A Psychological Bridge over Troubled Water: an Edinburgh Fringe retrospective
September 9, 2015
Mid-way through this year’s Fringe, Jake Orr the Artistic Director and founder of A Younger Theatre wrote a great article on why performers continue to bring work to the Fringe, and why people decide to make the work they do and trust the unknown masses to subjectively review it. I as a performer and avid watcher of other Fringe acts have seen a myriad of (to use Jake’s words) "undeniable emptiness, lack of heart, lack of understanding" and I've even been in some of these productions myself.
I have also been part of some wonderful productions, and with both good and bad experiences, I’ve always acutely been aware of (and concerned about) the draining effect Edinburgh has on one’s health. Jake, in his quest for meaning in a show, explained how one particular production had left him scratching his head as to the void in their overall message (sadly I missed the goblins in a dream factory show but it does sound intriguing). Whilst a crucial factor to any fringe show must be Jack's pining for "a clear and coherent message", there's wider forces in the world of the Fringe that need dealing with, which go beyond the ‘what am I doing up here?" and more towards the "how will I survive up here…and live to perform another day?". Whilst the message of a live theatre piece is paramount, the message we are giving to society about why we drag ourselves on stage each night to perform the work is of equal importance.
The message of a piece is often envisioned by and entrusted to the director and writer as opposed to the performer (stand up is the exception; you’re all three), with the performer instead given relative artist license to draw on the perils of their inner psyche to construct a bridge which allows the message to transport into the minds of the paying onlookers. The danger is that sometimes this creative bridge can charge an entry toll to the performer, with their inner psyche the precious cargo that is being taxed psychologically. Depression, exhaustion and stress can all cause this cargo to loose it’s momentum, wobbling precariously at the higher than normal velocity required of people during a Fringe run, with the wheels in danger of falling off, the fear of ramming the sides of the bridge and tumbling off the rails a daily visualisation. It can often feel a steep toll to pay for transporting such a precious creative cargo, and even when staring straight ahead at the destination, and putting pedal to the metal, the end can appear nothing more than a misty haze in the distance, the bridge seeming to get longer the more you advance on it. Every single performer I have met struggles with the pressure of delivering the message of their show, sometimes to the point where they tumble so far off the bridge at such high speed that they can’t walk on the stage (trust me, I’ve been there – as witness and protagonist).
The personal messages being given off stage by each performer must be given equal respect and weight. Often they are missed completely, with reviewers, audiences, agents and newspapers looking to the piece of theatre for meaning, and not the performers’ stories that have brought it to the stage. As performers, we are under increasing pressure to put forward evermore-personal work in order for deeper connection to the masses. Over the course of the last Parliament, the mental health budget was cut by some 8%, with increased numbers forced to visit A&E with depression and similar conditions on the spectrum. Others are forced to do what I do, and reduce spending in other areas of my life to afford £55-per-hour therapy that others may deem expensive yet I deem invaluable. I my final appointment before Edinburgh, I spoke to my therapist about preparing for the festival’s gruelling way of life. We chatted specifically about how to deal with audience reaction or reviewers, who may not take kindly to either my work or me. She stressed that there is a difference between not liking someone and not liking someone’s art.
