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Actor, playwright and singer Jessica Phillippi: ‘I’ve seen so many artists having to leave the country’

Jessica Phillippi Jessica Phillippi

Jessica Phillippi has taken three shows to Edinburgh Festival Fringe since completing her Master’s at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She tells Giverny Masso about her latest, Illegal, which explores the stories of a Guatemalan woman trying to immigrate to the US and an American woman who is struggling with her visa in the UK…

What shows have you previously taken to the fringe?
Throughout my Master’s we were encouraged to make our own work, so I started writing and took two of my own shows to the fringe. The first was called The Translator’s Dilemma, which is a semi-interactive show where the audience are students in a university classroom. We toured that to Germany afterwards. The other show was called My Sister, and it was about two girls who are raised in an abusive home, and they become so desperate that they hatch a plot to get out. That one went on to the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival in Glasgow after the fringe.

What is the inspiration behind your show at this year’s fringe, Illegal?
One character is partly inspired by my own struggle with visas in the UK for nearly 10 years. I’ve seen so many artists having to leave the country after they’d lived here, got jobs here and studied here, and it felt really unfair. People would continuously ask me: ‘Why don’t you get married to your partner and you’ll be able to stay?’, but from 2012 onwards that became impossible because you have to make a certain amount of money to stay. As all this was happening, I was applying for the visa I’m now on. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to stay in the UK after nine years here, so I started writing about my experience and that became Illegal.

What was the second character in Illegal inspired by?
I was obsessively reading US immigration stories, and I felt that a show about my story alone would be self-indulgent, because yes it’s difficult, but what refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants around the world are going through is so much worse than any of the bureaucracy I have to deal with. I was talking to playwright Gary McNair about the show and he said: “I think you need another narrative”, and almost immediately afterwards I read an article about a Guatemalan woman who was trying to immigrate to my home town in the US. The show interweaves the two stories.

What other projects do you have on the horizon?
I’m working on a play about Lina Prokofiev who is best known as the wife of composer Sergei Prokofiev, but she wanted to be an opera singer in her own right. She had a far more interesting life than her husband and she lived a lot longer. My next piece will try to do justice to her story.

CV Jessica Phillippi

Training: BA in theatre and government at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, US (2001-05); Master’s in classical and contemporary text at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (2009-10)
First professional role: The Translator’s Dilemma at Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2011)
Agent: None

Illegal is running at Underbelly Cowgate as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe until August 25. More information here: tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/illegal

Do Our Best review at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh – ‘bizarre and brilliant’


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