Paula Varjack is a writer, filmmaker and performance maker. She has performed at numerous arts festivals including Glastonbury Festival and Berlin International Literature Festival, and is the creator of the Anti-Slam, a satirical take on poetry slams where the lowest score wins. Her solo theatre show, How I Became Myself (by Becoming Someone Else), is at the Edinburgh Fringe. Carly Brown chatted with her about building a multi-media show, creating a persona and her favorite aspect of the Fringe.
It was more about a sensibility
How I Became Myself (by Becoming Someone Else) is about finding freedom through reinvention and gaining the power to tell your own story.
A multi-media performance, it combines confessional monologue, video interview, spoken word and archive footage. It tells the true story of change: sexual identity, a new city, a new career and finally, a new name. Though a solo show, it involves interviews with many people close to me. Though I shot and edited much of the footage used, I also had a lot of input from a creative team that included video editor Olivia Vergnon, sound designer Ania Przygoda, videographer Tom Lyle Severn and animator Jack Severn. The performance really came into its own when I began working with director Kellie Tori.
I loved the use of archival footage and how you filmed yourself on stage, so the audience was not always interacting directly with ‘you’, but a version of you, filtered through a lens. Why did you decide to include these filmed elements?
Because the show came out of a devising process, rather than a written script, it’s hard now to explain how all of the elements came together. But what I can say is I knew from the start I wanted to make pop culture references, and that film and TV clips would be involved. I initially thought there would be more of these. I made the interviews with my mother, and friends more as research really. I had no intention of putting them in the show.
The act of the confessional camera shot was also a kind of nod to pop culture, specifically the Big Brother diary room. However what it actually stemmed from was me having a camera in the rehearsal space, as I was working alone. So I would make these video diaries as part of my process, and they became monologues. I liked the idea of opening up to the audience through the camera, so it ended up in the show. I also liked this idea of all these mediated versions of self. It felt like a good visual metaphor for the themes of identity and representation that I was exploring.
You show footage of Lady GaGa briefly in your show. When you were first creating the persona/character of Paula, did you look to other performers for inspiration?
There weren't any specific performers I modeled her after, it was more about a sensibility. I thought about 90s club kids, and of electro clash, of Berlin when Peaches became big, and also 1920s Berlin. I thought about Drag queens (especially RuPaul). I thought of her as someone fierce and fabulous and jaded, someone who stayed out late and could seriously drink. One of the strangest moments I had early on creating the persona, was when I met my friend Maria Madalena (an Italian writer and performer) on the Berlin poetry slam scene. I was already known as Paula Varjack, slam poet by that point, but I remember thinking that Maria was exactly like the persona I had created in my mind, only she was the real thing. I was a little in awe of her. We are still good friends.
Why did you decide to share this story now?
Ever since becoming a performer, I always felt the story of how I became a performer was the best story I had to tell. The problem was that before I needed people to believe the alter-ego, in order for me to feel confident to perform, so I couldn't tell the story behind it.
The reason I decided to make the show is more pragmatic than romantic. Chelsea Theatre made an open call for new work by emerging theatre makers. I spontaneously wrote a pitch. Luckily for me they loved it, and suddenly I had a few months to make the show.
What’s been your favorite aspect of performing at the Fringe this year?
The sometimes steep but always rewarding learning curve. I love performing this show, and I love the challenge of performing it every day for 22 days, all the different audiences, and finding something new in it every day. The show is so much tighter and more dynamic from it.
How I Became Myself (by Becoming Someone Else): http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/how-i-became-myself-by-becoming/708878
Photo by Nikolas Louka