One A Younger Theatre 'reviewer' (they’re volunteers…anyone who’s willing) gave me a 2 star review for my show 'The Pursuit of Crappiness'. I admit that I really did dangle a carrot for any critics, with my show's title. Thanks to my therapy providing mental guarding for such scenarios, this low-starred review will sit proudly, and genuinely with as much respect to the reviewer, as the consecutive 4 star online reviews from audience members (they’re volunteers…anyone who’s willing), or those running up to me in the street to say how much it affected them, or the nightly praises via twitter from attendees. I genuinely believe that there is incredible value in embracing and taking ownership of a 2 star as much as a 4 star - since any chance to see the range of differing opinions of one's (often deeply personal and revealing) work only serves to highlight that a review is one thing and one thing only: a single person’s subjective perspective on a single artists' subjective perspective on life…on that night…in whatever psychological state they choose to be in (being the 7th show you’re reviewing that day can’t be good for your impartiality and pure enjoyment factor). Another reviewer said that my piece “didn’t hit the mark for her personally, but that she’d love to see me again in a more character-based comedy, since I had a lot of potential", praising my incredible ability to hold the room, as well as my performance skills. Kind words yet odd: since there was not a single mention of how the other 59 people in the room responded to the piece (something I as the reader of a review am deeply keen on knowing). After a jovial and genuine tweet exchange with the reviewer, thanking them for attending my show and hoping they’d come to my next one, it does bring me back to the issue I simply can’t avoid: that the festival brings mental health pressures on everyone: reviewers, journalists, directors, producers, and yes, artists.
Every groups' state of health needs to be looked at, with support systems in place and a medium in which any and all Fringe participants can stand up and offer help to anyone in need. It seems odd you’d want to help a reviewer who as just given you a scathing review, but that’s precisely what needs to happen. Whenever I’m chatting rubbish and fishing for jokes in life, my friends fleet between awarding me 1 star or 5 star reviews, my family have always done it and I keep going back for more. I know it’s subjective and once a moment of judgement has passed, I get back to the “how are you feeling?” and “how are things?”...and maybe it would help survive the month if all types of professionals started empathising with each other more. Low-star reviews (and even poorly written high-star reviews in which they completely miss the message of one’s show) can be as bitter to gulp down as a surprisingly strong ale: they are hard to swallow if absorbed too quickly, but oddly start to feel good the more you digest them over time. I dedicate a lot of my spare time to reviewing beer and then talking about it (I'm a volunteer…any bar that’s willing) and I dedicate a lot time to understanding that reviews can do more damage than they’re worth...unless you embrace the subjective nature of art, and understand that in order to attempt work that stands out…there will always be those who have a polarised opinion to what you are producing. My ability to resist a complete mental breakdown on seeing the low-starred review was to focus on the person, not the product: there was no malice intended, and they thought I had talent; it’s almost that they were frustrated and disappointed it had been wasted on this current project (a “you’re better than this” nudge isn’t a bad thing at all and only serves to fuel your improvement). Whether you read reviews or not, and whether you trust your show’s message will carry on a broad scale to any and all audiences, there is a platform on which to build a deeply meaningful piece of creative work. Jack Orr stressed the need for a piece of work to show it's true colours, but that is easier said than done when the true colours involve delving into one's own mind to champion or challenge (to a live audience) the subject of mental health (that often rued two-word phrase that mocks the stiff upper lip of us hush hush "keep it to yourself" Brits).
To quote a great Guardian article by Hannah Ellis-Peterson, "issues around mental health are being presented in pieces spanning stand up and musicals to monologues and dramatic lectures (my 'comedy lecture' sat on either side of Ellis-Peterson's proposed creative spectrum). Hannah explains how productions such as Brigette Aphrodite's My Beautiful Black Dog and comedian Bryony Kimmings 'Fake It 'Til You Make It' are forcing a "frank discussion" of subjects that may have been deemed too personal and too taboo to use as the validation of one's message on stage to the rest of the world. Lucy Grace's Garden explores how different environments can induce anxiety (her play focuses on her personal experiences of corporate London offices and the need to connect to the natural world) whilst Le Gateau Chocolat's struggle with depression is well documented from his struggles in breaking free of a devout Nigerian Christian household to live life as a gay drag queen. The public knowing of Lucy and Le Gateau's life experiences power the creative veins that allow their work to flow – and I believe over half of the message of a piece is delivered in the biographical revelations that you accept as the foundations of their work. I know I’ve approached work differently when I’ve known more of a narrative about the person who spawned the work. I’ve sometimes gone in already loving a performer and their work, simply from reading the show’s blurb and then following a few links which have suddenly turned into a few hours of fascination into the artist’s real life struggles or challenges that have lead to their absolute must to perform this work. Backstory adds intrigue and importance, and I firmly believe it adds a star or two.
