Interview: Isabella Waldron – How to Build a Wax Figure

Girl meets anatomical wax sculptor. Anatomical wax sculptor meets Girl. They fall in love. Or something like that.

Bea’s older neighbour, Margot, was her first love, her first cigarette, her first prosthetic eye. When Bea is invited to the Wellcome Collection to speak about her expertise making glass eyes, she finds herself unable to untie Margot from all that she does. As she tries to unpack her mentor’s effect on her work, Bea must dissect for herself what love really looks like.

Fresh from the States, November Theatre launches in the UK with Isabella Waldron’s electric new play, How to Build a Wax Figure starring Lilit Lesser, Letty Thomas, and Alice Franziska.

From an all-female and non-binary production and creative team, How To Build a Wax Figure brings a fresh perspective on queer love, age-gap relationships, and perspective.

Ahead of their run at the Pleasance we’ve spoken with the shows writer, Isabella Waldron about the run and bringing her creation to life in a post-pandemic world.

For those who may not be familiar with your previous work could you please introduce yourself?
Hi, Yes! Probably most people won’t be very familiar with my previous work because I just moved over from the States a little over a year ago now.

I’m a playwright/actor, from Portland, Oregon originally. My playwriting blends lyricism and naturalism, allowing metaphor and other elements of weirdness to weave into hyper-realistic dialogue and relationships. As a queer playwright/performer, my writing also explores women’s relationships to body and desire. I’m obsessed with the grey areas here, finding the unspeakable bits beautiful and deeply human.I’m interested in very specific worlds too, which comes up in this show in the form of ocularistry and anatomical/dermatological wax sculpting.

Completely unrelated to writing, I make a delicious peach pie.

Where did the inspiration for How to Build a Wax Figure initially come from?
For a long time, I’d been mulling a thread of an idea around that centered around a queer age-gap relationship. The tenuous ideas of what love “should” look like — of where and how it manifests and questions of when is that acceptable and when is it not — all those were hugely interesting to me.

Then, in the deep darkness of December 2020, living at home, I ended up in a Youtube spiral of anatomical wax sculpting videos. I have no idea why the algorithm chose that for me, , but I became obsessed with the detail required in creating these models. There was so much care taken in sculpting these grotesque and hyper-realistic figures. 

The wax figures slotted in with this idea of how we mould each other in relationships, and the first draft of this play was born. Since then, the play has changed loads through workshopping and developing with director Nell Bailey and November Theatre. But at the heart of it has been the idea how these big relationships in our lives shape us, and how we define ourselves in the wake of that.

Can you tell us a little about what audiences can expect to see from the show?
This is a memory play, exploring collisions and partings and the joy and pain of opening ourselves up. Audiences can expect to see the messiness of love, the lasting impact it has on us, and the beauty of forming connections. Another thing that was important to both director Nell and I in this piece is that the characters’ queerness is never sensationalized, but simply a part of who they are. So, that’s in there too.

Also, there’re tons of fake eyes, cutaneous horns and lonely vanilla birthday cake. So, really, everything the public is crying for.

The industry has of course faced a challenging few years filled with cancellations and closures, but how does it feel to be taking your show to the Pleasance later this month?
OH. It feels unbelievable. We were supposed to take wax figure to VAULT, and the cancellation of that was hugely disappointing, but we feel so fortunate to be joining the rehoused VAULT season at the Pleasance. There are so many other incredible shows that we’re premiering alongside.

This will also be the UK debut for both myself and our brilliant director, Nell Bailey, so it feels hugely exciting to be able to actually be bringing a show to life after a long stagnant period.

The creative team for this production are all female and non-binary which I think is just incredible! What does it mean to you to be working with this team?
Our team is an absolute dream. Throughout the process, they’ve been so incredibly generous with their insight and care for this story. I wouldn’t say that’s a result of gender, but it’s certainly a testament to them as human beings and artists.

It was always our intention to give a platform to women and non-binary artists on this project, but it’s primarily that this team is made of the best people for the job. I feel enormously grateful for their questions and thoughts and interpretations of these characters and this world. I love and adore them all.

Why do you think it is so important to see diversity like this within theatres and art houses?
I think there’s been a beautiful blossoming of queer stories on stage recently, and it’s something I hope will continue because it lets people feel that there are so many ways to exist in the world. If we’re seeing one single story played over and over, that makes us feel like there’s one way to live, and when we don’t see ourselves in that story, it’s hard to want to engage with the theatre.

While this project has been a small nudge towards one element of diversity, we need diversity across not only gender and sexuality, but race and ability and age and class in the theatre. We want rounded stories of the human experience, so we need to make space and opportunity in order for that to happen.

What are your hopes for the future of the arts industry?
Connected with the above, I think that access to space and opportunity is tied with putting a greater emphasis on community within the arts industry. The theatre industry can be brutal, so community care is essential for creating a practice that has longevity and doesn’t cause burn out. Theatres like NDT Broadgate (which we were lucky enough to workshop wax figure at in November) and London Performance Studios (which we’re currently rehearsing in now!) are making huge leaps in rethinking structure to support so many artists and bring them together, and I just want to see oodles more of this across the sector.

Also, if there were more government funding for the arts, would I complain? Absolutely not.

How to Build a Wax Figure will run at the Pleasance between Tuesday 22nd and Saturday 26th February. For more information or to book your tickets click here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s