The Road to the Fringe - DANIELLA ISAACS
HEAR ME RAW (George Square, 2.40pm)
It seems like years ago but it was March. Rosy Banham (the director) and I were eating dinner before heading to Soho theatre together to see our friend, Richard Gadd’s show. Whilst awkwardly playing with my salad in a bid to stay away from eating potatoes, I mentioned that I’d really like to make another show with Rosy. A few years ago, we won the Ideas Tap Underbelly Award for Mush and Me, a two-hander (with David Mumeni) which explored interfaith relationships. We went on to win the Holden Street Theatre Award which meant we took it to the Adelaide Fringe as well as performing at The Bush Theatre. It is now in development to be made into a television drama. I wanted to make a show about the wellness industry, I had spent the previous few years copywriting for a wellness brand in between acting jobs and I recognised that in an industry which is focused on being happy all the time, a huge amount of angst and sadness being suppressed underneath. This blatant conflict means that opportunity for drama is rife. Rosy was keen, but when I started talking about potential characters and plot points, she said the only way she would get on board was if the show was autobiographical. We both recognised that my obsession with healthy living had gone too far and both recognised that the psychological reasons lurking underneath were dramatically interesting and sadly current. I looked down at my remaining plate of spuds and said ‘no way am I ever going to expose myself in a solo show.’
Two hours later, after watching Richard Gadd’s show, I turned round to Rosy and said… ‘about that autobiographical show… let’s do it’.
THE WRITING HOLE
I think having spent a huge amount of my teenage years within the NYT has really helped me understand the long process of making a new piece of work. I realise how important it is to firstly surround yourself with trustworthy peers who can offer their feedback honestly and with that comes letting go of ego if it prevents you from making good work. I’d much rather someone tells me something they didn’t think worked than did, otherwise what’s the point in workshopping it in front of people before an audience? I love getting genuine responses, I trust Rosy’s instincts hugely, so every few days we met up and I would read her the latest version, we would then discuss, annotate and then I’d go back to the drawing board. We held readings and development afternoons with friends that we respect too- Josh Azouz, Joe Hampson, James Fritz and lots more- each time we got someone new in to listen, I learnt more about the show, it’s amazing how just getting a fresh response from somebody is all you need sometimes when you feel blocked. Similarly, Rosy and I booked into see loads of solo shows too. Even if they weren’t all our taste, just exposing ourselves to new pieces of work was inspiring- I loved Triple Threat, All the Things I lied about & David Baddiel’s show too.
I also spoke to lots of people who had struggled with anxiety, eating disorders and body confidence issues too – it was reassuring to check in with other people who have struggled over the years and made me realise how important it is to tell this story honestly and simply.
Also, Joe Hampson (our dramaturg) couldn’t care less about the wellness industry- that was hugely helpful as it meant that I was constantly reminded to keep the structure and personal story interesting without relying on the subject matter that it’s bedded in. Rosy and I were really keen on ensuring that I kept the story active rather than wholly retrospective, we wanted to stay clear of a TED talk narrative. The audience always needed to feel important, I kept asking myself what does Green Girl need from her audience.
I really want this show to ring true with lots of people – you don’t have to have gone to the extremes I went to – we are living in such an unstable time, anxiety is rife and social media exacerbates it. I want to rip up the Instagram filter and reveal the mess underneath all of us. I hope this show proves that you don’t have to have ‘solved’ or ‘cured’ before you start speaking about your feelings. Seeing as the show is deeply personal, there were times within the writing process that I found really difficult, a huge amount of my anxieties from previous years came flooding back- it just proves how powerful the mind can be. I was thinking constantly about how it feels to be anxious and by-proxy I became it! We made sure I kept to constant deadlines- that meant I couldn’t sit and procrastinate, I had to constantly submit new scenes and that really helped, it meant that I could keep trying new things out and wouldn’t allow myself to question it.
THE GET UP AND GO
Our producer Aine Flanagan got us a slot at Latitude Festival just two weeks into rehearsals. That was incredibly helpful and ridiculously scary. It meant that the first two weeks were solely about getting the show straight up on it’s feet rather than sitting around a table for hours discussing the motivation and objective of the character. Diving straight into it was a massive blessing, it also meant that the scariest performance was over with two weeks to spare of rehearsals. I would really recommend getting an early preview in even if it scares the life out of you. I learnt so much about the rhythm, structure and my performance just from doing one performance to a big crowd.Then we had another two weeks back at the Workrooms to really hone it.
- Buy magic whiteboard sheets. Rosy wrote every to-do, every event, every research point on sheets around the wall – small pleasures.
- Get fresh eyes in every few days. We invited friends, peers, duty managers, other cast members rehearsing at the Old Vic Workrooms in to watch showings every few days.
- If you’re stuck, run. Rather than sitting and discussing every few hours, we made sure we would just run the show. So much was found in just doing that.
- Keep changing. We are still changing the show whilst on the train to Edinburgh. I want to keep changing it and not be scared of that. The worst thing would be if we were 100% happy on day 1 of Edinburgh – what would be the point of doing it for the month?
We tested out the show last week at Hackney Showroom which was scary but brilliant. It was the first time we shared the work with our friends and family. It reassured me to continue to trust and follow our instincts and made me realise moments that need work and moments to feel confident in. Now onto Edinburgh- this is the hard bit as the struggle is balancing the producerly tasks with doing the show everyday. Thankfully, Aine, Rosy and the rest of the team are bloody brilliant- and when we all have the same goal of making the most of the show, everything seems a little less scary….. (She says before the first show) Will she regret it all? Will she live to tell the tale? Will she eat potatoes?…To be continued.Book Tickets
Throughout the last year we’ve been supporting a host of emerging companies and artists over at The Workrooms by offering them 100% subsidised rehearsal space and development support through our project The Old Vic Lab. If you’re a creative, find out how you can develop your work here at The Old Vic.