Fangirls are an integral phenomenon that have stood the test of time. From The Beatles to Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys, Justin Bieber, One Direction and most recently BTS, they’ve always been there to support these acts and accelerate their success in a mammoth proportions. But because of their devoted passion, they’ve been severely misunderstood. For years they’ve been the pun of every joke and the world has looked at them under a microscope with an unfair judgement, but it’s time to change that outlook.
Playwright, composer and comedian, Yve Blake has created an hilariously heartwarming show that pays homage to them and ignites a discovery to why they are so misunderstood.
“I met this thirteen year old girl who told me she had met the man she was going to marry and his name is Harry Styles. And I when I laughed at her she was like ‘no, I am so serious. I would slit someone’s throat to be with him’. So, I will happily admit that my curiosity was sparked by an inherent judgement and a morbid curiosity, because to me what she was saying sounded unreasonable and preposterous” Blake explains of her first encounter with fangirls.
From there she started Twitter stalking One Direction fans as she tried to understand the passion and intensity, as she had never really experienced that growing up. “I was obsessed with theatre when I was younger but I didn’t have a community of young people that I could really share that with because I found that theatre was really a space designed for rich old white people. So I kept it to myself which I find really interesting because when I first encountered fangirls as a young woman I didn’t understand it. So I had the benefit of being an outsider that made some judgements that were exploded apart when I realised what fandom ultimately is, which is loving things without apology” she admits.
But after learning more about fangirls and their devotion, she reminisces on her childhood and the Australian icon that inspired her first ever personal fangirl experience.
“I loved Missy Higgins when I was younger. Something about who she was as a woman and the way she sang felt really unperformed and authentic to me. I saw a gig of hers at Centential Park in Sydney and my friend and I went with our mums and we were really far away from the front so we tore away from them and ran to the front. We squished our way through the mosh and ended up right up the front. When the show was finished my friend immediately asked the security guard for a guitar pic and I panicked because I didn’t think to ask for that so I asked for her water bottle and I kept it in the back of my wardrobe for six years. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. It was half drunk. I wasn’t going to drink from it but I just had this relic that proved we were both people that existed” she laughs.
With her curious investigation into fangirls in full swing in early 2015, Zayn Malik shockingly left One Direction and Blake watched first hand as the crisis unfolded with the heartbreaking response from fans pouring online.
“I watched while a lot of them were being ridiculed for being upset and there was a lot of language being used to describe the upset in the fandom that was writing it off as crazy, hysterical and a bit much, which to me is a double standard. I started questioning why the image of young women screaming their lungs out at a Justin Bieber concert is labelled pathetic, but young men screaming their lungs out at a football match would be considered as loyal, passionate and for the love of the game”.
It was the humanisation that stopped Blake in her tracks. It was then she realised she had the right motives to create something memorable, special and thought invoking. Coming from a stand up comedy background at the time, she learnt what sort of impact she wanted to have as a performer.
“I realised the type of comedy that really stood out to me was the type that somewhere made me cry in the set. Somehow really punched me in the gut and got me thinking. I think my years in comedy taught me how to really work an audience up to a fevered pitch laughing wise, and thats the moment you need to speak hard truths to them”.
And in Fangirls she does exactly that. This bloodthirsty comedy has a heart of gold and the unique craziness of a 80’s cult film like ‘Jawbreaker’ and ‘Heathers’. It’s wit is ahead of the game and it’s warmth is honest and relatable.
The show follows fourteen year old Edna and her obsession with Harry from True Connection as she dodges the misunderstanding of her mother and her friends as she tries to convince them that they are actually meant to be together. With the band announcing a tour that sees them in Edna’s city for the first time, she stops at nothing to prove her point.
What Blake has created is a live experience that belongs to fangirls and serves as an education and understanding to the psychology beneath the “crazy” and pulls apart the double standard.
The contrast of the two acts in the show is particularly interesting as the first half is purposely gimmicky with the explanation of the heightened obsession while the second act is darker and explores the “guts” as Blake explains.
“I often talk about this show as a sparkly trojan horse. It appears to be one thing and make fun of fangirls and be a blood thirsty comedy with pop music, but it actually smuggles inside it the guts of what all of that means, and what it means to be a parent of a teenager who won’t look away from their screen, what it’s like being a young woman in this world, and what it’s like growing up and listening to a world that is telling you all of these negative things”.
“My experience of being a teenage girl was constantly having the world tell me who I was, but all the representations of teenage girls on TV were thirty year old women who looked like supermodels and wore high heels as they positioned themselves as sixteen years old. I really felt that so many representations of me were really reduced and simmered down and simplified. Nothing about being a teenage girl for me was simple. It was confusing and contradicting. And I honestly think the cast I’ve put together for this show highlight the different sides of that. Some moments are grotesque and feral and for me being a teenager was being grotesque and feral all the time” she reflects.
