An Interview with Billie Aken-Tyers, writer of 'Your Alice,' for Ophelia Theatre Group / by Declan Maloney Drummond



How did you become involved with Ophelia Theatre Group?

I joined the company shortly after I graduated in 2013. I was just back from my first professional summer gig and pounding the pavement auditioning every day. Ophelia's 'As you like it' being one of many auditions. It's funny, but I knew from my first audition and the brief interaction that I had with Eric Ruiter (the Artistic Director) that he was going to be a huge influence in my life. I got cast and within a few rehearsals I just knew I had found my tribe. Cut to 6 shows later and they are producing my work! About a year ago I handed the script to Eric just to get his opinion. He requested a reading and within two weeks asked me if they could produce it!

What inspired you to write Your Alice?

Woof. This one has been a biggie. All in all it took me five years to write it. It started as a very faithful adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for a company I was working with in the UK. When I moved to America the project was shelved and in my second year at AADA I was looking for a creative outlet and I picked it up again. During my research I found a photograph of Charles Dodgeson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell (the real Alice). The picture in question shows Dodgson and a young Alice together in one of the most beautiful and tortured images I have ever seen. It spurred me to relentlessly peruse his diaries, biographies, letters from Alice herself and of course the original story to understand the man in question and his very controversial friendship with this young girl. In truth, I fell in love with their story. Now whenever I read it I can hear the longing in his writing. It's achingly beautiful. I hope the audience leave with a new understanding of Wonderland and an invigorated sense of familiarity, but also with sympathy for a man who struggles to keep himself afloat, fighting against his own heart with all his might.

You're also co-directing the piece. How has the rehearsal process been?

It's been wonderful actually. I'm co directing Michael Bradshaw Flynn who is just the most amazing talent. The way I work is very physical and based heavily in devising so often I'm up and in a scene with the actors so it's great to have someone on the outside. We had to do a lot of body conditioning and ensemble work with the actors because it really is a marathon. Michael calls it ' the global guts of theatre'. It's such a rewarding way to work though because the actors have real artistic ownership over the physical work in the show because they created it. We have a unique way of working, but we've always maintained that transparency is key and thus far it's worked. It's open, honest and fun.

Do you plan to write more in the future?

Oh for sure! I have fragments of four or five plays in different stages of development. The writing I've done in the past usually comes from devising sequences or movement with actors in the room then I will go away and write. So I have to really have a sense of the world and if it lends itself to creative storytelling before I start. I'm already honing in on my next project and which I think is going to be an adaptation. Eventually I will get actors in a room and get them creating!

What are your future plans as an actor and director?

Well, next I'm off to Dallas to perform in Douglas Carter Beane's Hood: A Robin Hood Musical Adventure at Dallas Theater Center for three months which is so unbelievably exciting. I already have my next directing project in the oven but I can't say too much about it yet! If anything, this process has really helped me define what it is to be an artist with many different facets. This next year is going to be a real adventure!