Interview with Jess – The Brownie Club
Saturday the 8th of June 2019
Evie: What inspired you?
The idea was in my head for quite a long time because after coming out of drama school I was working a lot with other different shows and I was really enjoying it, but there was a piece in my heart that wanted to express things that I was going through and comment on the industry as well because when you come out into the industry you’ll find yourself type-cast. I was always playing an Indian character either like the terrorist-wife or the arranged marriage thing and I was a bit tired of portraying only one kind of Asian or often a negative stereotype. I just wanted a place to express what I had actually grown up with and what I was going through and create with a group of people that wanted to do the same.
What did you study when you were in Wac Arts?
I did the InFlight course at Wac, I don’t know if they still have that anymore, but it was basically an introduction into a cocoon, now they do the silks lessons here, it was an introduction into aerial and then how to create work from that as well.
Emma: When you were at Wac Arts what did you want to be when you were older?
I always wanted to be a performer, I always wanted to predominantly act, but I always did gymnastics alongside it I wanted to blend the two together and that’s how it went more into theatre and physical theatre. I went to E15 acting school and that was the course where the two kind of blended for me.
Did you see yourself being where you are now when you were younger?
No, I’d always dream of it but I didn’t think that I’d be doing this. I didn’t think I’d be going into schools and colleges and talking about my work and I didn’t think it would have this much of an impact because I thought everything’s been done before but actually it hasn’t. I think a piece of advice is that you are your USP, you are all individuals, and you all have that special thing that will enable you to break away from the norm.
What inspired you to write the script?
It was an autobiographical piece, so when I was younger I had my two friends and we’d call each other The Brownie Club, we’d have those inward kinds of jokes as we grew up. They actually came to see the show on Saturday and they were crying the whole way through because they were like ‘ah it’s what we always talked about’ and it’s those things that when you’re younger sometimes things are talked about and then dreams kind of get forgotten, you don’t go for them or you’re put off or certain circumstances will take you away from it. I think I just got to the point that if I don’t write this now I’m never going to write it and its never going to be told, then other stories will just carry on and I’ll just end up in this cycle I don’t want to be in.
It’s autobiographical so the people in it, have you based them on true people?
So the other two friends had their own input because I didn’t want to tell other peoples stories and that’s something I found the year before when I did R&D (research and development). It’s a time before you make the show where you just play with some ideas, see what works, see what lands, see what sticks and then you go into the creation process. Sometimes it can be all too rushed and you’ll put something out there and that wasn’t what you intended so I kind of learnt that from R&D, that you can’t tell other peoples stories, and I needed to have them in the room cause at that time my friends that I grew up with were all doing different things and we weren’t as in touch so it was more off my memory recall of what happened with these two friends. The other two performers that were in the show would bounce off the ideas that I was putting forward and then bring their own real life experiences into it.
All the work I want to create is very now, it’s very current and those issues are going on now and I feel like it’s important to work with those communities and work with those people. There’s actually a girl creating a show and it’s called ‘Does My Bomb Look Big in This?’ and she’s mixed heritage Jewish and Muslim and it’s about how she feels attacked sometimes through the media on what they portray and she is responding to both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. I think I’d want to work with other groups of people to create other shows, I also respect that sometimes it’s not my story to tell.
I feel like people see Islamophobia as like some people would say oh you’ve been doing all these terrorist attacks, why do you feel bad if we bite back and then you realize that you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve never hurt them individually, its other Muslims and you’re getting attacked for other peoples reasons. Last year, a guy on the bus tried to take off my head scarf, he was at the back of me and he tried to get it off so I had to walk the rest of the way to work and I was tearful all day. He was like ‘why are you wearing this stupid thing on your head?’ People were saying to me ‘it’s okay, you can get through it’. Most of my friends aren’t Muslim so they didn’t understand what it felt like being attacked because you’ve done nothing wrong, it’s other people who’ve done something wrong and you’re getting attacked and I feel like people don’t portray Islamophobia as real discrimination, they just think Muslims are being sad cause you’re being attacked.
Jess: Is it something you feel you want to talk about in a dramatic way or is it something you need to personally write down or express?
Iman: Both ways. I feel like if it was in a play you’d connect more with the characters cause to make a good play you need people that are willing to like go the extra mile to connect through research and development. If you have a character that connects with Muslims that have been attacked for no reason or have been a victim of Islamophobia, you’re gonna have better performances, but if you also write it down and connect on a personal level you’re gonna get through to people in a different way. If you do both you can really achieve a lot.
When you were our age did you have someone famous to look up to?