I've played the lead in a show where I portrayed a schoolteacher experiencing a gradual mental crumbling, after isolating himself at home on being accused of sexually molesting an underage girl after a GCSE English Literature lesson (to 4 and 5 star reviews). I've also played Gregor Samsa in my favourite play and short story of all-time: Kafka's Metamorphosis (to my drama teacher's positive vocal review in Year 12). The irony is that it’s a privilege to play such mentally challenging characters, who are the fulcrum of a powerful message about the world (one day, Hamlet you greatest of procrastinators...I will tackle you too) yet when a piece is a clear expose of your own inner psyche, there is suddenly an uproar and a great deal more perceived risk to those performing essentially 'themselves'. It's a deal with the devil for performers when it comes to creative work that involves a glorified public parading of the once shadowy abysses of their own mind. It's a case of "sign on the dotted line", then provoke audience reaction. The potential precipice is that the audience is not just the one sat in front of you, but also the many personalities and emotional states that make up your own self (think the poster of Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich but with a kaleidoscope of your own face staring back at you). When you combine the need for a powerful and resonant message to your show with the added pressure of auditing your current psyche, it can cause you to veer towards the edge of that bridge.
With a rise in the number of mental health pieces comes a rise in the number of support systems in place to help performers. This year has seen a respectable first: The Wellcome Trust's 'The Sick of The Fringe' is an innovative programme which has brought together scientists, doctors and performers to explore as journalist Vanessa Thorpe puts it "the vulnerabilities of festival participants" which looks at "the way the Festival exposes the human condition" and appreciates the mental and physical endurance demanded of performers throughout the world's largest festival. Tom Allen is a stand up comedian who sums up the brutality of the month in one sentence: “there is a unique level of exhaustion and competition up at Edinburgh. I am aware of people who have got halfway through a show and then said they can’t do any more and asked their audience to leave”. It's a feeling I've often felt neck-deep in myself: less than halfway through a run with the only desire to push through being jolting your body and mind into remembering that everyone else around you is "probably" feeling the same thing. The Sick of The Fringe event is key; curated by Brian Lobel (a fellow performer) it drags the 'probably' out of the equation and takes away the speculation one feels deep inside that you may not be the only person feeling stress, exhaustion and hopelessness, but terrifyingly that you could be. Lobel says of August “the month is gruelling. Performers are not working in ideal conditions and if you are doing a solo revue in which you are also talking about yourself, it makes you even more susceptible to problems” with stand up comedians being particularly frank about the dangers yet benefits of drawing on your inner psyche for material.
Comedian Tom Allen advocates that the best stand up shows are personally exposing but that this does come at the price of making performers extremely vulnerable to psychological conditions being developed or triggered. Fringe Central, the all-year-round impartial society that supports Fringe performers from all venues, has run a number of workshops and lectures (free ticketed) in their two centrally located spaces that are designed to aid discussion and provoke thought on a range of mental health topics, such as the Equity-sponsored "Freaking Out and F*king Up" by an effervescent performer and producer with 20 years' experience undertaking the Fringe. Other highlights include the Samaritans-run "Your Emotional Health". Both were brilliant free workshops yet only attended by the attendees I can barely count on two hands - a sign if ever there was one that with increased coverage of mental health, there is still a barrier to people feeling they can talk about such issues in public with strangers. Fringe Central has also brought back The Sanctuary this year: a quiet space with as much beanbag as solid floor, complimentary fruit and fresh water, plus a corner for £10 fifteen minute head, neck and shoulder massages. I'll say from first hand (to neck) experience that it wasn't a disappointment (the only downside was organisers not putting it on for the whole festival). Sick of The Fringe's Lobel fears that “audiences do have still have an uncomfortable relationship with this topic,” since centuries of creative outpouring have taught us that “people are afraid of hearing stories with implications and actually stories about mental health do have implications. If you are going to build up sympathy and empathy for people with mental health, it makes it harder to cut budget for mental health services. The implications are that if you open up conversations with people who do not have perfect, immediate, convenient health needs there is an implicit responsibility to welcome them into your spaces and I think that is frightening for people". What's frightening is not only surviving the festival itself, but what one does in the aftermath of such an personally introspective four weeks.
