Madeline Gould and Joel Samuels have both written monologues for characters on a date without conferring. Greyscale is a voyeuristic theatrical experience explores the rituals and minefields of dating in a post #MeToo era. With a rotating cast, both characters will be variously played by men and women as heterosexual and same-sex couples. 

Grey scale is at VAULT Festival 2nd February to 17th March 2019. 

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You’re bringing Greyscale to VAULT Festival, what can you tell us about it?

JOEL: Greyscale is a unique and intimate exploration of power-dynamics and sexual consent. It focuses on the perceived grey area where a bad date meets sexual assault and harassment. We focus on a date between two people – Lou and Jaz – and their individual responses to the date – you will meet both the parties separately and see a portion of the date that they are talking about staged in a pretty unexpected way.

MADELINE: Greyscale isn’t interested in exploring consent in examples where there is clear right and wrong. The show aims to open discussion and inspire self-reflection for the audience. It’s about bringing the discussion back to the audience on an extremely personal level.

What inspired you to write Greyscale?

JOEL: Early in 2018 the US comedian and actor Aziz Ansari was the subject of an anonymous article on babe.net detailing his behaviours on a date with the author. The response pieces to that article are morbidly fascinating as they often contained a grain of “Oh that’s not assault/harassment” and what is more they could be found under titles such as “Aziz Ansari is guilty. Of not being a mind reader,” or “The humiliation of Aziz Ansari”. It seemed to us that some people were suggesting that somewhere between consensual sexual activity and sexual assault there exists a grey area.

We felt that this supposed grey area that was being exposed was one that could (and should) be dealt with theatrically to prompt a personal examination by the audience of what this grey area is and whether or not it truly exists.

Working as a company with Anonymous is a Woman we have created something that will hopefully prompt, probe and investigate the questions about power and sex that are endemic in us all being able to read the same event in such contrasting ways.

MADELINE: For me, it was impossible to separate what happens in the story to what was happened to me, to my friends, to my loved ones, throughout my whole life. Through writing for Greyscale I have been able to both use my personal experiences to influence the character and take the opportunity to examine these experiences in the way that we hope the audience will be able to. The desire to prompt this discussion for the audience has been a big inspiration for me.

How did writing the monologues separately help you tackle such a delicate subject?

JOEL: It’s a kind of perverse privilege to just be writing a character that has no concept of the ramifications of his actions. I have ignored my own personal take on what Jaz does, so the character has no sense of how badly their actions affect Lou. Moreover, in writing separately from Maddie I think (hope) I’ve been able to write something that doesn’t pre-judge the character. In not seeing the other side of the story we as writers have had the same experience as the characters have had – I don’t know what the ramifications of Jaz’s actions are either.

But it’s also been nerve-wracking. I have no idea what Maddie has written and she has no idea what I’ve done! Which is a bit scary. But we’ve worked together on and off for many years so hopefully it’ll be fine!

MADELINE: As writers, we are usually omnipotent. To have that taken away has forced a very different process. For me, it’s inspired me to turn inward in a way I never have before. All I’ve had to go on is a set series of events and the odd nudge in the right direction from Anonymous is a Woman. It was a massive challenge to resist the temptation to create Joel’s character second hand, through what Lou says about Jaz. As for how the process has helped us deal with the subject, I’m not sure we can actually know until we see the piece!

Why do you think the way you are staging Greyscale will help audiences understand the issues?

MADELINE: By giving just a brief glimpse into not only the situation but also the lives of the characters, we’re asking how much we as observers can ever know about the events that occur between two people. If we can’t comment in a fully rounded and informed way about two people we’ve actually witnessed interact, how can we weigh in on much bigger, global issues.

JOEL: I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t have my own take on the kind of scenario we are staging; and it is partly for that reason that we are attempting it in this way rather than a conventional theatre-setting. Hopefully meeting the characters without a fourth wall means that people have to shelve their existing judgements on any grey area. If you think Lou is exaggerating their experience of what they went through or that Jaz is endemically a bad person that is fine. But in meeting them and hearing what they say you might find yourself moved to judge the power dynamic rather than the individual. This staging will, perhaps, enable the audience to understand that any grey area they perceive can be challenged through a better understanding from us all of what consent is and how sexual power works.

It’s a rotating and gender-blind cast, what challenges and opportunities does that give you?

JOEL: It opens the debate out into one of power dynamics as much as it is gender dynamics. Queer people have undeniably had similar experiences to the one that we are staging and it would be foolish for us not to explore that given this opportunity.

In terms of a challenge there is obviously the point that each night’s audience will only take away what they see that evening, so it is important on a night where the characters are two men or two women that we make it clear this this isn’t a comment on those relationships, but one which is about wider ideas of consent and sexual power.

I should also say that we aren’t interested in having Jaz (the sexually domineering character) played by a woman when Lou is played by a man. We aren’t trying to force a narrative where there isn’t one.

MADELINE: The play is, by necessity, a play about gender politics. However, having a gender blind, rotating cast allows us the space to say, “look, this happens to everyone.” It actually helps turn the issues into human issues, rather than solely issues of gender.

What would you say to anyone thinking about coming to see Greyscale?

MADELINE: We’re not about to hit you over the head with a lecture on sexual politics. That said, take care of yourself. This is not a trigger warning, but I know that the majority of women will have been in a position like Lou’s at some point in their life and it’s an opportunity to re-examine that exchange. I truly hope the audience will find it liberating and thought provoking.

JOEL: Be prepared to be challenged by what you hear, try not to be afraid of chatting to your fellow audience members as you move through the world of the show and, above all, remember to dress warm as you will be outside!

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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