Fawning is the fourth response in a moment of panic - fight flight, freeze, and fawn.

Vinnie Heaven

This week we were delighted to kick off our new series of Citz Talks. Chris Sonnex spoke with Vinnie Heaven and Debbie Hannan, the writer and director of our latest show, Faun. Grab a cuppa and relive our chat with Vinnie and Debbie about all things art, social justice and fawning We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did, and that you’ll be able to join us for our next Citz Talk! 

Chris: Tell us about Faun, how it came to be and your experience of working on it. 

Vinnie: Cardboard Citizens gave me the remit of shining a light on the trans youth homelessness crisis, which is a terrifying statistic in the UK right now (1 in 4 trans people in Britain experience homelessness at some point in their lives). Alongside it, there was always the idea of respectfully making that as joyful as possible. So, allowing people to see themselves and their lived experience mirrored, but at the same time, not having all those people leave and feel traumatised. 

I also thought, how can I make this as universal as possible? Fawning is the fourth response in a moment of panic – fight flight, freeze, and fawn. To fawn is to soften yourself and to make yourself more palatable to keep yourself safe; to agree with things that you wouldn’t normally or make yourself physically smaller, vocally smaller just to get through a particular situation that you’re in. This is something I think a lot of people can relate to, in micro ways and in macro ways.  

I couldn’t look at trans youth homelessness without going to The Outside Project (London’s LGBTQ+ shelter). We talked in terms of statistically what’s happening and the community that they build. In my head, I was thinking of all these young people that didn’t have homes, and they were talking to me about people who were 75 and were using their services, and how those generations were speaking to each other and learning from each other and how they had a community that was so brilliant and beautiful in such a hard time. I tried to put elders into the play who could speak to the young character that was going through homelessness, because I just thought it felt so essential.  

C: You had our Citz Futures trainees with you through the rehearsal process. How was that for you? 

Debbie: It was so great. Something Vinnie and I share is that as two people who didn’t have easy access to the arts and didn’t know the ways in, I think it’s an incredible thing for Citz to set up a scheme and a structure for people who want to access the industry. Because if you’ve not been in a rehearsal room, it’s very hard to imagine the process and you can’t picture yourself in a role there because you don’t even know what the roles are. The three people we had were incredible and brought the most astounding, stellar energy. We had three really skilled people make their presence felt in the process.  

C: What drew you to want to be an artist? 

V: I was in a school play when I was 11. And it’s a rare thing in life when you can feel a firework feeling in your body. I think you can be really young or much further on in your life. I can viscerally remember standing on stage in a sequined shirt as an 11-year-old and knowing that was it. I started to teach in youth theatres, which was phenomenal. in those spaces, you’re making and creating every single week for two hours a week for years. And then you come out the other side of it, and you’re a writer and a theatre maker, but completely organically and for free.  

At that time, people like me weren’t welcomed into drama schools. It was really difficult because you were asked to perform a gendered speech. And if you can’t sell yourself as one or the other, then you can’t get in. So, I had to do it through the back door. And it’s an incredibly difficult time for the industry. It’s really hard for everybody to financially afford their lives right now and it’s getting worse and worse.

D: Probably a combination of things. firstly, an unhappy childhood and because of that a great sense of imagination and escape. And also, a deep-rooted thing that comes up in all my work is, where’s the space to imagine different versions of the world? And that’s what every bit of art I’ve ever made is about. Theatre’s the place that we can exercise the muscle of imagining another thing, and imagining a different version of the way that we are together as people.  what I want to make always speaks to and about and about people who aren’t given spaces of power And it always seeks to undo that by imagining something else. 

That's the role of the artist in society. It's the fabric that binds us together. yes, we need the basics of survival, but the survival of the soul, is just as important.

Debbie Hannan

C: What do you feel is the role of art/artists in society?

D: I think it’s got a scarily important role. I think its role is to encourage thinkers and to encourage difference. Story and narrative is the most dangerous thing in the ‘wrong hands’. So we were sold a narrative from the top:if a billion people can create a new narrative, and we canstart to weave them together, then the top are going to be toppled. Story has always been the strongest way; it was the original way, in theory, that humans began bonding together, because it wasn’t just about growing just enough to keep ourselves going. It was like, how can we tell each other stories to bring people together, to create companies, religion and things that bring us together to then create more. it’s essential. It was right at the beginning of human beings, and it will be there until the end. That’s the role of the artist in society. It’s the fabric that binds us together. yes, we need the basics of survival, but the survival of the soul, is just as important.

But I’m, really worried for kids in schools now having it stripped from them, and having the spaces that they then access outside of school stripped back as well.  

V: I used to teach in a youth theatre in the Forest of Dean. it was it was an incredible group of 12 or 13 majority queer kids. it was the only space in a week that they could be who they are, wear the things that they wanted to wear and say the things that they needed to say. They had one and a half hours in a week to do that in. it’s closed now and there’s nothing in that area to replace it. it was a lifeblood. more than a space where you come and imagine and have fun. It’s community and it’s family and it’s belonging. And it’s a liberal space, where as a human being you can be welcomed.

C: What do you think about access and barriers to art and what we need to do better? 

V: Understanding that there are so many different lenses that people can have on life, because of who they are because of what they’ve been through. And if you can’t see a story that is through your lens, then then you’re missing out. And particularly at times where money is tough, institutions just go ‘what can we put on, that covers the masses, and has a celebrity in it?’. But then you’re only ever going to get the same people in the same seats looking at the same version of their story.  

D: I think for me, there’s the material barriers and the other thing that stops people accessing it is the thing that stopped me as a young person, which is thinking art isn’t for me. Even now, I still don’t always feel like it’s for me. And one of my massive goals, and all my work is to make sure that, you know, someone comes in that wasn’t in that theatre before. 

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