Being Alice

Issue 99

Originally appeared in issue 99

One-woman play The Speed Of Dating is a warm, delightful comedy about a bi woman’s adventures in trying to find love.  Its first London performance is in a few days time.  Ahead of the curve as ever, BCN caught up with writer / performer Sarah two weeks before the first performance in Manchester.

I’m in a cafe with Sarah Evans who I’ve just learned is also Sarah Emmott.  “I like to keep the two separate – I write as Evans but perform as Emmott”.  She’s a Salford graduate in arts from classical theatre to performance of gender and sexuality; her mother shipped her off to dance classes and acting classes age 6 “and I loved it and it all grew from there; I loved reading plays and books.”   The gender and sexuality aspects of her course leapt out at her: “it really struck me and I think pretty much everything I’ve ever written has been around that – it’s fascinating because we just live it and we don’t ever even discover what is going on in our own heads.  But this play isn’t really about it, it’s just that from the start, Alice is bisexual.

“The Speed Of Dating started out with a friend doing an arts night asking me to perform; I wrote a 10 minute section which was more like a stand up routine; it went down a storm and it grew from there – I felt it needed to be a play and it wasn’t long enough.  Telling a whole journey, not just a snippet of Alice’s life.  So I started writing it as a play, making her a more real person as a character and I think a lot of people can truly identify to her and her experiences, her stupidity and her outlook on life – whether they’re gay, bi, straight.

“Alice really wants to find love and to find someone to share happiness with and that comes in different forms.  Some people find that a one night stand is enough, for others it’s more than that, and I’m not saying either is right – but in this play what Alice goes through is what Alice needs in finding whatever makes you happy.

“She’s looking for love in any sort of form, but unfortunately – she just can’t fucking help saying something ridiculous when she is under pressure.  The things where if your friend was saying it you’d just look at them and say: ‘stop, while you’re not even ahead, but stop digging’, but in the one hour it’s about the people she meets.  I wrote so much for this that I had to scrap to make it only an hour!

“I think it’s important to write about something that you know about or have come into close contact with.  And I’ve written other things before but this is the first full length, hour long play, so it had to come from somewhere personal, so it does start from my own experiences.”

Experiences as a student in Salford, a city that merges into Manchester with it’s famous gay village and love / hate relationship with bisexuality.  Is writing a play about a bi character consciously political?

“It can be something people are quite scared of, but the play isn’t aimed at anyone – it’s not a bisexual play, a gay play, a straight play, it’s a play and the character in it happens to be bisexual.  I think for her that’s important because in her journey she really wants to find some form of love, be it emotional, physical, but her openness to that – she sees love as love not as tied to a gender and I think that is important to her journey.  It’s never very much – the play doesn’t deal with the question of bisexuality at all.  It doesn’t explain anything, it’s just a given that (Alice) is.  And that’s important – otherwise it is a play about being bisexual, and it’s not: it’s there because that’s a part of who she is.

We get onto the notion of bisexuality being a taboo subject: “it’s still not accepted as it should be and I think there’s still assumptions about it, you know.  As soon as you say about it there’s that; oh, so, you’re confused, you’re easy, you can’t make up your mind.  And no, I’ve made up my mind, that’s who I am.  Another thing I’ve run into is people say: oh, so it must be quite easy for a bisexual person to find someone because you’ve got double the chance – and actually, that’s more what the play is about.  It touches on bisexuality in the perception that it’s easy if you are attracted to both male and female.  It doesn’t make anything any easier.  The search for something, someone, for love, sexual need and gratification – whatever – it’s still hard, still complicated and you still come across the same barriers as you do if you are gay or if you are straight.”

It’s not just the sexuality of Alice that comes from personal experience.  “I, Sarah Evans, am possibly the worst person when I’m in a room with someone I fancy.  I’m just awful and that’s where the play stems from.  I’m awful at dating and I feel grateful for anyone who has ever been on a date with me because it’s almost like an endurance test.  You think it’ll be polite conversation and it never is – that’s where the play grew from, that’s where Alice stems from.”