Since finishing the Fringe I’ve followed a strict artistic routine which adheres to every performers’ responsibility: the mental and physical wind down (minutes, days or weeks depending on the performer). It is essential as one experiences the pang of staleness that pervades every nook and cranny of your mind after such a unique and brutally long “engines at full speed” run as the Edinburgh Fringe festival. As you exit the old town (cornerstone of the festival buzz) for the tram or bus to airport or train station, the staleness alarm bells ring out loud in your head and feet (and this year in my throat), and as you head for more polluted air spaces (I’m talking about the 99.9% of people up here who seem to come from London), you ironically fumigate the staleness in your entire body by opening your window’s mind and allowing a different type of ‘cleaner’ oxygen to flow through: getting ill. The void left by the sudden lack of performing has most likely saved your life (god knows how people then go on tour with their show intensively), but it needs to be filled with something. That something is usually an instant tsunami of exhaustion of the brain and bones: what I have taken to calling in my 7th full Edinburgh in a decade ‘The Post Edinburgh Blues’. This year it’s meant a semi-holiday to the South West (after a quick 1.5 day pit stop back in London) in order to launch Push Talks for 2015-16. Exeter and Plymouth provided the staging ground on which I would crash and burn and then rise, phoenix-like, and start the draining process all over again. I speak almost daily with rooms of 100+ sixth formers, for over an hour – yet comedy really is a different beast that I’m still learning how to tame.
With mental health being the key theme running through the 3314 shows running at the Fringe this year (this isn’t counting the Film, Book, International and polemically ‘Comedy’ festival of The Big Four), it’s bound to be something that you think about as a minimum on ending your show, let alone the poor souls who suffer directly from it pre, during or post Fringe. I am one of those such sufferers: I know the festival is going to be a huge test of my emotional willpower: in what other business do you spend all day parading your own face, in person and print, to any and all strangers in the hope that you achieve a higher attendance rate to your show than the hallowed psychological tipping point of 5 audience members (for that is the average per show per night at this year’s festival). I am not ashamed to admit that I have near-weekly therapy (budget permitting) and nor should anyone else be if they choose to seek it. My cat also provides immense therapy in return for me housing him to comfortably quarantine him from his FIV developing any worse. They’re Zen masters walking on four paws – and tests have proven that the stroking of cats’ fur can release chemicals in the body that reduce stress and allow once to be present-minded. I prepared as well as I could for the festival, with as many therapy sessions as previews, and a lot of cat caressing. I also undertook a pre-arranged Skype one-on-one with my therapist less than 48 hours after finishing my final show (I had none during the festival). Mental health and the spectrum of neurological orders and disorders are themes that have been talked about vehemently throughout August 2015.
