By Katie Powell - North east based actor and theatre maker, and Mortal Fools' very own MELVA!
I’m standing outside of my workplace and I can’t stop crying. I was supposed to be back 5 minutes ago. I wish I was at home with my family; where no one would look at me, no one would expect anything of me and I would be warm and safe. I reflect on how poor my mental health is at the moment. It comes in waves generally, but the past 6 months have been particularly hard and I haven’t had any time to process it. I wish more than anything the world would stop turning just for a minute so I could catch my breath, regroup. I can’t go on like this. I feel like I need to take a year out to focus solely on getting mentally healthy again: to meditate, exercise, sleep, go back to therapy, take stronger tablets, read books. Then I remember life doesn’t work like that. The impracticalities hit me like a bus. How would I pay rent? How would I eat? Sure, I’ll just ask my mam and dad to financially support their 26 year old daughter whilst she sits on their settee looking perfectly healthy. But this is the second time this month I have run away and cried uncontrollably at a place of work. It’s raining and dark and freezing cold out here. Someone crosses the car park towards me and I turn my head to face the wall, hating myself for behaving like a mad person. I don’t have the strength for what is required of me.
A week later the country goes into lockdown. It didn’t turn out exactly the way I imagined it but pretty close. I’m not in my parents’ living room – I’m in my flat with my housemate, living off Universal Credit. 8 weeks pass and this is the spiritual retreat I quite literally prayed for. Jared Leto would pay a lot of money to be in my little ashram of a flat. I have psychotherapy sessions over Zoom every Friday. I run in the woods 3 times a week and I can now run faster and longer than I ever have before. I meditate every morning while my coffee is brewing and before I turn my phone on. I listen to podcasts and absorb their wisdom on long walks. I get out my mat and practise yoga most days. And it is very rare for me to sleep less than 9 hours a night. (See?! I said I was exhausted.)
In the spirit of keeping it real, of course there have been hard days. Turning inwards to take care of your mental health is scary and overwhelming and gruelling. There have been times when I would have given anything to shake off the strangeness and go for drinks with friends, the world back to normal. There have been shivery times after therapy when I could have really done with a hug. But overall, lockdown is the best thing that’s ever happened to my mental health.
I drink proper coffee every morning whilst listening to radio 6 in the sun in my back yard. I watch classic rom-coms I never got round to watching before. And I like Spring! I thought I hated Spring. It generally meant people would try and make me do things and I’d be tired and cold. Turns out Spring is beautiful. Have you seen cherry blossom? Have you smelt wild garlic? And for me, the most crucial part of enjoying this lockdown has been the whole world stopping with me. I feel neither shame nor panic at spending my afternoon alone on a walk because I couldn’t be on a luxury city break with my most Instagrammable friends even if I wanted to.
Since I left college at 18, the hustle has been unrelenting. As a self-employed actor/theatre maker, I live in a constant state of high alert. Who’s doing what? And where? What should I be seeing? Who should I be getting to know? My life is one long hot summer’s day where no matter what lovely thing I’m doing, there are other places I ought to be, doing more, doing better. The only routine is provided by the bi-weekly panic of “Will I be able to pay rent this month?” Last year I worked for over 15 different companies either acting or writing or marketing or answering phones or photocopying. In response to your very reasonable question, I do often wonder if the creative industries is the right place of work for me. But I haven’t ever really stopped to check. There aren’t many people in the world who can afford the luxury of stopping and checking they’re on the right path.
And if I think the hustle of employment is merciless, it’s nothing compared to the hustle of a young woman constantly trying to look attractive. I feel nothing put pure giddy joy getting dressed every morning into huge jeans and warm baggy sweatshirts. I don’t have to wear a bra. I don’t have to put make up on. I don’t have to attempt to make my hair look not shit. I don’t have to hold my belly in! I have stepped out of the monotonous rotation of nail painting, waxing, waterproof mascara removal, hair trims and H&M changing rooms. I don’t think a single day has gone by since I was 12 years old where I didn’t feel bad about my appearance in some way – from acne, to fat, to wrinkles, to clothes with holes in. How glorious it is to just… stop trying. It’s interesting to find out which “self-care” habits really are for myself and which ones are for the benefit other people. In lockdown I still spend lots of time on lovely skincare and regular exercise, but if I ever put eyeliner on again it will be too soon.
I want to get down on my knees and thank the universe. I don’t have children to look after. I’m not in lockdown with a difficult partner. I’m not a key worker. I am not high risk. The list is infinite. All I can say is thank you.
Every day someone messages me to tell me how much they’re missing the real world. I still have no idea how to respond. I am thriving. Giving myself permission to take my foot off the gas and heal during lockdown has been one of the greatest, hardest and most generous gifts I have ever given myself. And I’ll put a healthier and stronger person back into the world because of it. I would encourage anyone to cancel their next Zoom meeting and put the kettle on instead. Who says the hustle is more real than sitting down to watch 2 Meg Ryan films in a row?
Eliza Strassheim - Mortal Fools Youth Theatre Member
Note to start; we were truly blessed with the Edinburgh weather this year, which was a pretty good backdrop for our trip from beginning to end. Overall we rate this weather 4 stars out of 5. Only on the second night, the weather decided to turn a 180° and we were faced with biblical-levels-of-raining and we got soaked, but it was certainly worth it!
DAY 1 - So the first show we saw was f.off, performed by the ensemble National Youth Theatre students with Paul Roseby directing.
The performance put Mark Zuckerberg and his social media minions on trial, questioning them on the manipulative policies they have placed upon their social media platforms, used by people across the globe.
