In this blog post, Karen McLeod talks on the beginning of “Who Do You Think You Are? Barbara Brownskirt”, marketing and thinking about one’s work in a wider context. Who Do You Think You Are? Barbara Brownskirt is here Fri 6 – Sat 7 April.
You can book your tickets here
What Is The Message? Barbara Brownskirt.
In 2016 when my first full length show ‘WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Barbara Brownskirt.’ was just a seedling in my heart, I went to Camden People’s Theatre to attend a ‘Marketing your show’ seminar. You could really do a full-time MA on this subject but as a busy writer and performer I only had an hour and a half that day.
Amber Massie-Bloomfield, one of the then theatre Directors, covered how to put together a marketing campaign. She told us the most important thing is to have a PLAN and a timeframe, something quantifiable that you can measure your project against. It’s not about how good your work is (of course, it’s already the best it can be) but about thinking laterally.
What are you trying to achieve? Who is it for? What is your message? Is the message, that there is no message? What is happening in the world that makes your show so important? What is your mission statement? Remember your aim each step of the way and keep returning to your mission statement. I left the seminar thinking about my plan and my timeframe and how I didn’t really have one… yet!
At that time my comedy alter ego, Barbara Brownskirt, was performing as a fifteen minute comedy/poetry set which had been touring the cabaret and literary nights and comedy clubs. I started to wonder, what is the message of an alter ego like Barbara Brownskirt? “Write poetry!” Was this good enough? How political should she be? Did I have to have a big enough message? After all her world is centred around writing poetry at the 197 bus stop, Croydon Road, Penge as a kind of anarchist “Poet of the South London People”.
While looking for answers to all these questions I heard the novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. She was saying that at the start of her career she had begun four novels but not completed any of them and abandoned them all to a drawer. This was prior to having written her international bestseller ‘A Woman of Substance’. Before she picked up her pen to write that book she decided that as a practicing journalist, she would interview herself for a change. She asked, “What do you want to write about? What kind of novel? Where is she going to be set?”
So I decided to take a leaf out of her book and have a bath and interview myself. I asked myself a series of questions. What kind of world is it that I am producing this new show in right now? What is it about human identity, selfhood and failure that I think is so important to talk about in a supposedly post-truth world? Is it enough just to create laughter? Am I asking to admit my connectivity to society? And do you want cheese and onion sandwiches again for lunch?
Over the next few months I got on with writing the show with all of this in my mind. After many scratch showings to invited audiences,then a workshop with Ursula Martinez and a day with theatre director Mark Whitelaw I have learnt one important thing: I must leave the writer of the show, myself Karen McLeod, behind and out of the script. I have to embody Barbara Brownskirt and always ask, “What would Barbara do?”
And in doing so I got the answer to ‘What’s the Message’ of my show. It’s about loneliness, and how to combat it through writing. It’s about the joy and surprise of language. It’s about laughing in the face of what you’re told to think. It’s about thinking. It’s about obsession. It’s about creating havoc. It’s about failure and never giving up.
In the words of Barbara Brownskirt, “Turn your bitterness into poetry!”