What's a girl? Just ask Ellen Grimshaw

L–R: Freya Pragt and Ellen Grimshaw  in a publicity shot for juSt uS GirLS (whAtS a giRL?). By Jack Dixon-Gunn.
L–R: Freya Pragt and Ellen Grimshaw in a publicity shot for juSt uS GirLS (whAtS a giRL?). By Jack Dixon-Gunn.

Ellen Grimshaw graduated in 2018 from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Master in Writing for Performance. Here she discusses her new show, inspired by her work for the University’s First Commissions project, to be performed at the Melbourne Fringe this month.

Hi Ellen, can you tell us about your upcoming show, juSt uS GirLS (whAtS a giRL?)

Yes! It's a love letter, a celebration and a lamentation to girls, women and other minority voices. It's a “coming out” of repression show. It is really fun to rehearse because as an actor I get to do all these really fun things I have never been able to do because of always doing others' work. And acting can be so serious sometimes.

I was missing being funny so much, so I decided to write my own stuff. Metaphorically, this show is really about keeping the lollies afloat above an ocean of rage. I don't want people to know that this is a seriously political play. I want it to be fun like bags of lollies, and I don't want to tell anyone what to feel but instead let them take their own interpretation of it. I don't much care for sentimentality at the moment. That might change. But I'm enjoying exploring writing it and really making it as childlike as possible.

Because I'm a feminist, I want people to understand that feminism absolutely doesn't mean you have to be this angry person. My thing is to be free. At the moment, and in this piece – juSt uS GirLS (whAtS a giRL?) – it is, anyway. Things change all the time. This theatre piece is part contemporary dance, part confusion, part comedy, part absurdism.

I'm interested in exposing how certain fascist individuals treat others, and documenting it. Therefore I claim that my writing is not absurd and that those people are. I am just an avid truth seeker.

You were involved in the University’s First Commissions project. Can you tell us about that experience and the work you created?

It was incredible. I got a brief that asked me to respond to the social injustices of today, not knowing whatsoever that it was a brief that riffed off the theme of The Hurricane by Bob Dylan in the 1970s (they told us this after we created our own work).

I decided to focus on what I know, which is the way I've been treated my whole life by white Australian cis dudes. Basically, I can't even claim I'm a writer because I just wrote down everything that actually happened to me. So, if my writing is absurd it's because people are!

Obviously I blow it up a bit, but really it's all coming from the heart of the truth. I have also loved exploring things not happening in order, because life is also like that. So, I enjoying messing with traditional forms and narrative structures. I remember life in little segments not in a logical order, so why would I make a play all neat and tidy?

How was it for you, doing the VCA Master in Writing for Performance?

Doing the VCA Master in Writing for Performance was one of the best years of my life. I honestly learnt so much. When I got accepted I was so over the moon; I was like, OH MY GOD VCA WANT ME AND IM GONNA BE A WRITER BITCHES. And I went in saying to myself that I wanted to be a listener, a sponge, and soak up everything I could and be as non-judgemental of others as possible.

I wanted to learn as much from people as possible. And I really focused, put everything I had into all of my assignments, and put everything I had into the year. I am incredibly passionate about telling stories that are really truthful.

What other projects are you working on at the moment?

I've got two projects on the go at the moment, which is super exciting. I have this current one, which I'm still writing … and another one with the working title of Denzel Washington Is Probably Really Really Happy Right Now, which will be produced by TheatreWorks mid next year.

In between that I'll be auditioning for things most probably, or I'll start writing something else. Not sure yet, but there are many things I have my eye on to apply for. There are so many options for me. In the words of Hannah Gadsby: “I'm in my prime!” And I’ll probably be saying that till I’m 90.

Just Us Girls - wHat’s a giRL? will be performed at the Fringe Hub: Trades Hall during Melbourne Fringe. More information.

Visit the First Commissions online gallery.

Register now for the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music's Graduate Study evenings in September and October – your opportunity to meet our teaching staff, see our facilities and get answers to your graduate study questions. More information.