Behind the scenes with Papergang Theatre
Papergang Theatre is part of the producing team behind Harajuku Girls. A champion of new writing and East Asian talent, they found themselves perfectly placed to work with Francis Turnly on this particular play. We caught up with co-founder Simon Ly to ask him more about Papergang’s ethos, history and that leap of faith when a play comes off the paper page and onto the living stage.
Harajuku Girls is a showcase of British East Asian talent, both on and off stage. How did that come about?
We’ve known Francis for years. We came across each other in the Unheard Voices group at the Royal Court in 2011 and just got chatting. I say chatting, we did an exercise where we realised we had the same absurd sense of humour as we tried to outdo each other. We turned it into a posh version of Cards Against Humanity. He’s always been a brilliant writer and we’ve got lots of faith in his ability. When we were finally in a position to work together it was a no brainer. Only took us 4 years.
What do you think the play is about?
Japan. A hyper real Japan seen through the eyes of three girls. From the music, to the set, to the elaborate costumes, this is all about bringing Japanese popular culture to the theatre scene. The play is working with a different storytelling technique that’s common place in Japanese pop culture but has rarely been seen on stage before. The joy is seeing how we can transfer that narrative on to the stage. It’s a fun and ambitious play.
Minority representation in the arts is a pretty hot issue these days. How does Harajuku Girls fit into that?
At Papergang Theatre, we’re a firm believer that it all starts with the writer. Representation, stereotyping, lack of opportunities, all these issues can be solved through brilliant writing from diverse voices. The only way that we can get quality writing is if we continually scour the community for great writers and then help them write the best thing they can possibly write. It’s why we run new writing workshops, it’s why we continue to champion BEA writers, it’s why we want to work with people like Francis.
And last but not least, why should everyone come to see the show?
Come along, see the show. We are selling out which proves that there is an audience for British East Asian work. We have a stellar cast with Haruka Abe, Elizabeth Tan and Kunjue Li and under the direction of the talented Jude Christian they really have run with it.
We are finding a new audience beyond the regular theatre goer, people who are first timers to fringe theatre. Not that we ever take the regulars for granted but we will always strive for fresh new voices. Perhaps because the play is so different it naturally that means that we find a new audience. The feedback we get from the crowd is great and there really is nothing like Harajuku Girls on stage at the moment. This interest does mean that tickets are going fast, so grab them while you can.
Thanks Simon for your time.