Lauren Morley’s new play The Collab, inspired by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and YouTube sex abuse scandals, premieres this week at London’s The Space care of Aequitas Theatre. Lauren took a break from rehearsals to tell us more about the piece, political theatre, feminism and online consent. Time to get booking!
When fame slides into your DMs, what would you do?
Ella Blair is a rising star in the online video scene. Together with the help of her friend, Kat Daniels, a budding fashion photographer, Ella’s building a platform around sustainable fashion. When an opportunity arises to “collab” with superstar influencer Max Jessup on his latest video art project, Ella jumps headlong into it…but at what cost?
The Collab, directed by Rachael Bellis, stars Andre Frey, Louise Lord, Maria Eastwood Krah and Clark Alexander.
Lauren Morley is a Finnish-Canadian playwright and performer based in London. Lauren’s first play Hope and Her Children was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Playwriting, Theatre Royal Haymarket’s Pitch Your Play, and the Verity Bargate Award. The Collab is her first commissioned and produced play.
What can we expect from The Collab?
The Collab is the story of a young social media influencer named Ella, who navigates online fame and romance when an opportunity arises to collaborate with her favourite online creator, Max. It was inspired by a wave of the #MeToo movement that swept through various online communities in 2014. It’s a story about the possibilities and pitfalls of social media fame, about friendship and about how we relate to one another – especially when it comes to consent. It’s partially set in the world of online video, so you can expect some multimedia, lots of energy and a great cast!
You recently were longlisted for several awards, including the Women’s Prize for Play Writing, for your first play Hope & Her Children. How did that early success inform your later work?
I wrote Hope and Her Children with the Soho Writers’ Lab in 2017, which was such a wonderful experience that I’ve taken part in their alumni group twice now. It introduced me to an incredibly lovely community of writers, and we really support each other in helping to make each other’s stories better. There were also some excellent mentors who gave us great insight into all the tools we could use to construct our scripts, and challenged us in positive ways to bring out the best in our work.
This was where I really started to hone my focus on dramatic structure and play with the full spectrum of what the stage can offer us. What I write about tends to exist in more than one space, and explores what happens when these spaces intersect. I like using different staging techniques as an integral part of telling and helping audiences understand a story. In The Collab’s case, these spaces are the internet and “real life,” and the play deals, in part, with how our public and private personas may be different in these different contexts.
What brought you to write The Collab?
This is my first commissioned piece, which came about after working with The Collab’s director, Rachael Bellis, on a staged reading of another play I wrote called Romiette & Julio. She texted me one night a few months afterwards, full of frustration about the reactions to Christine Blasey Ford’s brave testimony against Brett Kavanaugh, and having recently watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. She asked me to write a play about art, about feminism, and that would be a response to the US Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the way that Oleanna had been nearly 30 years previously. Somewhere in the course of this, we connected it to the world of online influencers.
Back in 2014, Rachael and I had watched the events of the YouTube Sex Abuse scandal happen in real-time. Many of the people whose videos we regularly watched were involved, either as the perpetrators or as those who came forward to call them out. What was incredibly inspiring was how the community rallied around those who came forward, and the myriad of videos published in the wake of this event, discussing why what went on was not okay. It was a formative time in deepening our understanding of what consent was and wasn’t, and how the discussions surrounding it needed to change. Above all else with this play, I want to get people talking about consent.
The website at the Space says the play is about the grey areas of consent. How did you tackle this topic? How is this show feminist?
The Collab is set at a time when, collectively, we were starting to move from a “no means no” model of consent to a model of ongoing enthusiastic consent in sexual relationships. Arguably, we’re still in the midst of the transition between these models, but I remember the early-mid 2010s being a time when feminism and talk about consent were starting to come into mainstream discourse. Certainly, they were widely talked about on the parts of the internet where I spent my time.
What was important for me with The Collab was to show where the clash between these two models can occur, and exactly why ongoing consent is important. What happens in the play is ultimately clear-cut, but it doesn’t immediately present in a clear-cut way.
It was also important to me to centre feminine desire and agency because, too often, discussions about consent can follow a very black-and-white line of thinking about what being a victim means and what being an abuser looks like – and, too often, these are heavily gendered and reliant on one party, usually the feminine one, being completely passive for the whole encounter. Consent can be revoked at any time, and therefore something that started off consensual can still end with a violation of someone’s consent. Things can be a lot more complicated and a lot more subtle.
A hallmark of what was talked about in 2014 was how many of the perpetrators hid behind feminist politics while simultaneously not understanding or living by what they were talking about. This play aims to continue the discussion and look more deeply into what it means to be a feminist.
Lastly, The Collab centres on female friendship. Ella has an incredibly sweet relationship with her best friend, Kat. They support each other in achieving their goals, and the action of the play is very much carried by their efforts to be there for one another, no matter what or who gets in their way.
We’ve come so far from the already incredible first reading 2 weeks ago. This cast is amazing! 😍
Get your tickets to #TheCollab before they’re gone! 🎟️https://t.co/7SXux9wS73
.#londontheatre #newwriting pic.twitter.com/9ZRnHJa8ws
— Lauren Morley (@LaurenMorley11) May 27, 2022
Aequitas makes a lot of political theatre, but this doesn’t seem to be political. How is it political?
The Collab deals with gender and sexual politics – how people are meant to act in romantic relationships, who is entitled to sexual confidence, how to express desire, and how all of these things can be manipulated. These dynamics have direct consequences on the characters, both in their creative work online and in their social dynamics. The way one character, Brett, navigates these waters is particularly interesting and hopefully very funny.
Being set in the world of social media influencers, the play also has a lot to say about how the culture of the internet and being online affect how we present ourselves – the blurring of lines between public and private personas, the commodification of our lives and relationships, and how the power to reach out to someone from anywhere in the world can be powerful in both positive and negative ways
When & why did you become a writer? What is your background?
Being a writer just always made sense. The idea that I could put words on a page, and then give them to my friends, and then suddenly there would be a story that everyone could see all at once? That was the greatest thing! Throughout high school and university, I geared my studies towards more effective storytelling, favouring the visual media of theatre and film.
I have always loved how theatre, especially, can be anything you want it to be – how the stage can transport us anywhere and everywhere in an instant, and how through our connection with the characters we see on stage, we can build and expand our own empathy. If I can contribute to that in some small way, then I will have done my job.
How can we see The Collab?
Tickets are available via The Space website and, quite appropriately for a show that’s so deeply rooted in the internet, there are also livestream tickets available. The show runs from 31 May to 11 June 2022, with livestreams on 4 and 8 June.
The Collab runs from 31 May to 11 June 2022 at The Space Theatre, 269 Westferry Road, London E14 3RS, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, matinees Saturdays at 3.30pm. Tickets £15 (concessions £12). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!