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Theatre maker Chris Woodley writes about his month at Edinburgh Fringe performing his solo show The Soft Subject on true love, loss and staying alive.
Five years ago, while working as a teacher, my long term relationship ended very unexpectedly. The split resulted in my going into a very dark depression. I was signed off from work and spent six months in therapy dealing with the shock and the grief of the separation. In the last few years I’ve trained as an actor and recently wrote an autobiographical solo show about my experiences of love, loss and resilience. This blog charts my mental health over the months performing my play The Soft Subject (A Love Story) at The Edinburgh Festival the largest arts festival in the world, with my company Hyphen Theatre Company.
Yesterday evening, we arrived in Edinburgh to tech our show. The run up to the festival is very busy and all new to our team.
This show is a really big deal for us as a company, and performing my own work at Edinburgh has always been a dream of mine. The stakes feel very high. I’m nervous and excited in equal measure. The worry is that no one comes to see the show and everybody hates it but I’m trying to stay focused.
The show looks at my mental health, dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. I understand that the show could be quite exposing, but I truly believe that these are important issues, and I’m willing to have that dialogue.
After running the show I stand outside the venue taking in the city, feeling emotional.
We opened the show today. Telling the story and having eye contact with the audience felt incredibly vulnerable. There were times when I felt a little judged. I had anticipated this but there are some moments where the audience laughs and cries, and I feel like I’m getting the story out to them.
In one part of the show I couldn’t help but spot a complete stranger with her head down wiping tears away on a tissue. It distracted me a little and made me feel emotional. It’s a great feeling when the stakes of the story feel big and important to other people in the room; the story is having an effect on them.
There are moments where I realise that I don’t want people to feel worried about my safety on stage. I’m in charge of my story not the other way around.
Today was probably the hardest day at the Fringe since arriving last week. The lack of sleep is having a huge effect on my mood. Sharing beds in a shared household in Edinburgh is hard. We have to share as we’re on a tight budget.
When I am in London I usually try and go for a walk for an hour most days with my headphones on to clear my head, but there isn’t the time here.
I struggle to switch off and I feel like I should be leading the team. There is a sense of pressure but it’s mainly me who is putting the pressure on myself. I’m missing my boyfriend so much. Having him in my life means there is a person I can say anything to.
It feel like it’s been a very long day today. It’s often very busy at the fringe at the weekend, so you can anticipate bigger ticket sales and the atmosphere is often more buzzy and people are more chatty. There are distractions at the start of the show with interruptions that put me off my stride a little and I don’t feel very ‘in it’ as a performer.
I feel like I’m trying too hard on stage. As luck would have it, a brilliant actor friend of mine is in the front row, smiling away and I spend a few minutes just telling her the story to get me back on track. The team have worked so hard, this is our show and it’s bloody good.
The company are working flat out. We have sold five tickets. Standing on our feet all day flyering from twelve-til-four is taking it out of all of us.
I read a review from the only press we have had two days ago. They’ve given the show three stars and named my partner in the show Kevin, when in fact his name is Ryan. I say the word Ryan about 28 times, but the reviewer thinks he’s called Kevin.
I hold on to the opinion of others to keep me strong. Quite unexpectedly, twenty three people came to see the show. We all have a ball and I speak with a London programmer who wants to have the show on in their theatre. I feel quite euphoric after such a mediocre review. I’m feeling physically exhausted but mentally boosted.
So, we sold five tickets today. I need to learn to cope with this and give the audience a great show regardless of the number of people in front of me.
This is what Edinburgh is like, highs and lows. It’s hard not to take things personally and luckily my team are very straight talking and take me off to celebrate what we have achieved thus far.
My boyfriend arrives from London today and I’m desperate for some normality back in my life. I stand waiting in the rain for him and read that we’ve got a five star review. I’m overjoyed. When my boyfriend arrives we celebrate together in the rain with a big hug and a kiss.
The show goes well and afterwards we read another five star review! It’s like Christmas and my birthday all at once. I notice that a soon as my partner has arrived the tension from my body and mind dissipates and my mood is boosted.
Today is my day off. My boyfriend has left but my parents have arrived. It keeps me balanced amongst the mayhem. There hasn’t been one day off since we arrived and it feels strange as the pace of Edinburgh is so fast.
I have a couple of conversations with people about the show while out and about. One chat in particular is about how it feels to do it, and if it’s upsetting or mentally exhausting doing a show that’s autobiographical about traumatic events in your past? The truth is Edinburgh is mentally exhausting whatever the show.
I worry my mood will affect team moral and it’s quite a hard thing to describe unless you are in it. It’s more liberating to tell the story than anything else. It’s not a form of therapy, I just feel like I’m in charge of my own story.
My mum and dad have their final night in Edinburgh and I really feel like the company has found its stride amongst it all. It’s the biggest audience yet and there is a real buzz that I’ve never felt before. We’ve achieved something and it’s worth celebrating.
After the show my dad buys us all champagne and we celebrate in the rain and toast the festival.
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