The range of conditions - developed or developing - that performers involuntarily face head on, are a key reason why success at the Fringe should be measured not in reviews, but in the psychological review of one’s own mental wellbeing. To put a spin on the old phrase ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’: ‘subjectively brilliant creativity is temporary, mental health is permanent’. As alluded to in previous editions of this Crappiness blog, I have a daily run in with my own spectrum of uncontrollable annoyance: a little thing called twitching and tics. I took to featuring it in my show after the previews this year, weaving it into a story about how we all have our daily battles with crappiness that don’t necessarily need conquering but instead need understanding, respecting and harnessing for self-betterment with a “screw it” to what any onlookers think. As expressed in my comedy show, my twitching has never been diagnosed: twice different doctors have written me a referral note to see a neurological specialist, twice I have failed to follow this up; mainly for fear that I will discover a label for it which would dispel ‘the odd couple’ affinity I have for it (me v my mind). It’s simply a part of me, sometimes lessening often worsening with no concrete cause but plenty of effect. It causes me to wince, twitch, stretch, vocalise and gesture unexpectedly, in the strangest ways. I like to think of it as the tiny alien in Men In Black, sat comfortably inside my braincase, pulling levers and spinning cogs which perpetuate a rollercoaster of inventive tics. My current one (spawning from absolutely nowhere, near the end of the festival) involves stretching from either side, whilst stroking and slapping the sides of my ribs. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in Michael Jackson’s Thriller routine (I suppose I do work part-time as a zombie). This one also seems to have spawned a new one: rolling the balls of my shoulder, whilst attempting to stroke the furthest most area of my bicep. It’s a 24/7 tiring process with new aches and pains suddenly present, but one I often feel is essential in attempting a solo artistry built on individuality, originality and 100% self. The reason I rarely feature it in these blogs is that I find it just as taboo writing about it as I do speaking about it openly. The decision to feature it in my show was not off the cuff, it was an expose with potentially tectonic-plate shifting effects for how the world perceives not only my performances, but my personality and the message of my shows. I am sure of the 1,000s of performers at this year’s festival, many don’t mention their personal nuances and afflictions.
Many will keep quiet when it comes to their daily psychological battles…in the hope that in staying quiet they might eventually win the war against it. The irony is that in the many conversations I have had with comedians and performers, personal exploration and raw admittance of oddities seems to be the way comedy is going in terms of escalating audiences’ emotional engagement to situational, cerebral or conceptual material. My twitching knackers me out physically and have the knock-on effect of making me grumpy and snappy. The tics can a trigger for (or be triggered by) the emotional rollercoaster of daily life (a vicious little cycle) pressured with the responsibility of continuously coming up with new ideas. I already have my idea for my next show – and that doesn’t mean it has to be 2016. A wonderful chat with comedian Jim Smallman (on nightly in my venue just before me), made me realise that a great show is not destined to be born annually – coming up with your next ‘project’ can take a mere month, or five years. Jim’s brilliant and exposing 2015 show ‘My Girls’ apparently took 3 years in the making. He performed at Edinburgh in 2010-2012, in which his 3 shows received differing levels of success critically and personally. He said he took a break because he felt the 2012 show was rushed and simply done because of a fear of losing out and diminishing momentum from the work he had built up steadily.
As well as being one of the most genuine and down right lovely blokes I have ever had the privilege to sit down for an in-depth chat with, he is one of the biggest circuit comedians in the UK, regularly performing in the highest profile comedy venues all over our spectre’d isles – and if he says “don’t ever feel you’re missing out if you don’t do Edinburgh” then a performer doesn’t need much more convincing than that. Jim expressed something that I’ve felt for some time; that central London and ‘Fringified’ Edinburgh can be “odd crowds” and that “real audiences are out across the country in clubs and comedy events: and real people appreciate you coming all the way out there to deliver them quality comedy. Edinburgh is a strange puppetry paradox: you attach yourself to the strings of vanity, being controlled from above by some unseen creative gods, with journalistic Punch and Judies whacking you from each side with a giant publishing stick. Sometimes they hit hard (that 2 star review left a bruise for a while…which has now subsided remarkably). Jim’s advice helped me clarify something crucial to doing the Fringe: don’t attach yourself to the strings until (or unless) you have a damn fine puppet of yourself, ready to parade before unknown audiences for an entire month (with usually 10 months’ rehearsals). My next show will be ready, quite simply, when it’s ready. It’s too far into the post Edinburgh creative fumigating process to be worried about the next show – and the key in making it a deeply personal (and deeply appealing project) will be to chip away at it each day, as inspiration comes and goes…until it finally resembles the shape of something you’d like to fill out a venue proposal for. Long way of saying: I’m in no rush to be checking application dates for 2016 venues.
