Visiting Pamela’s Palace: devising new work from familiar origins

An interview between the show’s creator, executive producer and key performer, Donna Gray (D), and PR Executive Caitlin Page (C).

 

ITI has a new show on its horizon! Pamela’s Palace is currently in development – ready for its debut at Edinburgh Fringe in August – and the team here at Interactive Theatre International (ITI) is buzzing! This week I got the opportunity to speak with Donna Gray – the show’s creator and the UK’s Associate Director (above centre) – to talk all about the show, its development, and where she got her start!

C:        Hi Donna! Thank you so much for talking with me. I know you have been working on Pamela’s Palace for a while now.  What’s it all about?

D:        The show is a one-hour interactive experience for audiences. At the moment we are still in the developing stages, but the show is based around Pamela – who runs a hair and beauty salon – and all the secrets and lies that often float just below the surface. It’s a show about vulnerability and strength and trying to make your way through the world even when it can be overwhelming and unforgiving.

C:        I love that! I know this is a show that’s been in the works for a long time – what’s  the origin of this show?

D:        I first performed a version of the show called Pamela’s Permanent Wave at Brighton Fringe and Camden Fringe, both in 2014. It was a one-woman show back then. The general manager of ITI came to watch it and three years later commissioned me to develop it as a three-hander interactive comedy – following on from our sister show The Wedding Reception and off the back of the success of Faulty Towers The Dining Experience. First time around it was a team of two producing the show (me and my husband). It was very daunting but an incredible experience. Now it’s a lot bigger!

C:        Wow! You must be excited to be giving it new life! How did the original idea of Pamela come about?

D:        I was initially interested in sketch comedy but sketch comedy has been done to death. I wanted to find something that was relatable with a lot of comedic potential. I loved the idea of setting a show in a hairdresser because that’s where a lot of conversation takes place. Everything from small talk to therapy sessions happen there! It’s also such a common experience – everyone goes so everyone knows what I am talking about! Besides, the 1960s hairdresser theme has a lot of aesthetic appeal to me.

C:        So, what do you see is the ultimate vision for Pamela?

D:        The vision for Pamela’s Palace has changed since the new team. We are moving more towards the style of a Mike Leigh film. Ultimately, we want the show to be relatable to audiences, with something they can take away – like a moral or a feelgood memory.

C:        What about the new experience of collaborating? What has it been like collaborating with ITI to create a show?

D:        The wonderful thing about working with ITI is that you are encased in a world with talented teams at your disposal. We have a marketing team, performance collaborators, production teams – all available! It can be exhausting developing work on your own, so this has made developing work much easier. Really, it’s all about utilising who we’ve got and what their strengths are. I think the future is collaboration with good people where we can all come together to grow and move forward. It’s also been a dream to be commissioned to be creative! How many people get that opportunity?

C:        That sounds excellent! So who have you been working with during this process to help direct, create and perform the show?

D:        The performers are me, Katie Grace Cooper, Nerine Skinner and Suzanna Hughes. Jack Baldwin was our director but he has now been offered a West End play called ‘A Comedy About A Bank Robbery’ for the next 12 months. He’s still part of the project team but we have also introduced a new female director – Mella Faye! We are even lucky enough to be mentored by Aitor from Spymonkey and we are very excited about that. I like the fact that is has become an all-female project. It’s very current.

C:        Have there been any challenging moments throughout this process?

D:        There are always obstacles in the creative process. Actors are a rule unto their own and scheduling can be particularly difficult. There is always something. What I am learning as I work ‘behind the scenes’ more is that when things go wrong it’s okay to take a moment, a deep breath and think things through. There are always solutions.

 

C:        What has been the biggest change in the show (aside form the name change) since development?

D:        Well, most obviously, Pamela’s Palace was initially a solo show and now it’s a three-hander. There are now relationships between three women that capture dimension. It’s developed depths and layers which I am really excited about. Before, it was more a solo show with stand-up material; now it feels richer and deeper.

C:        What are you excited to share with your audiences?

D:        Musical number!!
I don’t want to say too much so I will just leave it there!

C:        Why do you think this show will resonate with audiences?

D:        This show touches on a lot of subjects. It can initially look like a show for women, but I really think it’s a show for all genders! There are definitely elements of feminism in there. Some of the material we are using is being found in the age gaps between me and the other two performers – Katie and Nerine. They are a little younger than me and although we are all feminists, I am finding that there are some stereotypes that I adhere to that they reject. So we’ve ended up building this character that is feminist but getting it slightly wrong and I think a lot of people can relate to that!

C:        I can definitely relate to that! What about the rehearsals – are there any funny moments from rehearsals you’d like to share?

D:        We have laughed so much in this rehearsal process. I can’t think of anything that would translate well to writing but I do have some pictures of the rehearsal I can share!

C:        So Donna, you are an integral ITI member. Can you tell me a little bit about your history with ITI and how this all came about?

Five years ago I auditioned to play Sybil in Faulty Towers The Dining Experience. I was among the first group of UK performers for the company and I really had to jump right in! Ali, the company director, got sick in the first few weeks so I ended up in Scandinavia performing one of my first shows! I was fresh out of drama school which was the second round of theatrical study for me. Pretty soon I was travelling all over with Faulty – I’ve been to places like Africa, Antigua, Edinburgh Fringe, Ireland, Australia. In 2015 in Australia, I met up with Claire (the Head of Sales) at Sydney Opera House. I had been wanting to do some more work from home as the constant touring was getting tiring so I started in Sales! In about January of 2016, Ali asked me to step in for her in the UK to be her directing eyes and ears. I’m not really a director but I enjoy the leadership and I know and love the show so much that it’s been working really well!

C:        How did you get your start in acting?

D:        I know exactly where it all started for me! My auntie Janice. I was 7 when I went to her drama workshop. I have always been a visual learner and learnt better through creativity so in that class I thrived and have never looked back!

C:        Why do you think Pamela fits in with the ITI family?

D:        This show does what ITI does best – interactive theatre. It will be an experience for people. We will make them feel like they are apart of our world.

C:        Where can audiences see Pamela this year?

D:        First we’re doing a few scratch performances at Brighton Fringe, and then we’re making our official debut with a run at Edinburgh Fringe in August!

Pamela’s Palace will preview at Brighton Fringe Festival 31 May-2 June, and is making its Fringe First debut at Edinburgh Fringe 2-27 August. Click here for Edinburgh tickets and info.

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