Interview with BUTTERFLY director Sam Jones

Director, Sam Jones, tells us about his new show BUTTERFLY.

Tell us about BUTTERFLY and where the idea came from.

BUTTERFLY is a new play opening at Bristol’s The Loco Klub, about a band of queer misfits who said no when the world threatened to push their voices deeper underground. From a drag queen fighting in World War I, to the radical lesbian ‘menaces’ of the 70’s, these stories establish a sense of community from across time.

The idea came from a conversation I had with an older man from the LGBT community about his experience of growing up. Even though I knew a bit about queer history, hearing someone tell these stories from such a human perspective – how it felt, what he had for breakfast that morning – struck me. I realised that that’s how these stories should be told: from a very human-led approach.

The stories we’ve selected range from loud-and-proud activism to individual acts of defiance – so we have a really simple love story in there, alongside a narrative about a Stonewall, alongside a narrative about a drag queen in the Navy. But even in the big political events, we’ve tried to find the underlying human decisions. It’s not about what happened in the Stonewall riots, it’s about who was there, who threw that brick or who held that person’s hand.

Who’s working on the project?

BUTTERFLY is directed by myself, Sam Jones. A filmmaker turned theatre maker, winning the British Film Institute’s ‘most promising newcomer’ award in 2015, I’ve since created short films nominated for awards at BAFTA/Oscar qualifying festivals around the world. My most recent project was Yandass, a dance film commissioned by Channel 4 with music by electronic duo Underworld. BUTTERFLY is my third venture into theatre, having directed BIRD by Katherine Chandler earlier this year in Bristol’s warehouse space, the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, with my theatre company ‘Bedlam Chorus’.

Working alongside me is Clodagh Chapman, BUTTERFLY’s Narrative Director. The play is a real living beast, because in rehearsals we’re constantly coming up with new ideas, so Clodagh’s role is to research and write parts of the play in advance, then draw pieces together in the rehearsal room, and ultimately to speak for the text. Recently making the Pint-Sized Plays 2018 longlist, Clodagh’s work has previously been performed on both fringe and main-house stages across the UK. In 2014, her piece Sweet, Fitting and Glorious was performed on the BBC World War One at Home Tour, and in 2016 her short play Absolute was given a two-week run at the award-winning Chickenshed Theatre, with whom she now works extensively as a writer and dramaturg. More recently, Clodagh wrote and directed an inalienable right – a verbatim production exploring LGBT subjectivity post-Section-28.

And the glue that keeps BUTTERFLY together is Benjamin Orr, our producer. Benjamin has been producing theatre on the fringe circuit since 2016, producing for the Edinburgh, Camden and Manchester Fringe, VAULT Festival in addition to projects in independent theatres in Bristol and London. Gaining momentum on a fringe level, his productions have toured the UK and internationally. His previous work has been primarily LGBT-focused, consistently receiving glowing reviews from renowned organisations: including the Huffington Post, the Observer, the Times and the Scotsman.

And, of course, as BUTTERFLY is a devised production, the characters and stories have been totally led and created by the cast. We decided to make up our cast wholly of actors under the age of 22, because we thought it was interesting to have what looks like a younger queer community of today playing the people of yesterday. It really represents how all these stories of the past have combined and collected together to create the landscape of the present community – it asks, “what now”?

Why do you think these stories are important to tell?

The stories in BUTTERFLY are important because LGBT stories tend to be either ignored or told only in terms of big, historical events. Large-scale LGBT histories are obviously really important, but what makes BUTTERFLY special is that we’re showing the humanity in those histories – the stories are very much emotion-led, rather than it feeling like a history lesson.

What has the process been like and what have been your biggest challenges?

With just four weeks from research to writing to directing and choreographing, it’s been crazy, but really exciting and really fulfilling! We’d start off by taking some material that we or the research team had found, or an interview that we’d conducted, into the rehearsal room. And then in the room with the cast, we’d start finding a physicality or a voice to the character, which is then written live by Clodagh, tapping away in the corner. So at the end of every rehearsal, we have a new script to work off, and the next time we come in that’s refined and refined and refined. The play is very much something that is constantly evolving and shifting, and there’s been a real dialogue between everyone on the production.

Because the rehearsal room has been this cool environment where we just create and create and create lots of stuff, and because with devised theatre we’re not working to a script, the challenge is to then say “Okay, what is the story here? What do the audience need to know?”, because that has to come first. Every narrative in the play could have been a full play in and of itself, so for us it’s been a case of staying true to what BUTTERFLY is about and how we can best serve that.

What do you hope the audience will leave with?

We want the audience to come away with not a sense that they’ve just experienced eight stories which don’t link together, but that there is a relationship between them which says something bigger about how people’s actions can influence others, even across time. There are these secret links we leave the audience, like a trail of breadcrumbs for them to piece them together. And there is a reason for all these stories to exist underground in the Loco Klub, which I won’t reveal now, but they’re collated in a way which is interesting and experimental and fun and which says something more than presenting them in isolation.

And hopefully it’ll be really exciting to watch! BUTTERFLY is told boldly through monologue, dance and music. It’s visceral and raw, but also surprisingly funny and uplifting – it’s a cacophony of passion, love and rebellion, and we hope audiences will really feel that.

BUTTERFLY is on at The Loco Klub from Tuesday 5th to Thursday 7th March. Find out more and buy your tickets here.

Photo credit Guy Woods