It involved a lot of audience participation, but never lost the central focus, a courtroom drama to interrogate the "Zuck". Woven into the story line were accounts from a range of people's experiences with social media.
What made this show such a joy to watch, was it's ever present message, the question “Why has this been taken so far?”
The performance created an accurate representation of politics in the UK today and depicted IT manipulations, influencing voters in real time with adverts and algorithms to exploit the Election Day.
The next show we went to see on our first day in Edinburgh was by the "Baby Wants Candy" Ensemble. It was a fully improvised musical of "Big Little Thighs" (Play on words for the American Drama, starring Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies).
Since it was improvised this show was utterly unpredictable so you could never of guessed what was going to happen. Precocious sister, Savannah, and peculiar sister Jamantha battled against their mother, librarians and the freaky “mom-friend” neighbour with a dark, ‘dead’-ly secret, to discover what happened to their father.
This was probably the best comedy we got to see, and songs such as “Family Tree”, “Secrets” and of course the finale interlude of “Big Little Thighs” made it impossibly wonderful to watch.
Outside of the shows, we looked around the venues and ate street food in George Square Gardens. It was a pretty brilliant first day.
DAY 2 - We kicked off our second day with not a performance theatre show, but an all-immersive sensory experience in a shipping container. The container had been mocked into a hospital ward-type setting with bunk beds that smelled of surgical spirit and fresh paint. There was a silent disco element to the experience and we had to lie on the beds and wear headphones, which were wired into the walls of the container.
At the beginning a voice spoke, from both the headphones and speakers mounted in the container, introducing the ‘experience’. A warning was given to say if we didn’t like the dark or had problems with being in total darkness we should probably leave now, because we would not be able to leave at all once it all began.
The lights then switched completely off and we really were in total darkness on the bunks. I don’t want to give too much away, but it was like being in a coma.
Oh yeah, it was actually called “Coma”. The voice in our headphones was that of our doctor, who talked us into eating a pill on a dish next to the bunks. Obviously this pill had nothing in, but that was the point, because we knew we would all still experience a placebo-type feeling after having it. We would all feel different.
The voice started describing the room, and situations which had happened in it. We were subjected to smells like coffee, perfume, marzipan while being talked through the scenario. It was like living in other people’s memories. All in the total darkness through the headphones. Weird and slightly scary stuff- but very cool.
Our second show of the day was a rendition of Jekyll and Hyde by New Zealand theatre company A Slightly Isolated Dog. The performance involved a lot of audience participation which we thoroughly enjoyed, and some musical intervals which we were in awe of. The cast created a wonderful atmosphere of adventure, innuendo and comedy which was magic to be part of as an audience.
Speaking of casts creating atmospheres, we then saw Electrolyte, which actually had nothing to do with GCSE Chemistry and electrolytes at all.
It was acted out by a cast who also played as band throughout. The show was centred around a young woman battling with mental health issues all the while, trying to balance her friendships and wild partying-lifestyle.
The show used lighting and music beautifully, but fell through when trying to connect, relate and include to the audience, so it just came across as a “One foot in the rave” storyline.
However, we certainly learned one thing; “We are all made of stardust,” Oh yeah, and dreams too, don’t forget dreams, Silly.
Our final show of the day to see was The Brunch Club, a show inspired by the iconic John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club and other high school-based teen flicks like Clueless and Mean Girls. Most scenes payed homage to these tropes, and the characters introduced were modern versions of them; the mean girl, the nerd, nandos kid, activist vegan and more.
We were shown the evolution of these stereotypes throughout time and how media and pop culture had shaped them, which was interesting to watch unfold.
We then went back to camp to enjoy a cover of “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls from a few members of our Ensemble in the main tent, and then to bed.
DAY 3 - On our third and final day of Fringe, we went to see a contemporary performance, which after viewing was considered to be one of the top shows we saw by quite a lot of members of the group.
The show was called Are we not drawn onward to new erA, which is a palindrome so if you read it backwards it will say the same thing.
At first it was very confusing as the performance evolved. The production was recorded as it was performed by the Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed. The piece was contemporary, and could (just like the title) be viewed forwards and backwards. Performers spoke completely backwards throughout, which took us a while to realise. Plastic bags were thrown around, a tree was destroyed, a statue was put up, and finally, smoke machines turned the stage into a solid grey mass.
Then the recorded footage was played backwards.
The message can be read both ways. In the description on the Fringe website, they have made the entire performance a palindrome, played forwards or backwards to portray the identical piece, because “some believe humanity is moving forward, while others believe the opposite...Are our actions irreversible or can we undo them?”
This performance was poignant, political, artistic and visually dynamic, and very significant to the time we are in now as a society.
Our final show of the Fringe was called Standard-Elite another entertaining and comedic performance which used vivid story telling of two very different characters to engross the participating audience members, who were put into two groups; standard and elite.
Elite members of the audience could decide what happened to story when given the option to through the two narrators. Standard members helped act this out, using given props from the narrators.
This performance flowed brilliantly and never failed to impress with its use of props and excellent comedy.
Similar to our previous show, the message left to the end was one of importance, and the performers had succeeded in making us as an audience feel like we really were part of the story, since most decisions made effected us.
Edinburgh Fringe 2019 was brilliant! The weather was kind and not even a head cold could spoil our enjoyment! Thank you Mortal Fools! As ever it was a blast :)
Don't forget: you can still see the full 'Fringe Takeover' on our instagram highlights!