Could you first introduce yourselves to our readers?
Xhloe Rice: Sure, we are an artistic creative duo from New York City, and this year we have two shows at the Fringe: ‘And Then the Rodeo Burned Down’ and ‘What If They Ate the Baby’.
Natasha Roland: They’re both really absurd, physical theatre pieces with a queer lens.
X: That’s the through-line, all our work is that way; absurd, clowney, a bit spooky and silly, queer-bent. That’s our thing.
You had huge success with ‘Rodeo’ last year; what was that like for you both?
N: It was kind of insane because last year was our first Fringe ever and we really didn't know what to expect, and we were only here for a week.
X: Within five days we won the Fringe First award…and, embarrassingly, we didn't know what that was.
N: I remember we got the email and I was like guys, we won an award, and we were like ‘okay’ and started eating breakfast.
X: It wasn’t until the next day when Andrew from The Scotsman called us that we realised how big of a deal it was. We had two more shows, and we’d sold maybe four tickets for each. They announced the award at 10am and by noon we’d sold out both. Then theSpaceUK was very generous and told us to stay for two more weeks and they’d give us free venues, but we couldn't afford to change our flights. So they said to bring it back this year for the full month, and they also asked us to bring something new; hence ‘Baby’, which we wrote alongside our day jobs.
Are your day jobs in theatre?
X: Nope. I teach math. To kids.
N: I teach kids how to skateboard. We both hang with kids for eight or nine hours a day, then we would start rehearsing at 10pm and go until 3am, and we did that seven days a week for the past six months to get here.
X: So this is like a holiday for us! Doing two shows in a day is exhausting, though.
N: But nothing is more exhausting than wrangling children.
Both shows have sold extremely well - does that mean you haven’t had to do much flyering?
N: We were flyering pretty hard when we first got here, and when we flyer we take it very seriously: we get in full costume and stand on The Royal Mile for hours.
X: It has slowed down because we’ve been selling out, so we’ve had the insane privilege and luxury of not flyering since the second week.
There are always conversations happening around how Fringe has become very inaccessible, not just for audiences but also for artists. What has your experience been, with two sellout shows?
N: I don’t think we’re even going to break even.
X: We’re very fortunate: we received a lot of help this year from theSpaceUK, so even with that, and with the two shows selling out every day, the fact that we’re not going to break even is crazy. And Fringe artists come here expecting that - we came here expecting that - but–
N: I don’t know if our standards should be higher!
X: Exactly. At what point should artists accept that we shouldn’t be begging for exposure and we deserve to be compensated for our time and work? Still, it’s cool to come here and see that there are other people like us. Sad, but so cool that other people are on their grind, just trying to get another seat filled each day.
You’re both based in NYC; are you performing the shows there?
N: We would absolutely love to take these shows back to NYC, but the New York theatre scene for shows like us, below Off-Broadway, is near impossible to get into.
X: In New York there’s just no ground between university theatre and very commercialised Off-Broadway theatre, where the tickets are upwards of $100 and the productions are upwards of $100,000. We’ve been performing shows in New York for more than six years, and it wasn't until Fringe last year that we got our first ever review.
N: The goal for ‘Rodeo’ and ‘Baby’ is Off-Broadway, that’s something we’re gunning for.
X: But it’s a little bit more of a pipe dream than we’d like it to be.
You just need Lin Manuel Miranda to stumble into a show, watch it, and fund its Off-Broadway run!
N: Exactly. I know Lin reads Voice, come on Lin.
X: We actually have a fictional benevolent billionaire friend called Bippy, and whenever we’re really struggling with money we just say, ‘oh, put it on Bippy’s card’.
I need Bippy’s card! You’ve known each other for ten years - how did your friendship start, and when did you start performing together?
X: Natasha was my tour guide at school. She got us to go around the group and say a fun fact about ourselves, and I said I really liked theatre, and Natasha perked up and said ‘we’re going to be good friends’. That was August 18th 2013, so we’ve just celebrated our tenth anniversary! And within a month of meeting each other we were doing skits together in our drama club, but we didn’t start performing together properly until-
N: -until college, and it was in response to neither of us getting cast in roles we wanted. We weren’t stoked by what roles were being written, or even what plays were being put on.
X: So we decided to put on something ourselves. We actually put on a secret, guerilla production of ‘Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’, but we didn’t get permission from my college; we snuck into the theatre. We couldn’t use lights and stuff, so we borrowed around fifty desk lamps from friends and lit the whole show with desk lamps. My college wasn't happy, but it was the catalyst for us to realise we didn’t need them to help us do theatre, and within that year we did our first show publicly.
Have there been any bumps on the road, between the two of you?
N: As similar as we are, we’re also just incredibly different people and sometimes we have different processes. It’s been a learning curve!
X: But we’re good at communicating. When we were first producing we were bumping into each other’s needs, but now we’re good at communicating it. Natasha needs more alone time than I do, so I know when to not bother her.
N: We discovered that when we’re stuck at a spot, Xhloe needs to go over it and repeat it-
X: -but repetition overwhelms Natasha. So we’ve got to a point where if Natasha says she can’t do something again, I know what that means and I back off. I feel really lucky that we’re - knock on wood - running like a well-oiled machine.
How are UK audiences different from NYC audiences?
N: Off the bat, in America, to laugh out loud is the expectation, and our audiences are loud, and when we took ‘Rodeo’ to The King’s Head in London we thought they hated us.
X: We came off stage thinking it was awful and the audience hated it, and then we walked into the pub to a round of applause and people saying it was the best thing they’d ever seen!
N: And I was like, are you sure?!
X: The other thing that comes to mind is - and I mean this in a loving way - UK audiences particularly love to feel smart. Playwriting 101 is don’t spoon-feed your audience, which is something we hate to do. Either you spell it out for your audience or they’ve really got to dig for it, and we always say we want to be closer to the latter, we never want to be obvious. And we’ve noticed that that resonates really well with UK audiences.
N: They like to connect the dots.
X: American audiences want to sit back and not think - entertainment is about escapism, but our work doesn’t necessarily lend itself to escapism.
Finally, what advice would you give to young people who want to get into the arts?
X: Don’t wait for permission. To do anything. If you’ve ever thought about writing a play, write a play. Write a two-line play, just write it down. Do it, do a bad job, get it out there, get it out of your body, do it for your friends, do it alone in your house, just don’t wait.
N: If you love something, you have to do it. That’s why we do it.
A huge thank you to Xhloe and Natasha for taking the time to do this interview, and massive congratulations from all of us at Voice for their second Fringe First award!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity