‘The Most Famous Chimp Family of Them All’ – Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl is a winning and uplifting musical about a young anthropologist, currently playing at Gilded Balloon Teviot. I sat down with the show’s effervescent star and creator, Rebecca Perry, to discuss the making of of one woman shows.

How long have you been creating theatre?

I graduated theatre school in 2010, and I have been writing pretty much ever since. I think the love of acting and the wish to create your own theatre often go hand-in-hand. I started on Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, my first solo show, back then, and premiered it in 2013. I started touring, hitting the Fringe circuit hard in Canada and the US. The show sold out all of its engagements in 2014 and 2015, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015. Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl was born after Confessions was finished, and sold out at the Toronto Fringe in 2015, before opening the summer season of a theatre in Ontario, and then coming here.

Joanie goes on a unique journey to Africa, to work with animals. Anthropology-themed stories are rarely told onstage. What was the inspiration for Joanie’s story?

Anthropology is not something that I have a degree in, like Joanie does, but it is definitely something that I care about very much. Dr. Jane Goodall’s work has always been hugely inspiring to me, so it made sense to translate that into my character. What I get to do with Adventures is take Joanie on a true adventure – she accepts an internship to work at the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania with the most famous chimp family of all. Studying Dr. Goodall’s work allowed me to understand the challenges that are faced in keeping species alive and unabused, not to mention the lack of awareness of these issues. My hope is that Adventures keeps the light-hearted storytelling of Confessions, but allows me to bring to light some of those problems by Joanie finding out that following her dreams is an exhilarating but challenging experience.

My favorite aspect of Joanie’s character was her ability to turn failure into success. What kind of message do you hope to convey through Joanie’s tenacity?

I hope to convey that making your own opportunities pays off. It might take a while, and the chance may come from an angle that you are not expecting, but if you work hard, and maintain your drive, you get places.  I also believe that she is a great example of a strong, independent female who is making her way in the world, come rain or shine. I have received a lot of comments over the years to the effect that people find that an inspiring thing to behold, and I am delighted that I can carry that message in my show.

You play not only Joanie, but also an entire cast of characters, each with drastically different accents, physicality, and personality. How do you get into the mindset of all these different characters?

It helps a lot that I developed these characters over quite some time. I know them and their foibles, and I can inhabit them because of that. The characters from Confessions are more deeply engrained, as I have performed the show for so long. Adventures had a rediscovery process when I picked it back up again. The show has been substantially rewritten since its premiere, and some characters have changed while others remain the same.

One thing Adventures introduces which Confessions didn’t have is the chimpanzees. It has been a lot of fun studying and mimicking the habits of these astonishing creatures – so close to us in so many ways. I get down on all fours in this show, and that’s completely different and new. It’s always a pleasure finding those idiosyncrasies and exaggerations that let a character really distinguish themselves on stage.

What is special to you as performer about creating a solo show? How does it affect your relationship with the audience?

I adopt the audience as a character quite a lot of the time. The fourth wall comes down here and there so that Joanie in her narrator mode can relate information to the audience, and that gives me the freedom to invite them into my space – emotionally rather than physically of course! Audience reaction is also really important to me. Not having other cast members to bounce off, I love getting a good, audible response from the audience, as it keeps the momentum of the show going – and it’s always good to know that they are enjoying themselves!

Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl is on at Gilded Balloon Teviot until August 29.

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