Sarah Bebe Holmes on Egg

The Skinny chats to Sarah Bebe Holmes about her sell-out Fringe show, Egg, which uses aerial acrobatics to tell a true story of fertility and choice

Feature by Hannah Wright | 09 Apr 2019
  • Sarah Bebe Holmes

In the development phase of Sarah Bebe Holmes’ aerial theatre piece, Egg, which explores issues of fertility and science using plastics, she asked herself the simple question: “Is this a story for women?” Whereas stories about men are routinely packaged as ‘neutral’, the experiences of women are often pushed into their own genre or presented as something that will only appeal to other women. Egg – an autobiographical account of the process of donating her eggs to a friend so that they could have a baby – is a show that quite easily could have fallen into this trap.

But that initial question about who the story is for is something that Holmes considered and rejected from the beginning of the show’s development. “It’s a story for all people. It’s about being a parent, it’s about being a child, it’s about family relationships, it’s about love,” she explains. These universal elements proved correct when the show sold out its run at the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Exploring the Politics of Fertility

Ten years in the making, Egg explores the politics of fertility, medical invasiveness and the personal effects of hormones on the body, through personal testimony and aerial performance, set to music by Hungarian bassist and composer Balázs Hermann.

Holmes, a circus and physical performer who has received global recognition for her boundary-pushing practice, created the show with Paper Doll Militia, where she is co-founder and co-artistic director. She spent a long time thinking about the ways in which to tell this story of female fertility, sexuality and, most importantly, choice.

Finding the Right Aesthetic

In her quest for the right kind of aesthetic for her work, Holmes has suspended herself from monkey bars, a streetlamp, chains, aerial silks and entirely invented equipment. Unsurprisingly, her approach to Egg was no different, and she pursued the project with her trademark desire to present something new and different, without relying on traditional circus apparatus. 

“It didn’t necessarily make sense for me to tell this story using a trapeze,” Holmes explains. For Egg, only clear plastic felt right. “The process was so invasive that I, in a way, had to become transparent… there was nothing to hide,” she continues.

Circus as Storytelling

Alongside impressive aerial feats utilising this plastic apparatus, Holmes also tells the story in her own voice. Though working with so much text was something new, the heartfelt storytelling in Egg is a continuation of her brand of narrative performance. This side of the show speaks powerfully of circus arts’ ability to do more than just razzle dazzle and instead touch on important themes and topics. And for Holmes, creating conversations in this way is a vital element of her work.

“I think where circus can really grow is to do something dangerous because it pushes a boundary, because it pushes a social button, because it asks a challenging question.”

A Strange Piece With Universal Meaning

When asked where she sees herself taking Egg next, Holmes’ ambitions are more regional.

“I’m hoping to really bring it to some more rural locations... I think people worry about locations for shows that are more wacky and weird and I want to challenge that. I want to bring my strange piece that has universal meaning to village halls in northern Scotland,” she says.

Further funding must be sought for this next iteration of Egg but Holmes is grateful for the response to the show so far.

“I got to tell a story that means a lot to me and use a medium that I’ve been using for 15 years in order to tell it... and people came.”

Egg by Paper Doll Militia is showing as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival, Summerhall, Fri 12-14 Apr, 7.30pm