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Q & A: CHMS's 9 to 5

Hannah Carley speaks to Hannah Bragman and Lauren Maxey, producer and director of CHMS’s February production of 9 to 5

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Image Credit: Sagar Patel

Due to the Covid - 19 pandemic, 9 to 5 is CHMS’s first February show since Chicago in 2020. How excited are you to get back on the stage at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre?

So excited! I think it is also really exciting because a lot of the people involved in the show, such as myself, have not been involved in a February show withCHMS before because of Covid. The fact that we're able to put this on again, in the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, is great not just because it is the first for CHMS but the first time a lot of our cast and crew have done anything theatre-related for the past two years. So everyone is so motivated to make the show as amazing as possible. We've got such an enthusiastic team with us who are enjoying every single moment and we’re loving every single moment too.

CHMS’s February show always provides an amazing opportunity for the talent we have here at the University of York to be prominently showcased. What does it mean to both of you to be able to have the opportunity to direct and produce a production on this kind of scale?

It means quite a lot to me. The great thing about York is that the student media and the student arts are incredible! So the fact that we have the opportunity to do this is just exceptional. For me personally, it was a very daunting message I was sent back in May saying, “you don’t know me, I know you, do you want to produce the show?” and I didn’t really understand how much work it would be and how big a process it is. Obviously, I do not regret it at all and it’s been the best thing that has happened during my uni life so far. I’m just grateful more than anything for being given this opportunity. So I am just feeling very grateful and very blessed.

As a show 9 to 5 puts significant emphasis on both the themes of workplace sexism and female empowerment. Do you think amongst the backdrop of the debate surrounding women’s safety and sexualisation, the show takes on greater significance?

Definitely. The main reason that we wanted to put on the show –particularly with Covid-19, Sarah Everard and all these things that have happened – was that it really spoke to us because of the fact it breaks down stereotypes, it challenges the status quo. It is very empowering for both our cast and crew, and I think it’s empowering for the audienceto watch. I don’t think another show – at least one that I know of – could have filled the space of 9 to5. It is the perfect show for this period of time; it has a lot more meaning than it would have done potentially ten years ago because people are more aware of the issues it explores. The show is a lighthearted comedy, but it does have this subtext behind it, and now is the right time to put it on.

Do you feel a responsibility to reflect these themes accurately and prominently in your take on the show?

Absolutely. I am a politics student, I've studied feminism and post-colonialism modules and I am very big particularly on challenging stereotypes. That is again why I really wanted to do this show. I know particularly our three female leads are very keen on demonstrating that too, and the cast themselves are, with the discussions we’ve had. I found particularly within the show the main antagonist Mr Franklin Hart, the actor playing him found it hard to engage in that sexist and misogynistic behaviour because they were like “I don’t want to do that” and then it led to so many conversations within the cast. I remember one rehearsal where it was really prominent and all of us were then discussing that it’s okay because in the end, if we do it well, it will show what's wrong with the world. The one key thing we have done through this process as well is to make sure the cast members within those scenes where the sexism and the misogyny really come out do feel comfortable to be able to do it and do understand what is happening within each scene that their characters are involved in. That is crucial in order for them to be able to do it comfortably and do it well. So we've really thought about that.
The music and lyrics for 9 to 5 were worked on by Dolly Parton, who also appeared in the original film. What challenges come from performing a score developed by such a musical icon, and in what ways has this influenced your production?

I think wanting to do it justice is probably something Aidan Dixon [musical director] would definitely say. I know he probably feels under pressure to make sure it is as phenomenal as the music itself is written, particularly the opening number '9 to 5'. I know Aiden will say that he has so much respect for Dolly Parton and the music as well, all the thought that has gone into the lyrics and the score. I definitely think we feel a pressure to perform them well, but the cast is phenomenal and the teaching of the music by Aiden has been phenomenal. So I don’t have any concerns that it will be less than fantastic.

Is there a reason that people should be seeing the CHMS show even if they’ve already seen the stage production or the film?

Absolutely! We actually went to go and see 9 to 5 and I remember sitting there thinking I would come out of this feeling one of two ways; proud of our production or worried that we had not hit the same level as the show. But I am really proud to say I think we have done a fantastic job, with a very different take. Our opening number for instance is not just about people going into the office, but about all of people's lives in the 1970s and ‘80s and the classical stereotypes that were demonstrated throughout that era. Because the point of our show is to break down those stereotypes, it was important for me to show that in the number. I would say that the dance style, the music,the direction, is all very different so don't worry if you’ve seen it before. I think you'll truly be amazed when you come to see ours.

CHMS’s production of 9 to 5 is playing at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from 24 to 26 February. Tickets can be purchased directly from the theatre’s website, with student discounts available.

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