Clemmie Melvin talks to the actor-writer Naomi Sheldon about her play Good Girl, feminism and nudes.
CM: Hi Naomi! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for Exetera Magazine. Could you tell me a bit about your play Good Girl?
NS: Hello! My absolute pleasure. Good Girl is a dark comic storytelling show about growing up in the 90s, sexual awakening, friendship, and emotion. With a Madonna and Michael Jackson soundtrack. People have described it as Victoria Wood performing Fleabag. A mind-boggling combination.
CM: How does being both the writer and star of Good Girl affect your rehearsal process? When does the writer stop and the actress takeover?
NS: Yeah that was a tough one! I’d be in the middle of rehearsals and suddenly start trying to rewrite on the spot. It was a complete mind mangle (did I just coin that? Probably not!) I had to give myself a talking to and just commit to the lines and change them after rehearsals with my ‘writer hat’ on if I felt the show needed tweaking. I had to be very disciplined.
CM: Do you think growing up as a girl now is easier or harder than it was in the 90s?
NS: I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I think the power of social media means there are very different pressures young women face now that were just not an issue in the 90s. I read that a lot of girls age 15 are suffering from the symptoms of PTSD. And nobody knows why. That is very worrying. Girls are obviously having a very tough time of it growing up today. So, I’d say it’s harder today but at least you have the internet at the tips of your fingers and can find out stuff immediately that we could only wonder about. Like ‘should I be growing hair there?’, and ‘is my vagina weird?’ Although the internet and access to hard core porn is a whole other mind field…
CM: Platforms like Facebook and Instagram give girls a voice, whilst simultaneously creating an environment in which their bodies are policed and scrutinized. Where do you stand with social media?
NS: I think it can really mess with our minds and it’s so easy to get addicted to. Addicted to the affirmation of a like, or to negative behaviour like constantly comparing yourself to others. I got off Facebook for a while because it was making me feel this existential loneliness. I definitely try to keep tabs on the amount of time I spend on Facebook and Instagram. However, the way social media enabled #MeToo is an example of how these platforms can share a message, inform and support. It can spur a movement.
CM: What would be your advice to young girls tackling the monster that is puberty in the age of the internet?
NS: Talk to your friends and people you trust about your body and relationship queries. Googling a problem can make things seem more frightening. The result always seems to be ‘so, you’re going to die’. Oh, and nude photos? Check out the Instagram account ‘that looks like a snatch’. I’d probably send one of those instead of my actual private parts.
CM: Feminism and comedy are far from synonymous but in recent years some seriously funny feminist content has been produced, such as writing by Caitlin Moran and podcasts like The Guilty Feminist. Do you think the face of feminism is changing?
NS: Feminism and comedy are far from synonymous? Nah mate! We’ve just been told feminists have no sense of humour because, well, the PATRIARCHY innit. But yes, totally- feminism is becoming more mainstream and comedy has definitely helped that. I’m so happy the F word is starting to be seen as less of a dirty word. When I was growing up, in fact, until relatively recently, feminism was still seen by many as man hating, defunct and deeply uncool. I’m so relieved to see that changing now and that the face of feminism is young, energetic and politically engaged.
CM: Where do you seek artistic inspiration? In performance and writing are there any people or pieces of literature which have particularly influenced you?
NS: Books, articles, films, TV. My mum. Bridget Christie influenced me for sure. The passion, wit and FIRE in her Because You Demanded It was something to behold. Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist has been important to me over the last year. That woman can write an essay.
CM: In the wake of the Weinstein allegations the treatment of women in the Arts and Entertainment Industry has come under fire internationally. What do you think the future holds for women in the theatre?
NS: I hope in the future theatres will have a regulated code of conduct that protects and supports its artists. Inevitably there will be a backlash. Men saying we’re ‘overreacting’. But once that dies down I hope we’ll be stronger, more supportive of each other, less tolerant of abusive behaviour and less frightened of the consequences of speaking out because the consequences won’t be the end of your career, it’ll be to make your work space a safer one. I’m hopeful for the future of women in the theatre. I think our voices are beginning to be heard. We’ve just got to keep speaking.
CM: Who would your dream audience member be? They can be dead or alive, (and will definitely have a front row seat!)
NS: I sort of had my dream audience member… Emma Thompson came to see the show in Edinburgh and I almost died with delight. She’s pretty dreamy. Next on my list would be to zap back in time to perform the show to Victoria Wood. That makes me feel all teary.
CM: What do you want people to take away from your production? Is there an overall mood or message you wish to convey?
NS: That’s a tricky one. See, I love it when people take different things away from the show, sometimes stuff I haven’t even thought of. The changing current climate has put a slightly different emphasis on the story. It feels increasingly that the message is about being heard, and not to kowtow to expected norms of behaviour. Most of all, I want people to walk away feeling a little more connected with each other and a little more hopeful. Oh, and remembering why in fact they do love ABBA after all.
CM: Naomi, I love you.
Naomi Sheldon’s “Good Girl” comes to the Bike Shed Theatre on 11th February. Get your tickets here: https://www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk/shows/good-girl/