Naomi Westerman is a playwright and actress; she has written a piece called Puppy in VAULT Festival this year on Thursday 23 February and Thursday 2 March. I nabbed an exclusive interview with the lady herself:
Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it.
The majority of my plays are pretty political – this one is too, but it was a bit of a long process getting there. It was inspired by something completely random. I was walking home one night and noticed some graffiti that read “Dogging ->” I live in Barnes, which is very posh, and you never see things like that. I went home and wrote a ten-minute comedy sketch about middle class doggers in about an hour. The sketch was performed at a shorts night and went down well, so I submitted it to the VAULT Festival who asked me to extend it to an hour. I realised I had a lot more to say about sex, queer sexuality, female sexuality and the politics of sex, so the full play ended up being about a lot more than dogging and middle class manners.
Was it easy to put it all down on paper?
The original ten minute sketch was very easy. Extending it was harder, especially as I was writing to a specific length. There was so much I wanted to put in, but I didn’t want it to be too crowded or chaotic. I made the decision to make the relationship between the two women the focus, and show the politics of the play through the characters.
Is it translating well from page to stage?
Yes, I think so – I intentionally wrote it to be fairly anarchic and non-naturalistic in places, and to allow room for directorial vision. It was also important to me that there be no female nudity on stage, which involved finding different ways to represent the sex and porn scenes. Rafaella Marcus directed an extract of one of my plays at Southwark Playhouse last year (Courting Drama paired us in a weird speed-dating event) and I immediately loved her feminist principles and her bold, experimental approaches to staging more traditional texts. I knew she would be the perfect person to direct Puppy, and the more I see of rehearsals the more I’m reassured of this.
How is the space lending itself to the piece?
Puppy is actually at Morley College, which is not part of the Vaults space itself. I do have another play on in the Vaults proper (Claustrophilia, a kidnap drama, which suits that space perfectly). Morley College definitely wins on the comfort front – we have a proper dressing room, and a balcony level which the director and cast have been playing around with.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?
I want them to think twice about attitudes to female sexuality, which is still very much controlled and demonised by a societal mindset still stuck on the virgin/whore dichotomy. Puppy is sex-positive and feminist and confronts some of the difficulties in reconciling sexual empowerment with the potential for exploitation. But mainly I hope they laugh.
Finally, any advice for budding writers?
Read as many plays as you can. See as many plays as you can. Write as much as you can. Never wait for inspiration to strike, just start writing. Redrafting is the hardest part of writing a play, but the most essential. And send your plays off – there are dozens of theatres in the UK that accept unsolicited submissions, and zillions of opportunities to have work staged on the fringe or in shorts or scratch nights.
Huge thanks to Naomi for her time, it was a pleasure to interview you and really looking forward to seeing the play next week.