The Bloomsbury Collective is a group of female artists who are passionate about creating art. And about Virginia Woolf. Opening next week, this collection of women take on an immersive stage adaptation of “A Room of One’s Own“, arguably Woolf’s most famous piece of literature. Naomi Wright (who plays Woolf in the show) gives us the skinny on the show, the Collective and what’ll be different about this production.
1. Can you explain why the “immersive” experience was chosen for this play? How does it tell the story better?
When our audience arrives at Campbell House we want them to feel that they are stepping into Girton Women’s College in 1928 to hear Virginia Woolf give this famous speech for the first time.
This is a theatrical Girton of course! Our head of the ODTAA Society (One Damn Thing After Another Society), Kayla Lorette, will welcome guests who can enjoy live music, a cash bar, and light hors d’oeuvres. Guests will also have the chance to look around the “college” – to look through the books in the library, to read the papers (November 1928 ed.), and to see Virginia Woolf’s accommodation where her personal effects are.
We decided to create this immersive experience for several reasons.
First the idea of creating an ultra-realistic theatre piece excited us as artists.
Second, the historical and political context of 1928 deepens the impact of how revolutionary Woolf’s words are. It also helps us pose the question: how far have women come in terms of achieving gender equality since 1928? And finally and maybe most importantly we wanted to emphasize what a deeply personal story it is.
Virginia Woolf led an extraordinary life – full of passion, and deep deep pain, and frustration, and glory. We think “A Room of One’s Own” is thick with the impact of these experiences. Some of them are said outright and some are bubbling beneath the surface. We make acting choices about how to play this inner life, but we don’t have the opportunity to share all these fascinating things we unearth when we do our research. We wanted to find a way to share this with our audience in a theatrical way.
2. The first hour of the show allows guests to investigate Virginia Woolf themselves – through reading articles, etc. What is the second hour comprised of?
The second half of the show is the actual performance of Patrick Garland’s stage adaptation of “A Room of One’s Own“. This play had a very successful run both in London and New York, as well as at The Shaw Festival several years ago.
At 7:45, armed with all this context, our audience will make their way to the ballroom to see the play. It truly is one of the most profound pieces of theatre I’ve ever worked on.
3. What is something about Viginia Woolf that you didn’t know before developing this play?
I didn’t know how funny Woolf was. What a sharp wit she had. I didn’t know that she had been sexually abused by her half brothers.
I DID know that she had had female lovers and that she had truly been in love with Vita Sackville West. I DIDN’T know that Vita had accompanied her to Girton to hear “A Room of One’s Own”. I found that out when I visited Girton College last winter! There is a place in the text that was blown wide open for me with that idea.
I didn’t know that Woolf’s depression – which eventually led her to take her own life – often manifested itself in extraordinary ways. When she was a child and went through “an episode” she said she could hear the birds speaking in Greek.
I guess I didn’t know a whole lot! And I’m sure if I spent the rest of my life just researching her it wouldn’t be enough.
4. How do you think Woolf has influenced female writers that came after her?
The truth about “A Room of One’s Own” is that, although the anecdotes in the play are about women writers, the idea is far bigger than that. It is about women staking their place in the world, no matter who they are. And about refusing to make yourself smaller so that other people can feel bigger. For not believing people when they tell you that you can’t do something because of your gender, or your race, or your sexual orientation. The scope of this work is huge. The hairs on my arms stand on end even as I think about it!
Woolf is a masterful writer – I would say a genius. She spins worlds in her hands and each one keeps spinning until she has them all in the air, and then somehow she brings them all together in one.
I think that Woolf probably articulated better than anyone else what many women were feeling in the 1920s – especially writers – and that’s why this particular piece of writing became so iconic. And I think as a writer Woolf influenced both male and female writers immensely.
We’re actually going to have professor Garry Leonard from U of T, lead a Talk Back Salon after our November 17th show to speak more about her impact as a writer!
5. Can you talk a bit more about Bloomsbury Collective? With so many theatre companies in Toronto, what will set it apart from others?
Well basically The Bloomsbury Collective is an Equity Co-Op made up of a group of theatre professionals who have come together for this project to create something we really believe in. This is a project of passion for us. Sarah and I started this ball rolling and we have managed to collect the most exceptional team. And the amazing thing, and not entirely deliberate, is that we are all women. Right down to Kaycee Vandenberg who is our graphic designer. Which is not very common in any industry, and certainly not the theatre.
One of the most disturbing things that Woolf says in the essay, and that we found in our research even about women today, is that women are harder on women than men are. I don’t know why. I don’t know that it’s true across the board. But it is something worth thinking about. And so when Sarah and I were creating dream lists of people we wanted involved, we made sure that idea was at the table with us.