Sunday, 19 April 2015

Interview: Franki Le-Voguer, writer and director of The Plumbing

“...but through all the fanny farts, struggling with buttons and cleaning up, sex should be about passion, desire and an 
uncontrollable, mutual expression of emotion.”

Meet Franki Le-Voguer, a 20-year-old Drama student at Liverpool Hope University. This year, Franki directed her first ever play, The Plumbing. We had a chat about all things sex, characters and just why The Plumbing has been described as “the voice of a generation.” 

So, what is The Plumbing about?
It’s about the lack of sex education in schools. I know that I for one never got enough education on relationships, consent or dealing with the emotional complications of sex. What a lot of people get taught is what I call The Plumbing, where they’ll say “this is a womb” - NOT EVEN A VAGINA! A WOMB! - “this is a penis and this is how to put a condom on.” From this, I knew that I wanted to write my first play about exactly how the sex education system affects our generation’s perception of sex. 

What did you aim to achieve with the play?
I hated how I started to see a pattern in my own sexual experiences and I’m not ashamed to admit: most teenagers get their sex ed from porn, which creates this twisted perception of what sex should be like. Sex shouldn’t be about porn star moans, shaved vaginas or coming on someone’s face. It’s messy, for one, but through all the fanny farts, struggling with buttons and cleaning up, sex should be about passion, desire and an uncontrollable, mutual expression of emotion.

“Would people still want threesomes if they hadn’t seen them in porn? Would girls still wear suspenders and make-up to have sex in if it wasn’t expected on TV and film? I couldn’t answer these, but I aimed to explore them through The Plumbing.”

Another issue I wanted to tackle was sexuality. Growing up with LGBT influences, I felt it was unfair that people felt forced to “pick a side” when exploring their own sexuality. This message ended up rolling in with the play’s themes about sex and how it shouldn’t matter what people have in their pants, as long as it’s safe, consensual and you’re passionate about the person. Whilst being mindful of how your actions may affect others, you should feel free to have sex with whoever you want.

When did you begin to write the play?
I wrote one scene between Vera and Will two years ago, which was on my laptop forever. Then last term one of my course mates, Jonny, wrote a fantastic musical last term called "Happily Ever After?" and it really inspired me to get on with this dream I'd pushed aside for years. I finally thought, you know what, I can do this. I then wrote it over the course of two coffee-fuelled all-nighters!


Was this your first time directing?
Yes, it was completely terrifying! I’ve done a course with 20 Stories High on directing and, of course, been directed as an actor myself, but I honestly just kind of threw things at the wall and hoped they’d stick! It was a struggle, but my cast were fabulous and came to every rehearsal full of ideas and enthusiasm. I must continue to thank Matthew Plummer, who came in late in the process and really helped me out with the directing. I'd love to direct another play now that I've learnt so much from him. 

What was the response like before/after the play?
It was the response before the play that drove me to complete it. I held a read-through of the first draft, and everybody loved it. After the play, I was overwhelmed! The response was phenomenal. It had the exact reaction I was hoping for. People of all ages and genders (including my mum!) commented on how relatable the play was and it sparked debate on all the topics I wanted to highlight. 

The most amazing thing was the play being called ‘the voice of a generation’ on Twitter by Perform L8. I think that The Plumbing raised a lot of issues that many people my age never really got the chance to talk about. There were definitely a few light bulbs going off in the audiences both nights, like “Oh, fuck, of course!”

Why is it so important that we talk about sex?
Because we’re taught not to! I was lucky enough to grow up with friends who were open about sex, relationships and dealing with each other’s emotions. But I also encountered people who didn’t have that and had some absolute horror stories. (Even I had terrible experiences that I look back on now and cringe.) 

I think relationship and consent education are both so vital too. In the play, Vera says no to sex multiple times until giving in and saying “alright.” It’s an experience that unfortunately, many of us have gone through, and it’s not right. ‘No’ should mean no the first time.

Vera very much liked the partner in question, but she wasn’t ready for, or educated on, the decision she was pressured to make, and that’s the real issue I wanted to highlight with this play.

Who’s your favourite female character in it?
Definitely Vera! I’m biased though. She started off as a vehicle for my own voice, but after the first scene was written she became entirely her own character and I actually ended up disagreeing with her quite a lot! Incidentally, that's where the character of Jodie came from. In scene 2, Vera challenges Jodie as to why she likes being tied up by her boyfriend, as in her eyes it's a patriarchal practice about dominance and loss of power, but Jodie retaliates by saying how she does it because they trust and love each other, and it's something they both enjoy. I think that's important to remember, too. 

Do you think 14-year-old Franki would’ve benefited from seeing The Plumbing?
Absolutely! The whole concept was about writing something I wish I’d seen when I was a teenager. I will whole-heartedly disagree with anyone who says we shouldn't get more sex and relationship education in schools. I would ask anyone with that opinion to see The Plumbing, and get them to look me in the eye and tell me that they hadn't wished they'd seen it when they were younger.

Will you be taking the play any further?
I really hope so. My dream would be to see it tour schools and universities so that its message reaches out to the people who need it. My hope is that this play is recognised as a whole heap of questions that need to be discussed, not shoved away in a box somewhere. I wanted people to see the play and think 'Fuck, that's what I was missing,' and that's exactly what happened.

Are you writing any more plays? If so, what?
I am! I’ve written an extract for a play called Bye, about the pressures put on people who identify as bisexual. I'm also really excited to start writing a piece that's currently called Woman in Tracksuit, inspired by a talk I went to by the founder of Vagenda Magazine. It's about a woman who is in perfectly happy relationship, but consistently follows ridiculous sex tips from Cosmo in the hopes of 'pleasing her man.' 

"I've discovered that I love writing comedy around serious issues, I love the idea of people laughing at something then going home and thinking 'hang on, that's actually a pretty good point.' I think that style comes from my personal character: if you can't cry about it, you might as well laugh."



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