Listen along to Lemon Lounge to hear from Queer artists and artists from the Middle Eastern and North African diaspora about their experiences
We're Jennifer Cerys and Samia Djilli, co-Artistic Directors of Lemon House Theatre, who previously chatted to The Gallyry about our shows Willow and Different Sand. With doors to theatres currently closed, we have been producing Lemon Lounge. This is a new six-part series of audio talks where we chat to Queer artists and artists from the MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) diaspora about their experiences so that, when theatres reopen, we can ensure there’s still a place for our stories. Read on to hear us in conversation about starting Lemon Lounge, the future of the theatre industry, and more!
Samia: The best place to start is probably why did you want us to create Lemon Lounge?
Jen: When theatre started being made digitally, I think both of us felt like just putting our shows online didn’t sit well with what we want to do as a company, which is about celebrating the things that makes theatre unique, such as the live nature of it and that the audience are in the room with the artists. So we turned that type thinking to the online world, and was like, “Okay, so what’s great about doing things digitally rather than in a physical space? What’s a project that we could only make digitally?” So Lemon Lounge felt like a great opportunity to still connect artists and audiences, and in a way that celebrated what digital media allows us to do, rather than trying to change the format of something that would only really work as live theatre.
“Lemon Lounge felt like a great opportunity to still connect artists and audiences, and in a way that celebrated what digital media allows us to do“ – Jen
Jen: What about you? Why did you want to make an audio series?
Samia: It would be a lie to say that in part, making an audio series wasn’t situational. I love live theatre, but due to everyone staying home, audio, which can more easily be done remotely, was the obvious way to go. However, ever since we started Lemon House, the idea of doing some kind of audio project was always floating around, but with limited resources and only so many hours in the day, it was more of a ‘some day’ kinda idea. It was when we were told that we were going to be commissioned for a digital project, that we very quickly agreed an audio series was what we were going to do.
From a more personal perspective, I love podcasts, I love audio drama’s, and I love listening to what people have to say about various subjects in a more concentrated and creative way. Lemon Lounge incorporates all of those things, as well as giving us an opportunity to chat with artists we admire.
Samia: You quite quickly knew the guests you wanted to chat to for the first part of the series, which focused on Queer artists. How did you decide which guests you wanted to talk to?
Jen: All the people I interviewed I really admire – in a way, I picked the guests slightly selfishly as they were all people I’d just love to chat to anyway, whether it was recorded or not. But each artist I spoke to also felt connected to the work of Lemon House Theatre in some way – whether that was pretty literally in that Jennifer Dixon and Sophia O’Donohue have acted in our shows before, or more that they were making art and work in the same way as us.
For example, Teddy Lamb has a really authentic storytelling style in their shows, and Salome Wagaine celebrates collaboration with her company Broccoli by commissioning and working with other artists in the same way we do with new writing nights. But as well as each artist having similarities to what we do at Lemon House, each one also brought a different perspective, and I learnt a lot from chatting to all of them.
“I always wanted to find more creatives from a similar background to have conversations about why our stories just aren’t being produced on stages“ – Samia
Jen: We’ve got the second half of the series coming out soon, where you chat to MENA artists about their experiences. What kind of conversations can people expect from this part of the series?
Samia: Being of Algerian (North African) descent myself, I always wanted to find more creatives from a similar background to have conversations about why our stories just aren’t being produced on stages. We get one or two shows every now and again, but MENA stories are in no way a priority in the industry… at least that’s how I’ve seen it from my perspective.
In recording this part of the series, I’ve been able to chat to various artists from the MENA diaspora working in creative industries, and get their views on this subject. As well as chatting to them about our visibility on and off UK stages, or lack of, we also chat about our cultures, music, food, clothes, cultural appropriation, femininity, religion, and most importantly, the beauty of our stories and where we come from.
We go in depth about how we should be the ones telling our stories, not some dude named Dave who loves tagine, us (although shout out to you Dave, you’re a real one still).
In terms of expectations, be ready to hear a bunch of wonderful Middle Eastern and North African artists discuss the arts in depth, and hear a bit more about how and why the industry needs to start producing more work by us.
Jen: With this being such a weird time for theatre, what do you hope the theatre industry will look like when it comes back?
Samia: It’s been really scary watching the theatre industry struggle, and seeing so many freelance artists, especially those from Black, Asian, MENA, LATINX, and ethnic minority backgrounds equally struggle with it.
For me I guess it goes beyond just wanting the theatre industry to survive this, I want it to come back kicking and punching, ready to produce work by those that I’ve mentioned above.
Seeing shows is all well and good, and getting to work in this industry at all is a privilege, but the industry has soooo many flaws, and let’s face it, it systematically works against those who come from non-white backgrounds. I’ve seen a lot of venues and companies saying they want to do more, and I hope that they will. I hope that when the industry is finally back on its feet, that it’ll be a fully diverse (I know that word sucks but I’m not putting diverse into a thesaurus soz) and vibrant industry with so many different stories that it’ll be hard to pick which one you’ll see next.
Oh and less Shakespeare more, new writing (unless someone would like to commission me to write the Algerian adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, then I’m fully down and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org).