In putting this show together she realised what her aesthetic goals would be early on. “I knew It would have to be the best pop concert you’d never been to. The music would have to be so adrenal and everything is life of death stakes, like if you like something you are actually d e a d about it” she explains. So she interviewed a lot of different people, and attended shows by Justin Bieber and Harry Styles and tried to understand the deeper crux of what this all stood for. From these early interviews she realised to satisfy all of her goals she would have to create a fictional storyline with blockbuster high stakes that she could then explore deeper and provide the insights she had gained from interviewing first hand.
“Every line in the show is inspired by something I have heard, seen, experienced and lived, but the storyline of the show is very calculated and constructed and it’s like what you’d see in an action film”.
After writing the demos for the songs she worked with David Muratore (also known as Sweet Potato) to produce them and then worked alongside Alice Chance to arrange the beautiful harmonies you hear in the show.
But with the storyline and representation of the characters at the forefront of her focus, she wanted to make sure everything was as legitimate as possible. “I was interested in the prosody of how we say certain things. There’s a song in the show called ‘Actually Dead’ and there is a line where there is a lot of heavy breathing breaking up the words when they sing, ‘this is life or death’. This was really important to me because when you are really upset the words you say are broken down and sound even more dramatic” she explains.
With the first draft of the show finished at the end of 2016, Blake was ready to show the world what she had created. But with a lot of re-writing and refining to be done the show has only just premiered in September 2019. However with the big gap, she hasn’t stopped working on it during the in-between moments.
“I got a small grant of $10,000 to begin writing it, which I used to spend a year supplementing what I would earn from working in Cafe’s to buy time to sit at my laptop and write the show. Then on a shoestring budget I pulled together a little pitch concert to showcase the songs and concept. I got nine women to show up and sing their guts out at music stands. We filled the room with industry producers and personnel and then I sent the video of the show to other producers and miraculously that concert in December 2016 went off and got shared so much amongst producers online that I found myself in a position where I was dealing with multiple different offers” she explains of the process in getting the show produced by Queensland Theatre and Belvoir Theatre.
Through nine months of auditions she found the perfect cast of newcomers (minus the iconic and Helpmann winner Sharon Millerchip) who she wanted to nurture and take a leap of faith on. She explains this as what she’s going to look back on in years to come and be the proudest of because she was so new to musical theatre and someone was taking a leap of faith with her so she wanted to give back and create that same opportunity for someone else.
But when she started this whole process she never expected to star in it. She was talked into playing Edna by the producers who agreed to sign on if she came with the project. She was unsure to begin with.
“I wasn’t sure if it was okay for me to say yes to this opportunity when acting isn’t my number one dream. I also strongly feel white women have had enough solo’s in musical theatre, and the story has been about them enough already so I can’t wait for the future of the show and see other people play Edna. But I did agree to do it in the end because I realised the show is about not underestimating women, and with the years it took to get this show to come to life, it’s important for me to close a loop with my fourteen year old self about not only writing these words but having the courage to stand in a room full of people and say it” she cites.
With the show currently in it’s first full swing of dates, Yve Blake has learnt a lot about herself but her biggest lesson through this journey was to believe in herself. “I always knew that I was committed to finish this project but it’s like in relationships where you can go through rough patches and you can question if it’s going in the right direction. But I learnt to back myself” she confesses.
The response so far from the Brisbane crowds has been overwhelming to say the least and has left Blake with no words to explain the level of passion she’s seeing from the audience who understand and live and breathe the narrative.
“It’s amazing how some scenes will absolutely transform each night. There are some scenes where people say awful, cruel things to each other and some nights the audience is silent and you can hear that they are in great pain while experiencing it but in other nights they laugh like it’s the funniest thing because it’s so outrageous. And as a writer and a newly born actor, it’s really interesting to think about what is the small little change that occurs on stage that swings that response”.
With a few little script and staging edits planned to be made during their tech week in Sydney next week before they open up at Belvoir St Theatre, she admits that most of the on stage bloopers have come from quick changes.
“For me there is a quick change in the show, and how it happens is through this hook so something can be torn away from me. One night the item was torn away from my but the hook seemed to hook itself to the shorts I was wearing so when they pulled the outfit they almost pulled me clean off the stage” she confesses.
Wigs have even flown off mid performance but Yve Blake just laughs about it. “I love that for the audience as they get to see someone’s wig literally go flying. That’s the ultimate unplanned fangirl moment”.
Fangirls the musical premiered at Brisbane Festival and wraps up it’s season at Queensland Theatre on October 5 before heading to Sydney for a run of dates at Belvoir Theatre from 12 October – 12 November.