“A thing that I did want to put in the play that never made the editor’s cut – and I am the editor – one time I was trying to chat someone up, got into one of those awkward silences and I punched them in the arm, did a thumbs-up and went, ‘cool! See ya!’ and walked off.  It was like when you’re at school and you do stupid things with people you fancy and later you think: ‘why did I do that!?’”

“There’s another thing – the gay scene, I find that interesting.  Canal Street village is great and it’s nice to be able to go somewhere and feel open and I think a lot of people go there to find someone.  One of the things I touch on in the play is that, being attracted to someone of the same sex… you never know what sexuality someone is.  You can be attracted to someone and not even know if they are attracted to people of your… orientation… and some people have really old-school views on what gender and sexuality looks like.  Like I’m, not overly effeminate but I suppose I am a girly girl – people think automatically that I’m straight and I think, why should that be the case.  We’re supposed to be the people who understand sexuality and gender and in actual fact often some of us are closed off to it.
cont p8
Being Alice cont.
“It’s drummed into us that we look a certain way.  It is becoming more acceptable to look however you want to look and still be straight, gay, bi, trans – but it’s taking a long process.  There’s the association that if you like heels and lip gloss and I love them then you’re straight.  And at most you’re someone who wants to experiment.  Undecided and greedy and the things that come with bisexual, that comes with an image that is very sad.

“Your orientation like relationships it’s important that it makes you happy and I think if you’re not happy you need to explore what does make you happy.  If that is promiscuity, monogamy, many partners… it’s being happy and knowing you belong and life is just one big test, you go through, try things, life changes, keep trying….

“That’s also where the play came from.  Thinking about what makes people happy.  When I first wrote the play it was just joke after joke and Alice was funny but had no substance, she never talked about what she really wanted.  Often none of us do but for dramatic purposes we need to know.  She doesn’t know what she wants, goes on this journey, finds out by fucking up and trying again and on that journey she has encounters that she doesn’t learn by, but that’s people for you.
“Without being a standup routine, it is still joke after joke but you get to know Alice and I think most people will find some part of her which is them or their friend and they can see.

Sarah’s university final year project was a 10,000 word thesis titled, “If Gender and Sexuality are both socially constructed, is there opportunity to construct a thoroughly gender blurred Utopia?”.  Sounds like something that might appeal to a few BCN readers?

“I loved doing that, and I still read books about it – I knew what I wanted to go and where I was going so I knew I wouldn’t

“I’d spent three years performing and there was a choice for your final year of performing or a dissertation and I thought, I’m going to spend the rest of my life performing so… And I’m a geek!  A stupendous geek.  I love textbooks, theories, anything that is a complete geek-fest, and have post-it notes all over most of my book collection.”  So, a question perhaps close to many BCN readers hearts: in a gender blurred utopia would dating be any easier – whether for the hapless Alice or for the rest of us?  “No, it wouldn’t.  For me personally gender doesn’t matter, I don’t look at it at all in a love or a sexual way, it’s just a person, for me.  So I suppose inside my head there is that utopia a little bit.”

“I think gender and sexuality are fluid, organic things, you perceive yourselves in a certain way and others do but you should never stop thinking about that: you should never think: my sex is female. My gender is female. My sexuality is bisexual.”  You should never put a full stop after any of those things because they are always developing.   Change is one of the scariest and most amazing fantastic thing and for a person the most important thing is a sense of belonging, and if for a period of time you find that feeling.

But even in a genderless utopia couldn’t solve a problem like Alice’s – “we’d still all be confused, still all be looking for that extra something, we’d still worry – you know, if you’re into monogamy , if they’re cheating on you.   Each individual person gives you something different.  If you’re poly each of those people gives you something different.  So for me, gender wouldn’t make a difference.  Dating is hard.  And it’s shit… and I wish I did more of it!

The Speed of Dating is on at Stratford Circus Theatre, London on 8th March 2010. Tickets are £7 or £6 conc.