A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar)
t’s the future. But only slightly. There are blackouts. And when blackouts happen, women disappear. Now Steph and Bell, a schoolgirl and barmaid, must find a way to come together to search for their missing friends.
Set in an alternate reality uncomfortably close to our own A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into A Bar) is a thriller about two women coping with fear in the dark. This searing and spellbinding play written by one of the UK’s most exciting young playwrights, Lulu Raczka, is a ferocious indictment of violence and a rallying call to anyone who regularly fears it.
Rosie spoke with Director Hannah Goodwin about the Australian premiere of this fantastic work and why women continue to have a fear of the dark. Read the full interview below:
A Girl in School Uniform (Walks Into a Bar) is playwright Lulu Raczka’s third work to hit the stage, and follows two young women learning to cope with fear in the dark. What drew you to this work and why did you feel now was the right time to bring it to Australia?
When I pitched this play to KXT I was feeling more afraid than usual to be a woman who works strange, late hours in theatres. Eurydice Dixon was murdered doing something my friends, colleagues and I do regularly - walking home alone at night after a show. Then earlier this year a man was arrested at my local Westfield. Allegedly he had been driving around with an ex’s body in the boot of his car. Her name was Samah Baker. I thought a lot about how it was possible that he could have driven past me. Selfish, I know – but way too close to home.
I noticed that I’d started changing my behaviour. I would ask my partner to meet me at the train station instead of walking home on my own, I stopped jogging, I stopped using headphones as I got around in case I couldn’t hear someone approach me, and I HATED that I was doing all of that.
I wanted to turn the fear I had into something more productive, and that’s this play. As you say, A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar) is about two women learning to cope with the near persistent threat of male violence, and I identified with that. Together Bell and Steph try to fight back, to change the narrative. It gave me a lot of energy around an issue that had left me feeling helpless. That’s what drew me to it, and why I thought it was worthwhile to put it back into the world.
As for why now, it’s probably overdue. Every week we lose another woman to male violence in this country and we hear about very few of them.
The play consistently drops into blackout as the two women try to search for their missing friends. In a world where audiences expect to see scenes on stage and not just hear them, did you find it challenging to completely push back against that expectation? How does plunging the audience into darkness change their experience of the play?
The blackouts are challenging but so far, we’ve actually found rehearsing in darkness to be extremely freeing (and super fun). One of your major senses is taken away, and I’ve found that it can activate your imagination in a cool way. It’s kind of magic, more is possible in the dark than in the light. It reminds me of being a kid, the possibilities are endless.
The audience will get to experience that too. The blackouts dissolve the barriers between the world of the play and the real world. As soon as the lights are out, you get dropped into the same situation as the characters. You experience what they experience, the same sensory deprivation, the same disorientation and the same thrill when they uncover the possibilities that the darkness unlocks... It also forces empathy, by making you walk in Bell and Steph’s shoes for a bit - which for me is what good storytelling is all about.
Anyway, we’ll find out exactly what the blackouts do once we hit those previews, but I’m sure it will be an experience.
What can A Girl in School Uniform teach us about how women combat that fear of darkness? How can we come together in such a completely terrifying time?
That’s a hard question, good one.
I think A Girl in School Uniform shows us how powerful storytelling can be. The stories we tell can make us face our fears, or escape them. They have the power to bring people together, or to divide us. The stories we choose to tell are important. Representation is important, in the theatre and out.
It shows us that as women, we can have each other’s backs in this way. Change the narrative. Celebrate resilience and difference. Believe each other. Support each other. Empower each other. Acknowledge privilege and try to overcome divides that have been built by systems that want us to be stay vulnerable and afraid.
A Girl in School Uniform doesn’t offer solutions to the crisis of violence against women, and neither do I. I’m not an expert. It’s a big, complicated, terrifying problem. But I do hope that this play and our production of it does have a part to play in amplifying the conversation around women’s safety in Australia and around the world.
You’ve advertised that A Girl in School Uniform is partnering with X Fighting, who run self-defence workshops for women. What does this partnership entail? Why are programs like X Fighting so important to support?
Basically, the awesome people at XFighting have offered to run a free self-defence workshop on the roof at the hotel after out matinee performance on Sunday 29th September. The idea was to run with that theme of empowerment and have a moment where women can empower themselves with some training.
Recently I went to one of their workshops to check it out and the big takeaway for me was that it was almost all about encouraging women to simply trust their instincts and use their voice. I think that’s worth supporting.
You’re the recipient of the ATYP Rose Byrne Scholarship for 2019 - how has this scholarship helped you develop as an artist? What do you hope to do with the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired from this program?
I’m still in the thick of it, learning a lot and exploring new things. I pitched to research and visit companies that specialise in developing new writing and new work. I’m particularly interested in companies who have unusual or innovative programming models that reflect that goal of developing of great new plays.
So far, it’s helped me think more about the bigger picture. All of us working in theatre want a thriving theatre ecology; the reality is that it’s a bit of a scary time for playwrighting in Australia right now. I’ve been thinking a lot about longevity and value in an industry that is by its nature pretty ephemeral, and I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy - how can I can do more of it as an artist and a leader.
I hope I will be able to use the skills and knowledge I gain through the scholarship to be a better dramaturg and director. I hope to do a lot more work with playwrights developing and staging new Australian plays. I hope I will be able to bring some new ideas to the table about how we can make the development of new work in Australia more sustainable, and more highly valued. I hope it will equip me to be a better advocate for new writing, new stories, new forms and voices.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
I saw the original production of Every Brilliant Thing in Edinburgh in 2015 and that was pretty special.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Edinburgh, to catch the end of Fringe.
Dream show to direct?
Something incredible that doesn’t exist yet.
Plays or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Ha hard question. I like to draw.
What’s next for you after this show?
Mostly I’ll be working on the Rose Byrne Scholarship, doing some travelling and weaselling my way into some development rooms. I’m also developing a couple of new plays with playwright (and my mate) Pippa Ellams, we have a little company together called Pip and Han Inc.
A Girl in School Uniform (Walks into a Bar) opens at KXT on September 20, 2019. You can get your tickets here.