Emerging theatre companies of Wellington – Heartbreakers by Finlay Langelaan
Wellington is a melting pot of creatives. In our new emerging theatre companies of Wellington series, we explore what makes these passionate groups tick, and why they deserve your support. First up is Heartbreakers, an all-women troupe comprising Anna Barker, Abby Lyons, Alia Marshall, and Mia Oudes.
How did Heartbreakers first form?
Anna: It started at Victoria University when we did monologues. I saw Mia’s monologue and just went ‘Wow, I want to create something with her’. From there we approached Alia saying we had a script, we need a director, and they came on board. We had our first meeting and that’s when the lovely Abby came on as our producer.
We sat down in the foyer of Studio 77 filling out a Fringe application and needed a name. What’s something femme fatale and cool? We decided on Heartbreakers from that Marina and the Diamonds song, it was kind of a joke but also it kind of pops off.
Abby: We had this nice debrief after [our Fringe show] Conversations with the Ghost in my Bedroom where everyone went ‘Hey, this is super cool, I want to keep doing this’. Everyone was bouncing around, I would love to do this, I would love to do that, and that’s where the first spark of discussion about Midnight Confessions happened. ‘Ooh, maybe we should do a sleepover show, maybe something super fun and almost interactive’, and from there it just snowballed.
What would you say the Heartbreakers’ mission is?
Anna: Right from the beginning, our mission has been to open the gate to stories outside the male gaze, specifically showing female and non-binary perspectives.
Abby: The four of us came together and we wanted to create stuff that is for women, by women, about women. Opening that to non-binary people as well is something we’re still figuring out how to do with lots of guidance.
What have you achieved since the birth of Heartbreakers that you are most proud of?
Abby: We are putting work out into the world that we believe in. They’re very vulnerable stories that are very close to our hearts, whether that means in a positive way or a heartbreaking way. There’s nothing like putting creative work into the world that you feel ‘Yep, this is what I want to be making’. Truly there is nobody else I have worked with where I have felt as supported or as able to be truthful as I have with Heartbreakers.
Anna: We want to create shows that are and always will be female and non-binary led. There’s a habit of always working with the same people in the industry, which can often be male-dominated. Creating and facilitating a space where people know they won’t be talked over, their ideas will be valued, and there is a foundation of love and belief in one another. Midnight Confessions is for all those girls in school that always had to play boys. I’m proud that we can make work for the women and non-binary people who didn’t always have a role in drama in school, or who were always typecast.
What’s next for Heartbreakers?
Abby: We’re not doing Fringe, but off the back of Midnight Confessions and Trifles we’ve really found what a Heartbreakers show is. We’re just looking to grow from there. We don’t want to stop making theatre, there’s talk of expanding into other forms of media. Now that we have a nice idea of what our stamp is we’re really getting into our stride.
Is that the dream, to keep going and producing works?
Abby: Isn’t it every creative’s dream to put work out into the world that you’re proud of and believe in wholeheartedly? I think now that we know where we excel and where we need to improve, we’re now looking to what the next challenge is. What’s going to help us continue to grow and help us make stuff to an even better standard, reach even more people.
You’ve got three shows under your belt. What are some of the challenges that you have overcome already in your journey?
Anna: The infamous review of Conversations. Spoilers, there’s a character who is almost sexually assaulted at a party and is playing it off as a joke. Her sister goes ‘That’s cooked, if you’re making light of this that’s an example to women everywhere’, which the reviewer called a ‘non-event’. Overcoming that immediate backlash to us putting something out there, especially from another woman, was a big challenge.
At the same time, it was a catalyst for realising that the work we’re doing and want to keep doing is sparking conversation. We’re now being very careful with our process. With Midnight Confessions we made sure we got in lots of different perspectives. We did a little preview and got lots of really helpful feedback, things we never would have even thought of.
Abby: On a more basic level of all young creatives, there’s the lack of funding. We would love Heartbreakers to be our full-time job, but we don’t yet have the capacity for that. We all wrote, directed, produced, performed, we try to rehearse three times a week, and we’re all working full time. That balance is an immense challenge.
Anna: When you’re emerging, you don’t have a name behind you to pull out and get your funding. It’s purely on the often-hypothetical work that you want to create, which is entirely subjective. When you’re devising, you don’t know what the work is going to be in the end, so you just hope for the best.
What advice would you give to a new company?
Abby: Find the people that you click with creatively. You find those people, you stick with them, you share respect, and you can continue to work together. Finding those people is the first step. Be honest with yourself about what you want to make. What theatre do you love and why? Maybe it’s funny clowning stuff, and that’s awesome. It doesn’t have to be super profound and solve world issues. Don’t be afraid to lean on people for support. Don’t go ‘I’m an emerging artist, I’m on my own now’. That tutor that you got on with, that mate that’s really good with lights, hit them up.
Anna: Take little bits of what you appreciate about other people and incorporate them into your own working practice so you can constantly improve yourself as a collaborator. If you’re wanting to start a company, build it on a foundation of honesty, and don’t be afraid of not clicking with people.
Have you had any mentors on your journey?
Abby: Cass and James [Cassandra Tse and James Cain] from Red Scare Theatre Company have been so supportive, they’re constantly open to providing us with opportunities, whether that’s one-off work experiences, contracts under their company, or just advice. The number of emails I’ve sent to Cass going ‘I have no idea how this thing works’ and they’ve given me guidance on it. They’ve written us letters of support and just generally been so kind. Especially after that review, so many people were there for us but James and Cass in particular.
Anna: David O’Donnell and the Vic theatre department have been incredible too, letting us come in and borrow things. We wouldn’t be able to make theatre at this level without them. I can’t wait for the day we can give that forward.
We touched on this briefly with the ‘Heartbreakers stamp’. What is your style?
Abby: From a dramaturgical perspective, there’s a consistent theme of using a lovely blend of comedy and joy to bring people in, and then open our hearts in a vulnerable way. Whether that’s to touch on something deeper or just to share something raw, we love going from silliness to ‘Got ‘em, now you’re crying’. Our style is nostalgic, present, feminine joy. So much love for women, really. We just be lovin’.
Oh, and Anna always paints something horrific. In Conversations it was a picture of Jesus, in Midnight Confessions it was a cursed drawing of Harry Styles.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Heartbreakers?
Abby: One more piece of advice: don’t be afraid to give different roles a go. If you are in a supportive environment and you’ve got people to back you up and help you out, the best way to learn is by doing. I remember the start of Confessions I was terrified to write anything, but I was supported and guided by the lovely Heartbreakers, and now it’s something I’m interested in. Try different things, figure it out as you go.
Anna: We’ve discovered we love working in a non-hierarchical environment. In traditional, particularly Western, theatre forms it’s very much director, writer, blah blah blah, actors at the bottom. But being able to have agency over directing, writing, design, and acting is extremely important. We want our work to reflect all four of us creatively. We want all voices heard.