Making its way to the VAULT Festival in due course, How We Begin is a story of queerness, love and hiding the truth- a female bisexual narrative with a twist.
Elizabeth Lewerenz, the writer of the show, has kindly spoken more about the production, so keep reading...
What is How We Begin about?
How We Begin is about best friends Helen and Diana. Since uni, they’ve settled into their adult lives– until they fall in love with each other. Neither of them expected that to happen, and Diana has a boyfriend, so they kind of try to explore that new part of their lives in secret– which, as you can imagine, does not always go smoothly.
What was the inspiration behind writing it, and how much is the show based on personal experience?
I wouldn’t say it’s an autobiographical play, but it is based on some personal experience. Like Helen in the play, I didn’t figure out I was queer until my mid-twenties. Most of my queer friends had already had their coming out as teenagers, so at the time, I felt like I was really late to the party and I didn’t have any bisexual peers or role models to look to for guidance. I got to discover new things about myself, which was wonderful, but in many ways, it also felt a bit scary.
It was almost like going through puberty again and I certainly made a lot of questionable decisions during that time, including kissing lots of friends at parties (no regrets) and, yes, having a secret relationship with one particular friend (some regrets). I felt very emotionally vulnerable during that time, so in retrospect, it’s no wonder some of it ended up in my writing. But what did end up in How We Begin is certainly not a one-to-one copy of what happened in my life. My personal experiences are more of a starting point for what happens in the play.
How has the production changed during its 2 years of development, and what has its journey to the VAULT Festival been like?
I wrote the first scene of How We Begin to apply for the VAULT New Writers Programme 2019, so the VAULT connection has been there from the very start. That scene got me onto the course, and I actually met Elizabeth [Benbow], our director, at the programme’s showcase towards the end of the festival. We stayed in touch after and when the opportunity presented itself to do a work-in-progress showing at the King’s Head Theatre’s Queer Season in 2019, I messaged Elizabeth immediately. Watching the play come alive for the first time was absolutely wonderful!
Then the pandemic threw us, along with everyone else, some curveballs. We went back and forth on getting the play back on its feet once it was safe to do so, but ultimately decided against it. VAULT Festival was the next logical step for us, so we waited for the festival to come back, applied for VAULT 2022 and were accepted. But then, the festival was understandably cancelled last year, so we applied again for VAULT Festival 2023 and are very happy to finally bring How We Begin to the place it was always meant to come to!
How have you written the characters to portray authentic relationships, and that allow the audience to become invested in them?
For me, authenticity is a result of honesty, so I tried to be as honest as I could about the process of self-discovery that goes along with coming out to yourself. That includes the decisions that may seem stupid to me now, moments I’m not necessarily proud of, and situations where I reacted badly. But that process also includes humour, lots and lots of it. How We Begin is a very funny play, because as serious and dire as a secret affair may sound to you, the spy-like shenanigans that you are trying to pull in that situation are also fairly hilarious.
Another thing that I think will get the audience invested is the intimacy of the play. Helen and Diana are telling the audience their story pretty directly and they have a lot of fun doing so, so I hope that will make the audience root for them.
Why do you feel that female bisexual representation is so vital in theatre, and what effect do you think depicting it in the context of an affair has on this outlook?
I get where you’re coming from, there’s been a fair share of media with bisexual characters stuck in affairs. And the bisexual women in those pieces of media will often either a) leave that affair to be with a man, b) be left for a man or the ever popular option c) simply die. I totally understand if that leaves you a bit wary when you read what How We Begin is about. What I think and hope we do better though, is that we examine what secrecy does to a relationship, does to you as a queer person and what effects it can have on your perception of yourself. I tried to approach this topic with as much nuance as possible and fully aware of the bisexual representation that’s come before.
I also firmly believe that queer characters don’t always have to be role models and that queer stories should be allowed to be messy, because finding yourself is gloriously messy. Personally, I would have loved more bisexual characters to look up to while I was coming out, if simply to feel less alone, so if How We Begin makes anyone feel even a little seen, I’ll be very happy.
How do you anticipate audiences reacting as the story unfolds?
Let’s just say, there may be some moments you won’t see coming and hopefully some that will make your heart-beat a little faster (in the best way!).
Why should people come to see the show?
First of all, I think people should come to see How We Begin because they’ll have a good night out at the theatre. It’s a really funny play despite the premise and we’ve got two fantastic performers in Talia Pick and Emma Lucia, who make the most of the humour but also know just how to land the more emotional moments. And if you’re after an exploration of bisexuality and coming out in your mid-twenties, I think you’ll have an especially good time with How We Begin.
Big thanks to Elisabeth for such great answers, and best wishes for the show- I'm really looking forward to seeing and reviewing it soon!
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Additional thanks to Elisabeth Benbow for coordinating this interview.