My idea is a challenging and ambitious one, and will take a huge amount of work on the side (I’m Executive of the award-winning Push Talks, which I’m deeply passionate about growing). All I can say at this stage is that it involves anthropology, comedy and postcards (a shit load of them). Even though this year’s strenuous month of performing has made me fall in love with live comedy even more as a career, it’s also made me realise that if it all went tits up or I never performed jokes into a microphone again for some personal or external factor, I’d be fine with that. This year has made me finally embrace the term “artist”, meaning that 24/7 creativity means large ups and downs in terms of work produced, with fixed completion dates more a curiousity and less of a necessity. It’s something I tell 1,000s of teenagers each year in Push Talks: the journey is the destination, and if you don’t like the experience of doing a certain thing and only relish the completion date, then you’re not experiencing it right. For all future performance work undertaken, I’ll relish in the fact that the real fun is in the slow burning, Yankee Candle-like fruition of ideas – with a craving for endless failure, change, audience comments and self-reflection…and if the tics are coming with me on this journey, then so be it. Just like my twitching, live comedy is a “love it to escape it” clause: I can’t imagine life without it, but I’m constantly trying to work towards a life without wanting it. What would replace it? Well it certainly won’t be “the next show”; a way of thinking that would surely drive one mad if finishing one show meant the feeling of “raising the bar” for 12 months’ time. Instead, I’m going to weave the things that are important to me in life into my comedy storytelling. It sounds obvious, and simple enough – yet I and other comedians know what it’s like to feel ‘trapped’ by one’s material, going against desires and impulse to create something “people will want to hear”. If you’re producing work paralleled to pre-existing successes, then surely you’re not being a true artist. In “not wanting comedy” I’d look to fill it with my other loves: my cat, coffee, classic rock, UK travel and motorbikes. You’ll probably notice a pattern in my loves - and an efficient way of combining them (perhaps a caffeine-fuelled motorbike tour of my Push Talks, playing bluetooth’d overly loud rock at 80mph, with my cat in my sidecar…petrified to the point of scratching through the metal framework? Maybe with the odd stand up gig thrown in at each location I visit? If someone would like to sponsor this, I’m open to offers. There’ll be naming rights (for the tour, not my cat), and I might even let competition winners ride in the sidecar and get clawed to death by a cat thrashing out to Led Zeppelin.
I often wonder what the psychological effect other shows have had on me are. This year, Edinburgh Fringe have set up mental health support for all performers. I went to a brilliant workshop led by The Samaritans, on how to listen to what you want and need personally, plus how to listen to others who may not want solutions, but may just need someone to hear them. I have seen and been a part of some incredibly powerful shows. Challenging productions with a clear message right from the start, and a willingness and confidence to see their message come through clearly and potently to a mindful audience. The production up here that changed everything for me was performing a comedy character in 2011 and 2013's Fringe First award-winning site specific Underbelly piece 'You Once Said Yes'*. I spent (collectively over two Edinburgh festivals) 8 weeks outside, being rained on, with Edinburgh crowds and unrelenting tourists barging past me, and the only thing that got my through was the message of the show. The message was to take a chance and say "yes" to a stranger who somehow knows your name (the magic of theatre...and texts from your producer) and let said stranger drag you into a Bingo Hall on Nicholson Street for 10 minutes to try convincing you that saying "yes" to turn a popular OAP haunt into an uber-sleazy strip bar is morally admirable. Surprisingly, most said yes - which made me believe even more in the power of the show, as 'Julian the property developer' really was a gloriously horrible person (think Gordon Brittas or David Brent), but through belief in the show's message most would be won over by my sheer insistence that they had to say "yes" and sign my lease holder (fake) contract to demolish the Bingo Hall...simply because (as almost every one of the audience said) "I can't say no because you've put up such a good argument".
