Interview: 10-minutes with Gracefool Collective

Wednesday 10 May 2017

We talk cake in the face, collaboration and body language with the talented choreographers-come-comedians Gracefool Collective.

How and why did Gracefool Collective form?

Gracefool formed in 2013 out of a desire to make the work we wanted to see ourselves; clever, witty, genre-busting work that says something real. Our work is about serious stuff, without taking itself too seriously.

We came together as friends during our training as we were all interested in creating cross-disciplinary work and breaking away from a traditional contemporary dance mould. Three years later we work on an entirely collaborative basis: we create collaboratively, we perform collaboratively and we write, design, devise, direct, manage, market, fundraise, budget, tweet, tour book, teach, schmooze, promote and play collaboratively.

How do you approach your work as a collective?

We believe in collective and non-hierarchical structures as a radical tool for social and political change. Creating collaboratively is obviously not the most economical structure – all creative decisions take four times as long when everyone has their say – but the ability to bounce ideas off each other one, two or three times is something that is incredibly enriching for the creative process. Ultimately, we think this makes our work better and more layered.

Your work has been described as ‘comedy dance’. How do you create choreography with comedy in mind?

I think most of the comedy that comes out in our work stems from the fact that we are friends and we joke a lot with each other. Some of our best ideas have been born when we’ve been sat around our kitchen table, making stupid jokes and having what Kate calls ‘lols and banter’.

We never intended to make ‘comedy dance’, but it seems that we just can’t refrain from letting the atmosphere of humour and laughter seep into our work. We’re also interested in creating choreography that reflects on our society, and in satirising and undermining some of what we see as oppressive power structures using humour, as we feel this can be a powerful tool. And we generally find that a lot of habits that we have as humans are funny when you take them out of context and put them on stage.

You’re bringing your show This Really is too Much to Camden People’s Theatre in May. What is your favourite moment in the show and why?

Rebecca ‘I really enjoy performing the intro to the piece where we all speak in unison dressed in identical black turtle necks and smart trousers. I feel like on a subtle Meta level it says something brilliant about our collective working practice – we’re four different individuals that manage to speak in perfect unison. Ah, beauty.’

Kate ‘I have a duet with Sofia in which I clamber all over her reciting a brilliant speech – I can say that because we didn’t write it, it’s by trans writer and activist Kate Bornstein – about pronouns, whilst Sofia attempts to make a convincing thank you speech. It’s actually the only bit of text in the piece we didn’t write ourselves, but I love how intricate and witty and well-crafted Kate Bornstein’s writing is and it’s always fun to perform because of this. And because I get to climb on Sofia.’

Sofia ‘I really enjoy all the little contradictory moments in the piece where we say one thing verbally but show something else with our physicality. For example, when Kate is standing on my back after pushing me down but I’m still saying ‘It just feels so good to be where I am today, thank you’ or when Rachel is doing her beauty queen speech trying to say important and serious things but undermines herself with her body language.’

Rachel ‘There’s a disco section in the piece that takes an unexpected turn. I’m not moving at this point, so I get to watch the others dance a disco routine like you’ve never seen before. I won’t give too much away, but it’s always a great feeling to watch the others perform and remind myself just how funny they are. It feels really exciting to be up on stage with them.’

What’s your advice for other aspiring comedy dance choreographers?

Cake in the face is always funny! Jokes aside, I think we’re often told – those of us who have trained in ‘the arts’ in some capacity – to stay away from the obvious. But I think the obvious and straightforward can be the most effective when you want to be funny. Laughing is something spontaneous and is often a reaction to something you know a lot about. If you try and obscure a joke too much, it is probably not a joke.

Also put the things you think are funny into your work. If you think it’s funny, chances are that other people will think it’s funny too. The moments which are funny and tragic we find are often the ones which have most impact.

What’s next for Gracefool Collective?

We will be going to Edinburgh Fringe in August as we have been selected for Underbelly Untapped, which is a programme that supports and mentors fantastic pieces of new writing (which we’re pretty pleased about as a dance company!)

We’re doing a full run from the 4th to the 27th, with a preview on the 3rd, of August and we’re majorly excited about it, and also a little bit scared. It’s a big financial risk going to Edinburgh so we will be running a Kickstarter from the 13th of May, as well as putting on two events in Leeds to help us raise funds.

Gracefool Collective will be performing This Really is too Much Camden People’s Theatre Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 May.

This really is too much from CC on Vimeo.

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