The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the best celebrations of experimental writing. With thousands of shows taking place in hundreds of venues, over three weeks, it’s a great opportunity for emerging writers with a story to tell and venue to share it.
Shows aren’t vetted, so writers are free to create what they feel best. It’s the perfect opportunity to stop playing safe, break away from writing for commercial reasons and experiment. The Völvas is one of the companies performing this year and they have been particularly courageous with their writing and approach to performing.
Embracing the opportunity to experiment
The Völvas are passionate about celebrating femininity and that the definition of women is unspecified. Every woman is unique. After the success of a photographic exhibition they put on at Rose Buford College, in London, featuring portraits of women showing their connection with the female body, they were offered a performance space at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Buoyed up by the faith in them, the group decided to be even bolder than they had been in their exhibition. With just a few weeks to write it, they immersed themselves in creation and experimentation. With no set briefs, guidelines or rules, they had the freedom to write what they wanted. An infinite canvas. Liberating but daunting.
Creating an original show
There was no time to let fear get in the way. They set up a Google Drive and began uploading snippets of verse, dialogue and other unfinished material. After intense discussions and experiments, they built up a solid piece that exposes what it’s really like to be a woman.
The Völvas chose not to have a fixed plot. Instead, they brought their show together as a collection of episodic monologues, dialogues and movement pieces set to live music. It’s innately feminist moving, in phases, from the light and humorous to serious dark, a little like the ups and downs of a menstrual cycle.
The bold, brave and raw result needed a daring name to match. They called it The Vagina Dialogues. That doesn’t mean audiences should expect singing labias, bur rather the uncovering of truths about femininity. And, even when there are no words to certain experiences, they’ve found ways to use writing to express them.
The Völvas are used to the way feminism is embraced at Rose Bruford College, and Goldsmiths University where they held their preview, but were interested to see how audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe would react. They are known to be more progressive. Audiences, so far, have been positive, and they have had many rewarding moments, especially when people have got their humour.
Most importantly, they want people to come away with a true appreciation that all women are different.
The Völvas are MJ Ashton, Ellamae Cieslik, Ingunn Lara Kristjánsdóttir, Magnus Kayser, Sarah Jeanpierre (all Rose Bruford graduates) and Sian Brett (Goldsmiths University student).