such a serious subject matter.
I’ve always been a big fan of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and August Wilson for the ways in which their naturalistic dramas are so character-driven and have such depth. On the flip side, I’ve long admired Sarah Kane. My play is nothing like her genius works, but I had her in mind a lot during the writing process because she was a master of saying only what was necessary and that’s something I have to really work at. Although she often did so in abstract forms, she wasn’t afraid to deal with harsh realities head-on, which is what I was trying to do here in some way. Though of course, mine is the very naturalistic end of ‘in yer face’ theatre (if such a thing can exist), but I was inspired by the way Kane never pulled her punches.
Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes, though they write for TV and film, are also huge sources of inspiration; the pace of their dialogue, its intelligence, wit and pure heart – it leaves you breathless.
How does your experience as an actor help you as a writer?
As an actor, you know the kinds of parts you love to play, and whenever I read a script even for pleasure, I’m always approaching it from the actor’s viewpoint: how would I play this? I’ve always felt the most fulfilling roles are the ones that allow you to explore a range of complex emotions; actors, in my experience, are hungry to be able to show they can do more than one thing – more than one emotion or one dimension, more than one type, which is sadly, rarer than it should be given the complexity of daily human life. So, my writing process was very much affected by my constant questioning of whether something would be interesting and challenging for an actor to play. Obviously, I hope the other actors feel that the roles are, but I also hope what this means for an audience, is that they witness and experience a plethora of emotional journeys that are relatable to the truth of their own lives.
What was your initial inspiration for Half Me, Half You?
I was in Florida during the horrible events in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, watching Donald Trump on CNN equate white supremacists with incredible people like Heather Heyer, who were counter-protesting their rally of hate, and I was seething with anger. Trump is a racist and has emboldened racists and white supremacists at every possible opportunity. I was livid – and I’m a white, British person. As I tried to calm myself by lying in the pool later that day, but still thinking about all of the people Trump has attacked – black people, LGBTQ people, in particular, the transgender community, women, Native Americans, I mean, the list is endless – I thought, if I was this mad, this sickened, imagine how it must feel if you belong to more than one of those groups.
That was just the final drop of lighter fluid to start the fire that had been building for years – 15 years of my close black and mixed-race friends graciously educating me about how their lives are different and how they live under threats we can’t conceive of; the years at drama school watching how black and minority students suffered because of a lack of parts available to them; witnessing an increase of hateful rhetoric in the lead up to the Brexit referendum, which resulted in a shameful increase in attacks on immigrants and minorities after it; being in the US for election day in 2016 and crying with heartache and fear as the country elected a man who had already attacked so many of those I loved and who would go on to do worse.
It’s all there in the undercurrent of the play. I’m mad as hell about all of it, and I felt powerless. Writing a play about it is a small way of snatching some of that power back, away from those who shouldn’t have it.
As someone who has lived in both the US & UK, how do you feel watching real-life events unfold?
I’m angry at the injustice, and the fact that neither Trump nor the cheating Leave campaign, and all of the individuals and organisations who have aided them, have been held accountable. I’m terrified because it is getting worse and too many people at the top are willing to turn a blind eye. Plus, civil unrest in a country in which the average person can access a gun with unforgivable ease is a recipe for disaster. My family and friends live in the States; it’s not okay. I’m often dumbfounded. I cannot fathom how people can live with themselves for voting for Trump. And I’m ashamed. I am British but much of my life has been in America, so I feel equally connected to both, and I find very little to be proud of in either country at the moment, and that’s really sad.
What I try to cling to are the numerous people and organisations, two of which we’re so lucky to have joining us at our Q&A – Stop Hate UK and Our Future, Our Choice – who are working tirelessly to make things better. I’m also pretty determined not to shut up about these issues, and to do whatever I can to keep fighting for what I believe is a more just, equal society.
At the forthcoming post-show Q&A, we’re talking about if & how the arts can help combat hate crime. What’s your opinion?
Can the arts help combat hate crime? YES. The arts are rooted in empathy. They make us feel, and that makes us think. If a piece of art, in whatever its form, can make just one person have a greater understanding for someone different to themselves, then that’s a big win. That’s how change starts, and I really believe in the supreme power of the arts to do that. The films and theatre I was exposed to from a young age certainly changed me. The arts industry is far from perfect and changes are needed on many fundamental levels. However, historically, the arts have also been leaders of change, and more inclusive than most other industries. I believe that can, and will continue, and that it should do so at a faster rate than it is.
Collectively then, how we combat hate crime, I think, is to not shy away from the brutally difficult truths of where we are as national and global societies right now; have the conversations we don’t want to have and explore the things we don’t want to delve into. Racism exists. Homophobia exists. So do transphobia, xenophobia and gender inequality, and pretending they don’t won’t make them go away. So, I say, let’s explore them head-on. Meaningful, honest art can still be thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, and there are so many talented artists out there proving that.
Tell us more about RoL’n Productions. Why did you found it?
Truthfully, RoL’n Productions started because two talented, but frustrated actors were struggling to get into audition rooms for the small number of female parts on offer, both in the UK and US. There are still far fewer female roles than male roles, and the numbers become even more frustrating when you count up how many of these are female leads. So we decided to create our own work and produce female-led stories. My business partner, Roxanne Lamendola, is based in the US and I’m based in the UK, and we wanted to find ways to use this transatlantic connection as a strength.
During the process of hiring creatives for our first production in 2015, for which we had zero applications from men for any of the positions, we realised that there clearly weren’t enough opportunities for female creatives either, and we quickly became committed to providing more opportunities for them. Over the last four years, thinking it was hard for us as white women, our eyes were further opened to how much more difficult it was for black women, and other ethnic minorities, disabled actors, LGBTQ actors, and we’ve become eager to change this as well. We want to keep creating high-quality productions that put women of any and all kinds front and centre, that reach audiences both in the UK and US.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m going to take this opportunity to thank Kalea and Jen, without whom this story doesn’t exist. They generously let me steal from their experiences as mixed-race and black women respectively, and my love for them was the biggest source of inspiration because, at its core, this play is my anger that anyone could think their skin colour means they’re worth less than me or anyone else.