Michele Lee talks SINGLE LADIES

Three completely different women meet outside a Coles supermarket. No, there isn’t a punchline, but there definitely is a story to tell – and it’s Single Ladies. 

Michele Lee

The newest collaboration in Red Stitch’s INK program, which allows writers to collaborate with Red Stitch throughout the creation of their piece, Single Ladies is premiering as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The show’s playwright Michele Lee is Hmong-Australian, with a strong focus on displacement, identity, sexuality, and multiculturalism. Single Ladies is her newest work, drawn from her the lives of real women living in Collingwood.

Single Ladies is made up of an entirely female team – direction by Bagryana Popov, set and costume design by Romaine Harper, lighting by Rachel Lee, sound design by Elissa Goodrich, and featuring guest actor Jem Lai alongside Red Stitch Ensemble members Caroline Lee and Andrea Swifte.

Could you tell me a bit about your background in writing?

I write mainly for theatre, but also across audio, live art and screen. I wrote and made student theatre across my 20s at the places I studied, and then got my first playwriting grant about 10 years ago. From there, I was in various emerging artist programs where I developed work, and sometimes the work was also presented. My first full mainstage work was RICE, which premiered in 2017 at Queensland Theatre, Griffin Theatre and Hothouse Theatre. Across most of this, I’ve also had a desk job. It’s helped me keep a bit of perspective and has meant I’ve plugged along at a sustainable pace.

Are you excited to be premiering your work at Red Stitch?

Of course! When I first started researching for SINGLE LADIES, I didn’t have a destination for it (I didn’t even know who the characters were or what the story was at the very start). But early on, as things were starting to become clearer, I applied for and was selected for the 2018 intake of Red Stitch’s development program, INK. This felt like a good fit, as the scale of the play suits the Red Stitch St Kilda space, and as the play is a character-driven piece, it was also extremely beneficial to have members of the Red Stitch ensemble developing the piece with me, and helping me continue to round out the characters and the world.

Have you drawn on any personal experience for the plot of Single Ladies?

Not from my own life, unlike some of the other things I’ve written. I did speak to six women who live in or around Collingwood, where the play is set. In the early stages of research, I spoke with these women a few times over about nine months. These are older women with connections to the area, and I just wanted to step into their world a little. From some of these conversations, character traits emerged and one particular anecdote became the basis for some of the plot. In short, it was a story about a dog, and there’s a dog at the centre of the play’s plot. So the play’s a work of fiction but it does have seeds of inspiration from real people’s lives.

Andrea Swifte, Jem Lai, Caroline Lee | Photo by Robert Blackburn

Why is it important to write plays about Australian culture?

Sometimes it feels like an argument for parochialism, doesn’t it. When it comes to reading or watching things on TV, I tend to want to watch very broadly across cultures and places. But with theatre, I feel a little different about the sort of stories I think we should see more of. It’s very important to write and see plays about Australian culture because of theatre’s immediacy and proximity—there is something very electric going on in the room, and because it’s so close, there’s something in there about wanting the stories to be close to home too. Not to say we shouldn’t want exposure to theatre stories from across the globe but I do think there is a very important place for a varied menu of Australian stories, because that helps us with empathy and insight into the country and people we are, we aren’t, we want to be, we try to be.

Further, why is it important to write for female actors?

There are so many great female actors to work with! I get really excited when I’m developing a play, in the early stages, and am trying to imagine who might play the roles and who they might be working with. More broadly, I guess this question is also about putting female stories and perspectives front and centre. I enjoy doing this, and so this leads me back to that prospect of collaborating with the many awesome female actors.

Why should audiences come and see Single Ladies?

Because the creative team pulling this together are awesome, and they’re going to put on a ripper show.

Single Ladies opens at Red Stitch on March 11 as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Tickets and more information are available at the Red Stitch website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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