I don’t know how old I was when this was happening but I really looked up to Aishwarya Rai, she was a Bollywood model who won Miss World in 1994 and she went onto the Bollywood movie industry. Whenever I watched her in interviews she just seemed really down to earth and really humble and actually really giving back, she’s a millionaire and she didn’t need to be like that. I think the industry can get to people’s heads as well and the positions of power they’re put in so I think she would be one. I feel like now there are a lot of things that are accessible to you guys like the internet, I mean you can really tune into people and look at their back stories but at that age it would be the people we would see on TV. It was really basic stuff when I was your age, it was stuff like Desmonds, Goodness Gracious Me.
What piece of advice would you give us for the future?
I would say believe in yourself because you’re personally going to experience a lot of things that may put you down or disrupt your train of thought or your vision and everything you personally go through you can use those emotions in your art and in your way to express yourself whether that’s writing, painting, acting, dancing, listening to music, writing music, rapping. I would say use those things because everything that you are is your USP and there’s nobody like you, nobody’s gonna perform like you, no ones gonna think like you, no ones gonna write like you and even if you think there’s similar things going on, yeah there are and they may be the tribe that attracts your vibe but you are your greatest asset so just follow your heart and go with you believe.
What would you like to do in the future?
So in the future I want to get this play written and published and I want to do a comedy series so yeah that’s my ultimate dream and goal to kind of be like Mindy Kaling, so she wrote, directed and produced her own show and it produced my HBO and things like that so yeah I kind of want to have things documented and go more into film stuff.
How hard was it for you to enter the industry?
That was a lot of years in the making, and you learn by doing, you learn about all the rejections you face as well because you’re hear a lot of ‘no’s’ and it will affect your mental health a lot, so it’s really important you keep your friends, teachers and mentors close by. Keep talking about what you’re experiencing as well and networking is still such a tricky thing and I still find it really awkward but I find when you meet someone, they’re just a human being so just be yourself and have a normal conversation with them. We always feel a way to put on a face and don’t get me wrong sometimes you have to smile when you’re not feeling happy and things like that for a show or whatever but when you’re networking and making your way in the industry they really respect the honesty that you come with as well. I think I’m still finding my way through the industry, it’s a never-ending journey but to be able to put on my show and stuff that took a number of years to know who to connect with and who would actually help me and where would be the best place, who the best people to work with are so yeah I’d say a couple of years, and to find my own voice as well within it so don’t be afraid to take your time with things as well. Don’t feel rushed to put something, but at the same time make every second count in terms of if you’re given an opportunity and you think it’s great for you. If your heart is saying yes do it, do it, but if there’s something in the back of your mind and you’re a bit unsure, question yourself what that is and speak to people about it, what are the pros what are the cons in that because not every opportunity is for you but it’s something to learn from. It’s all part of the journey.
Do you think mental health awareness is important when being a performing artist?
Yeah 100% because there’s things that you have to do when you’re performing that you might not be in the right place of mind and I think you need to talk to your cast members, your director, whoever you’re working with about where you sit mentally because that’s something that we need to do daily, first you need to check yourself, you need to make sure you’re okay and I don’t know who you feel comfortable speaking to about that but at least tell somebody or write it down and if you’re in great company like the show I just did, we were in such a safe space that we checked in every morning, assessed where we are physically, mentally and emotionally. If something was going on outside that rehearsal room, we would talk about it, allow them time because there’s actually real life, a real world going on outside of the show and it’s really important that everyone knows that.
About Jess Andrade:
Hi I’m Jess…
I am a circus artist, theatre-maker & Bollywood dancer & choreographer who trained with Upswing Aerial, where I am an Associate Artist, & subsequently at East 15. I am an Associate Artist at Proteus Theatre in Basingstoke and have trained and performed with Tangled Feet, Funk Da Cirque at Roundhouse CircusFest & the Olympics Opening Ceremony.
In 2017/18 I toured for 6 months in the New Vic’s Production of Around The World in 80 days and have recently finished touring in Proteus Theatres’ radical new production of Macbeth. I also perform with Bollywood Vibes as part of a Bollywood dance troupe & I also choreographs my own dance pieces.
About Jess Andrade’s Sold Out Show The Brownie Club:
A show about race, identity and fitting in.
Sometimes you keep quiet. Sometimes you laugh it off. Sometimes you decide to speak up.
The Brownie Club explores the experiences of women of colour as they choose when, where and how to respond to racism. Combining striking aerial circus with physical theatre and spoken word, it takes a joyful, honest and candid look at the assumptions made about people of colour, and asks: What happens when we begin with a different set of questions?
Lead creative: Jessica Andrade
Cast: Jessica Andrade, Allie Ho Chee, Lucia Tong
Creative Mentor/Movement Director: Krista Vuori
The Brownie Club was a co-production with Jacksons Lane Theatre.