In a new coming-of-age comedy musical, four immigrant teens experience a new realm of discovery over the course of 12 hours, learning all about sex. From the people behind Six The Musical, the Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society (CUMTS) have brought a cast of BAME students- as quoted from their description- to the Edinburgh Fringe to share those questions everyone has, but nobody is brave enough to ask.
Three of those involved have discussed the show and their experiences of sex education, so keep reading to find out more...
Please can you tell us a bit about the show and how the concept was developed?
Laura: I wanted to write a musical for me, Laura Chan, aged 14, and all my friends. I wanted to hear the music I loved and grew up with, and honestly, I just wanted to see myself in a musical.
How does a soundtrack and comedy fit around the themes in the show?
Laura: The soundtrack is based on all the characters’ heritage, so you won’t hear the typical broadway belt, but you’ll hear rap, dancehall, and music that will get you on your feet and make your toes tap. The comedy comes with the territory - I don’t think there’s any way to ask if your boobs are normal without a bit of laughter!
Who do you think your ideal audience member would be:
Laura: My ideal audience member would be either a BME teenager who is able to see themselves in the character. Or their mom, who is initially shocked, but learns to laugh and remember what their teenage years were like.
Reggie: My ideal audience member would be people with a great sense of humour and are willing to sing and dance along with us.
Michelle: High school teenagers, university students, young adults, anyone interested in discussions about sex; parents (hahah I’m not sure how they will take this)…
What importance do you think suitable sex education has, and how do you think it is best
to get this knowledge across, and be more open as a society about this?
Laura: Such a fantastic question. I used to teach sex education so this is definitely up my alley. I think destigmatisation is such a huge thing, and also giving people the resources and information that they need to make their own informed decisions. While we’re not trying to make an educational piece, we are trying to make all these questions about sex more normal. It’s okay to be confused, we’re all confused.
Michelle: Suitable sex education is very important. I don’t know how exactly to get this knowledge better across because I personally come from a culture where sex education is quite a taboo, but I recall 3 memorable moments during my secondary school (which was very different from the culture I grew up in), where I learned about sex. They may shed some light regarding sex education.
When I was in Year 12, in one term we had a series of themed tutorial sessions on sex education. We learned about consent, a variety of contraceptive methods, we learned about STDs and preventions (different types of condoms), and we practiced how to put on and take off a condom using a foam penis model and condoms. We did this in an all-girl year 12 and 13 tutor group of 10 people with our school tutors. It was a very safe space to learn and to discuss. To me, it was not only the knowledge of sex and safe sex that was important, the fact that sex was openly talked about was also really important to me as it normalises sex and de-mystifies it; it was empowering to learn what choices are available, to learn that sex is something we can talk about without shame, and it is something we CAN learn/prepare ourselves for instead of having to guess or secretly search up.
In a Year 8 biology class, when we learned about reproductive systems, our biology teacher set up an anonymous question box, like the one in SLEEPOVER! We would write our questions about reproductive systems, puberty and sex on a slip of paper and the teacher would answer them. There were of course some nonsensical questions but most of the questions were genuine and were questions I also wondered too!
In a Year 10 biology class, we spent a lesson watching a documentary on puberty. I think watching documentaries is a helpful way to introduce sex to young people. I still remember how shocked I was watching a close-up shot of a penis slowly erecting.
Were there any awkward moments surrounding topics when first revising the script, or rehearsing the piece, and how have you now become comfortable with these?
Laura: I feel like I have a warped perspective, having performed as an anthropomorphised syphilis in front of my parents since 13. I did have a moment before our first rehearsal where I went, is the cast going to be okay with singing about pegging? But they’re absolutely fabulous, the most amazing people I could ever hope to work with!
Reggie: At first I found it a little bit awkward singing about penises but the more we rehearsed it the more comfortable I got with it!
Michelle: In terms of the script itself, I was comfortable with my character’s story about sex from the beginning. I had read about pegging before so I was actually quite exciting to finally apply knowledge to practice ;) However I was on the train when I first read the full script on my laptop… I lowered my screen brightness to make sure the person next to me couldn’t see what I was reading.
What have you learnt from being part of this show?
Laura: I have learned so much about how many moving parts there are to putting on a show like this, and how nothing is ever done alone. I am so incredibly grateful to our production team- Elaina for keeping us on track, Mia for their fantastic Twitter skills, the other Mia for bringing the show from page to stage, and our talented actors Regina and Michelle!
Reggie: The show has taught me to be more open about talking about sex and to have fun with it because most people have probably have the same experiences as you!
Michelle: That THE BEST PROTECTION IS DIVINE PROTECTION!!!
What do you think is the best thing about SLEEPOVER?
Laura: CUMTS has made it possible for little old me to make a musical about a Jamaican Chinese person! (I apologize to the Jamaican Chinese community.)
Reggie: I think the best part about sleepover is my song about white men! Check it out on SoundCloud! https://m.soundcloud.com/sleepover-at-fringe/id-never-date-a-white-man
Michelle: Wordplays. Lauren has written so many funny jokes and wordplays, I can’t wait to see how the audience react to them! It is a relatively chill story that I believe is relevant to a lot of people. A good balance of fun and 'thoughtful questions' (to quote Jenny) about sex.
Big thanks to the cast of SLEEPOVER for taking part in this, and hope you all have a wonderful run!
Grab your tickets here:
Additional thanks to Mia Grant for arranging this interview.