Yve Blake is an award winning playwright, composer, screenwriter, performer, and absolute all-round legend of a human.
She’s presented and developed work with some of Australia’s most iconic companies, such as Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, and Griffin Theatre Company. In London, she’s developed and presented work at The Barbican, Southbank Centre, Soho Theatre, Old Vic New Voices, Bush Theatre and the National Theatre Studio. She’s an alumni of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme, and has been a visiting artist at Princeton University. She’s even done a TED Talk.
Her magnum opus, FANGIRLS, has absolutely swept the world off its feet, premiering in 2019 to sell-out crowds, rave reviews, and winning a Sydney Theatre Award, Matilda Award, and AWGIE award. Yve is responsible for the music, lyrics, and book for the show, and she starred in its initial run. Like I said, an absolute legend.
FANGIRLS follows 14 year old Edna, who would quite literally die for her favourite band in the universe, True Connection, and their lead singer Harry. When I asked if there was a defining moment that inspired her writing the show, Yve recounted:
The impetus for the show was twofold. Five years ago I met this 13 year old who told me really confidently she was going to marry Harry Styles. I just was so impressed by how sure she was. And when I looked at her, she was like, “Don’t laugh at me. I’m really serious. Like, I would slit someone’s throat to be with him.” And at the time I was an adult woman who had never been a fangirl, so the idea of fandom was really foreign to me; I was an outsider. So I began researching, I guess, out of morbid curiosity. But quickly that curiosity really changed from being like, “oh, this is interesting because it’s weird to me.”, and I became interested in Fangirls for a different reason. I started to notice that when fangirls were in the news, they were always described as as ‘hysterical’, ‘crazy’, ‘over the top’, ‘psycho’, and ‘scary’ – And I began to ask myself, would these journalists use the same words if they weren’t describing what they assume is a group of young women? Would they use those words to describe a group of young men upset about something that had happened in sport? And I just realised that what’s more interesting about fangirls isn’t exploring like how crazy they can be, but actually the fact that the world minimizes young women when they express their interest.
The world of fandoms isn’t explicitly a new one (Beatlemania comes to mind), but has definitely become more prevalent and visible in recent years due to the uptake of social media. However, the concept really hasn’t been touched on in the world of theatre, let alone musical theatre. Yve laments about how as a teenage theatre-goer, she felt out of place in an audience filled with rich, old, white people, not feeling like she belonged; another major consideration for when she wrote FANGIRLS. “I knew I could tell a story that could connect with multiple generations at once, which is a huge goal of mine. I’ve always wanted to make work that brings people into theatre that shouldn’t necessarily have gotten into it otherwise. My whole life I’ve wanted to make a show that 14-year-old me would have loved to pieces, and would have been able to get her friends to come to because they’d have loved it.”
But even so, the show isn’t just for the diehard fangirls. It’s for anyone who’s been passionate about something, totally and emphatically obsessed beyond any logical reason. It’s for the insecurities all teens face. It’s for the parents having to deal with their angsty kids. It’s for the queer kids growing up in a world of binary, only hearing boy bands sing about the girls they love. “The goal with this work was to make something that was extremely inclusive, and kind of an anecdote to all the ways I was disappointed with theatre as a teenager,” Yve comments.
Yve has spent over 4 years developing the show, conducting interviews with fangirls and everyone in their orbit. Conceptually it’s completely original, and structurally quite unconventional for music theatre standards, mashing together the typical 2-act structure with a momentary boy band concert. There’s a mix of musical styles, some incredibly impressive multimedia effects, and clever doubling of actors to maximise the small cast.
Oftentimes making risky moves can cause trouble for a new show, but like a group of sugar-fuelled teenagers at a One Direction concert, uniqueness can be unifying. “This was an original musical, not based on a book, not based on a movie, written by me, an unknown Aussie woman in her then early twenties. It was a big risk for our producers – no one on our core team has even done a musical before. But I think it paid off. I think our lack of experience meant that we broke rules because we didn’t know they existed.”
The show has continually amassed a following since its 2019 premiere, with the current tour no exception – even extending internationally, with the show having fan pages set up from countries all over the world. The 2021 remount introduces some new faces to the original cast: Karis Oka (Edna), Danielle Barnes (Caroline), Shubshri Kandiah (Brianna), Tomáš Kantor (Swing), and Shannen Alyce Quan (Swing) are joining Aydan Calafiore (Harry), Chika Ikogwe (Jules), Ayesha Madon (Lily), and James Majoos (Saltypringl) for a sassy, loud, unapologetic 2-and-a-half hours of love, drama, and boy bands.
Although the show has been a critical success, Yve notes that the development process was incredibly difficult. Writing a musical was not something that she was experienced or comfortable with, and often would let her inner critic discourage her. Thankfully, she somehow got rid of them (I didn’t ask how), resulting in the smash-hit of a musical currently touring the country.
I spent years of my life obsessed with musicals, but a voice in my head was like “Well, that’s a shame, because you’ll never be able to write one. You don’t know how to play an instrument. That’s not an option for you…” I would talk to myself in my head as though that was a fact. I think if you have an idea for a show, and you feel that something is holding you back, just re-evaluate what you have decided is and isn’t possible – because if an idiot like me can write a whole bloody musical and not play an instrument, then anything is possible.
FANGIRLS plays at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse from April 28th.
For tickets and more information, visit the ACM Website.
Click here to pre-save the FANGIRLS cast recording, coming April 30th.