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Interview: Lining up with Emilia Teglia

Emilia Teglia chats about On The Line

Writer and Director Emilia Teglia has developed On The Line with participants from Camden’s Action Youth Boxing Intervention. It plays at Stanley Arts in January and VAULT Festival in February, and we caught up with her to find out more.

Tell us a little about On The Line. What can audiences expect?

You’ll be hanging out with Tia and Kai, lifelong friends who’ve grown up on the same council estate. They’ll chat to you about that mad day they skipped school to go to the new schoolmate Sienna’s mansion – because “someone’s got to check it ain’t just Tik Tok filters” – and how their lives changed forever that day.

On the Line is a Gen-Y play. It’s fast-paced with twists and turns, wit, deep themes, banter and emotion, and all told in contemporary London slang. It’s immediate and honest. It’s a bit like scrolling through your Instagram feed but it’s real. It’s based on the real experiences of a group of young people from Camden’s Action Youth Boxing Intervention.

(c) Alex Brenner

On The Line deals with a lot of socially relevant themes. Can you give us some insight into these and the importance of sharing them?

It’s about growing up at the bottom of the social ladder whilst having to negotiate life-long loyalties, family values, aspirations, and handed-down generational trauma. It’s also about the real barriers to social mobility, the complex experiences of individuals behind the statistics. In Camden, like in other areas of London, the rich and poor gap is widening but is not unusual to see a student from a very wealthy family sitting next to a student living in poverty.

The awareness is painful. Armani*, an outspoken sixteen-year-old girl living in an overcrowded situation, put this plainly during the writing process: “Our school is basically a prison for poor kids with the random children of famous leftie actors or Labour politicians.” Her brother Tyrese*, who has ADHD and a history of gang affiliation, talks about some of the richest streets in the borough. His eyes sparkle as he describes the flashy ‘whips’ (cars) and the ‘cribs’ (houses). Then he gets gloomy. He says: “this level of rich makes me feel sad. There’s people who’ve got too much, and we got jack.” All this is in On The Line, verbatim.

You have a fabulous promo image for your show – it really caught the team’s eye here. How did the design come together?

I’m glad you are curious about the image. People say it makes total sense after watching the play, so I’m not going to give too many spoilers.

Photo: Paul Grieve, Giorgia Valentino  Design: Max Batty

Like the rest of On The Line’s creative process, the design developed collaboratively. We wanted to show the ‘fish out of water’ essence of the story and at the same time the grit and the harshness of Tia and Kai’s background, as well as their playfulness. For the photo, I approached Paul Grieve, a street photographer that has a talent for capturing defiance, humour and tenderness in his portraits of everyday people. That was important because we also needed to convey the amazing friendship between the two protagonists and their ‘one front’ against adversity. Props were lent by friends and sourced by our amazing Assistant Stage Manager Andreea Pieleanu. We shot on Chalcots Estate in Camden, the actual setting of the play. Our leading actress Giorgia Valentino, who is also an incredibly talented portrait photographer took the headshot of Zacchaeus Kayode which ended up in the final image. Then Max Batty did the magic with his graphics. Max has been designing Odd Eyes Theatre’s posters and book covers for the past ten years and was immediately on board with the concept and aesthetic. It takes a village…

On The Line has been touring around schools and we’ve seen some great feedback. How has that been, and are there any differences between playing in schools and playing in theatre venues?

Huge differences! To begin with, theatre audiences come with a completely different attitude. They’ve bought their ticket and are determined to have a good time, a return on their investment. They’re easy. They respond, react, suspend disbelief immediately and get lost into the world of the play.

In schools, we are playing to groups of teenagers who have often only experienced theatre as part of their statutory education: they are somehow compelled to watch it: it’s not a choice. So that’s already setting their attitude in a different way. They sit down, legs stretched, arms crossed or in their pockets, looking unfazed with a ‘show me what you’ve got’ kind of attitude. And then they hear the language, they start to get the story, the familiar Drill and R&B tunes come up, they get the jokes. You see them start leaning forward, elbowing each other, laughing, gasping, and they can’t get enough of it. Teachers turn to the low achieving students to ask the meaning of some of the words. It’s all in London slang – finally something they’re masters at.

Most importantly, school performances are followed by Odd Eyes’ Creative Debate workshops. The students have a chance to let us know what they think of the issues in the play and develop scenes and short plays based on their response to the story and on their personal experience. Some of their stories go on to be developed professionally, and this is how On The Line was developed.

Finally, what is next for On The Line and Odd Eyes Theatre?

More theatre and school tours and a screen adaptation of On The Line. The film will be another great opportunity to involve young people in the rewriting process and as cast. Funders, producers and schools interested in partnering with us, get in touch!

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality

Our thanks to Emilia for taking the time to chat with us. You can find out more information about Odd Eyes Theatre on their website.

On The Line plays at Stanley Arts on Thursday 19 January (tickets and info) and VAULT Festival on Saturday 11 February (tickets and info).

About Dave B

Originally from Dublin but having moved around a lot, Dave moved to London, for a second time, in 2018. He works for a charity in the Health and Social Care sector. He has a particular interest in plays with an Irish or New Zealand theme/connection - one of these is easier to find in London than the other! Dave made his (somewhat unwilling) stage debut via audience participation on the day before Covid lockdowns began. He believes the two are unrelated but is keen to ensure no further audience participation... just to be on the safe side.