As I stood daily for 3.5 hours in the poorest of conditions (Edinburgh's glorious weather) I would often find myself waiting for the next audience member, whilst seeing countless other performers barge past me for the 3,300 shows up here, and in my head repeat Jake Orr’s question: "why are we all doing this?". I think the answer simply has to be that (fingers crossed) the majority of us feel we have a message that simply yearns to be shared - whether that’s for 2 audience members (the first preview night of my 2015 show), or 200. I've never panicked too much if the house hasn't been full - I've been averaging 20-60 this year since that preview (my venue has 70 capacity) but I do agree with Jake that you can't come up here with the sole ambition being to "pack in the houses and rinse them of their money". I've believe so much in my theory and results (which I display with a power point during my comedy show) that I started the run by giving away 25 free tickets a day simply to get people to take a chance on my message - and crucially so they leave having thinking about a unique perspective on life.
I suffered something of a mental breakdown after my 2011 run of You Once Said Yes (even with a Scotsman Fringe First Award and Total Theatre Award for innovation in hand). In other words, the message of the show that year almost killed me. It triggered a range of new tics and the breakdown of my longest (as of yet) relationship. From that moment on, I vowed that mental health shouldn’t be run from; it should help build a show, and if needs be it should feature prominently. I've tried to bring a rawness and honesty about life’s conditions into my 2015 show - my first full hour as a stand up. It's called The Pursuit of Crappiness, and I've undertaken 6 months of research (online and in over 150 schools and universities) to gather data to prove my thesis: that crappiness is the true route to happiness. I noticed Jake tweeted a picture of him in the pouring rain with a grin on your face...which is exactly how I felt standing outside the Bingo Hall all those times when I'd meet audience members who were drenched: it proves that crappiness is what bonds us as humans; it gives us the power of thought, the love of conversation, the hunger to challenge and change, and to question the current situation. Retrospectively my falling off the psychological bridge after that show was a blessing, because it allowed me to stop running from my tics and mental health problems and actually start facing it head on. Crucially, crappiness can also be very funny (mainly where my show takes the theory).
Jake Orr mentioned that "many pieces of theatre get created without the audience being kept in mind nor with them being part of the process". I couldn't agree more, which is why with the growing spotlight on mental health, audiences should relish getting on board in the creative process from as early as the performer deems possible (as should newspapers and reviewers). It would certainly help merge the finished product with an exploration of the personality that has brought it to public view: which I think would make for better understanding of the overall message of the piece. With my somewhat hybrid 2015 show (stand up mixed with a 1-man-monologue mixed with audience interaction) it's realistically a ‘comedy seminar’ it is shaped by the audience to the point where I deliberately have a 5-10 minute part of the show (after I've presented my theory) where we stop and discuss their shituations about life. Audience members, in the hours before the show, are told by me to go away and really think about life's crappiness and the things that really rile them, and I don't bring people up on stage...since they already arrive feeling like a huge cog in the creative daily process and workings of the show. I also have an online 'crappiness poll' survey that I tweet the link to each day (now filled out by over 150 people, of which at least 50% have been to the show), and I get audiences to keep sharing their #shituations #crappinessishappiness stories with me for future audiences. Also, I alter the powerpoint each day to include the latest online poll results and audience comments. This brings audiences a real sense of ownership of each individual show, even more so if they’ve come to see me after reading my crappiness blogs, which have been running parallel with the show’s development since Christmas 2014. I also ask audience members to stick around after my show and let me know their thoughts - and if my theory is one they agree with. In short: ingraining audience members in the development of a deeply personal project from as early as possible is a huge risk, but one that is worth it to create a message and theme that rings true to others.
Jack Orr recently created the 'Making Room Organisation, which sounds great and needed; we absolutely should be questioning why each piece is put in front of an audience (namely by them questioning it during the creative process of producing it). This initiative must sit on equal pedestal to the beautiful work being done by the Wellcome Trust, Assembly, Equity, Samaritans, Fringe Central and all therapists out there. We’d all do well run less from the shame of mental health, and start to see it as a normalised process to creating art. And if all that fails, I’ll drag you into a bingo hall twitching and ranting about crappiness and the jackhammering of my own mind, whilst swinging my FIV cat in the air (to be fair, that sounds like a show I’d pay to see).