Playwright Charlie Josephine on Birds and Bees at the Crucible
Words: Heather Paterson
This month, I had the pleasure of catching up with the incredibly charismatic and stubbornly joyful playwright Charlie Josephine, who spoke to me on the eve of the launch night of their play ‘Birds and Bees’, which is currently showing at Sheffield Crucible until 11th Feb.
Click and it’s gone — too far, too fast. Explicit photos go public, real-world consequences of virtual life go viral and so does everyone’s opinion. Leilah is wondering if her Instagram is more of a burden than ‘living her best life’. Billy’s queer and proud but ignored by the education system; they’re tired of feeling invisible. Aarron is learning how to be a man online and it’s starting to feel toxic. And Maisy, well Maisy’s not that into sex, thank you very much. Thrown together, these four confront their differences and realise their power to make change. This is the story of Birds and Bees told by Charlie Josephine.
Charlie tells me that they knew that they wanted to write about sex education as it is a subject they are passionate about, having seen the damage done by shame passed down over the generations, often by those who received no or inadequate education in this area. They spoke about how it’s not just focusing on sex but the ability to have honest conversations – a skill that every human needs – and the potential for the ripple effect of telling those stories to create positive change.
Most of Charlie’s work is about working-class women and queer people. They are queer, trans and proudly working class and wanted to write something for their younger self, telling the stories that they didn’t have – but really needed – growing up.
They have done a lot of work on their own mental health but are now in a place where they are happy on both a personal and professional level. Conscious of the transphobia and negativity prevalent in the press, Charlie wants to share this joy with young people. They love being queer and trans, detailing how it is “incredible to know who you are, to live your truth,” and they wish that for everybody.
This story was written for young people, to share that message of hope and positivity and say “you can be who you are, it’s ok, keep going”. We spoke about how, with this in mind, the play was developed using the input of young people, which was fundamental in keeping the play fresh and age-appropriate. Sceptical of memories of the “cringe” theatre companies that came into their school when they were young, Charlie spoke highly of the creative team they worked with during this process who were really political and on the pulse, feeding into their excitement to take the story to young people. They also praised the many smart, funny and political young people they spoke with during the development of the play.
Bird and Bees focuses on the stories of four young people who Charlie was keen to ensure represented as much diversity as possible, so all young people could relate in some way to at least one of them. We spoke about the importance of queer representation but also that not all of the characters and audience will be queer: good sex education is important for everyone so the story is told with something for everyone regardless of who you are or how you identify. Ultimately, it is excellent contemporary theatre that Charlie is really proud of; they have produced brave, bold work with something that anyone interested in theatre or music can get excited about.
Charlie is inspired by music and dance, speaking about that buzzy feeling you get in your body at a gig and wanting that same feeling to come through the medium of theatre. As someone with ADHD and dyslexia, they are consciously aware of the need for physical communication beyond just the use of words, so they ensure that all of their work incorporates abstract movement. “If an actor isn’t sweaty at the end of the show, they haven’t done their job right!”
Charlie speaks about their experience of being a working-class queer person working in the world of theatre: class often being a major factor in the middle-class arts world, walking into venues and wondering if those spaces are for them, the exhaustion that results from places that haven’t done the work backstage to address the required cultural change to ensure everyone is included. Will a security guard follow you around, what’s the situation with the toilets, dressing rooms, etc – quite simply, will you feel welcome?
However, they spoke positively about the experience of their current work and team, the excitement of seeing more space created for trans and queer people and specifically the positive influence of work undertaken by organisations including Gendered Intelligence and All About Trans in this area. Things are changing, and progress may be slow, but they are optimistic about the future.
And things are looking bright in Charlie’s future as well. Following their Birds and Bees run, their next play Flies opens at Shoreditch Town Hall next month – a story of young women becoming aware of the male gaze for the first time – and they tell us that there are more exciting things to come later in the year.
One thing is for certain, if just a fraction of Charlie’s passion and enthusiasm comes across in the performance, you are guaranteed a good evening.
Birds and Bees is currently showing at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre until 11th February. Tickets and more info are available here.