Questions about a one woman show

Recently MA student Becky Williams interviewed me about the process of creating How to Drown a Fish, my first solo show. Perfectly timed, after my weeks in Edinburgh, it was a great moment to reflect on what has been a long, challenging and rewarding process. 

Becky: How would you describe the process of creating How to Drown a Fish?

Grace: How to Drown a Fish was a challenge that I set myself. Although I had directed solo work, I had never been the sole artist before. It was an experiment brought about by the situation I found myself in. At the time those who I had previously collaborated with had either gone back to their homes in other countries or were in further education. This was an opportunity to see what the colour of the work was that I created by myself.

Becky: Did you work alone or did you work with others and if so how?

Grace: For some reason I thought that being a solo artist meant that you had to work by yourself. It doesn’t. You can define the terms, there are no rules or specific ways to create solo work, its not cheating or a weakness if you ask others for help.

I started the process working alone. Inspired by research and using memories, I would set myself tasks. I would then follow these tasks out, recording everything that I did, then at the end of the day I would watch it back. When watching the material I would often analyse it as if I was watching an actor. Instead of saying “I need to do this” I would say “she needs to do that”, which was a method I used to try and distance myself from the material. It was a separation of the self into three parts: the facilitator, the performer and the director.

While I was working independently at the beginning of the process, I was lucky enough to be a part of Camden People’s Theatre’s Artist Development programme, Starting Blocks. The three-month programme involved weekly meetings with Artistic Director Brian Logan and five other artists who were also working on shows from scratch. Here you could voice problems and receive invaluable feedback from people who were outside of your work. This was crucial.

I later discovered that my process did thrive on collaboration and I needed people to bounce off of. In my second round of R&D for the show I invited collaborators into the process for a week of playing. I invited artists with different skill sets to my own: a composer, a writer, a photographer and a lighting designer. I had been attached to the work for quite some time so this week, which was crucial to the piece, allowed me to look at the work through different lenses, and thoroughly investigate the choices I had made.

Becky: What were the major challenges you faced throughout the process? How did you over come these?

Grace: As previously mentioned, in the early stages of creating I would work independently. I found that, because I was working by myself, once I found something that I liked I would keep repeating it, avoiding the questions that I didn’t have the answers to. I also found that I started working in a linear manner, trying to work out what came next, rather than being playful and open to the unknown.

When I found that I was stuck in a pattern I would try to break it. For example, when I realised that being in the studio was hindering more than helping I decided to try and find inspiration in another ways. Because the piece is a lot to do with drowning, I left the studio and had "water day”. This involved me going around London, visiting the Italian water gardens and Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, getting a boat from Tate Britain to Tate modern and visiting the London Aquarium. To do something that indirectly linked to the show really helped to refresh my approach to creating.

I also found that I was incredibly harsh on myself and would say no to my own ideas before I had even tried them. In the past, when creating work with collaborators, I would freely share thoughts. However when I invited Zach (dramaturg) or Flora ( writer and collaborator) into rehearsals I realised that I had become very internal and that I had started to censor myself. Often they would have to ask what I was thinking and forced me me to express and try out ideas, in order to stop me from cutting myself off.

Becky: What advice would you give anyone who is going to develop a solo show in the future?

Grace: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether that is just having someone to talk about the challenges you are facing outside of the studio, a collaborator in the room or someone to help you carry your props to the theatre. If you are creating a solo show make sure you are spending time with other human beings. It can become all-consuming.

If you are working with collaborators make sure you set up the parameters of that relationship. What do you expect of them? Is this measured in hours or in tasks? Also ensure that you pay and credit people accordingly for the work that they do. If you cant pay them try to provide something, whether that is croissant or a small fee for lunch.

Really interrogate why you are creating a solo show. Does the form match the content? Can it only be you on stage telling the story and if so why? Also just because you are making a solo show doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to keep doing it and doesn’t mean that you are a solo artist. At times I feel that I have created a box for myself and that’s what I fit into, however it's about what the content of your material requires. Maybe it makes sense for this show to be a solo but it doesn’t mean that next one will be. Allow yourself that possibility.

Interview by Becky Williams, Aug, 2017.