Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Humanity has both a morbid curiosity and an instinctual repulsion when it comes to death. Over the next 50 minutes we’ll find out which is stronger. Although it’s something we’ll all go through, death is one of the least understood parts of the human experience, so Chronic Insanity is diving into the deep end. 52 Souls is an open and fun examination of death and our reactions to this terrifying inevitability. Using a pack of cards, the audience randomly generates a performance to understand humanity’s obsession with – and ignorance about – death.
Hi Joe, thank you for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping. How does it feel to be bringing 52 Souls to ZOO Playground this summer?
Great! We were planning to bring it up in 2020 and have performed it online for the past two years instead, but are now bringing it back to an in person stage and really looking forward to doing it!
Will there be any nerves ahead of your run?
Not from me, I’ve been doing the show for a couple of years now, but we have our other Company co-founder Nat Henderson and a few guest performers throughout the month who I’m sure will be feeling it at some point before they perform.
What makes the Fringe so special?
Just the way that the whole city gives itself over to the festival every year and the fact that you can fully immerse yourself into it for so long is brilliantly unique
Can you tell me a little bit about how 52 Souls came about, where did the inspiration for this show come from?
We wanted to write a show about death and mortality, but it’s such a huge concept that trying to fit into an hour long fringe slot would be impossible. So to fix that we wrote 53 monologues, assigned them each to a playing card, and had an audience shuffle the cards and randomly generate a unique series of performances every show.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced bringing 52 Souls to the stage?
Not a very unique answer, but Covid. We were ready to get it up on its feet for the 2020 fringe and have had to put it on the back burner for the past couple of years.
Will you allow yourself much flexibility with this production once it is running or will you keep to what you’ve planned?
Oh, we always work with complete and utter flexibility with any of the shows that we make, and 52 Souls is no different. Nat and myself will be in every performance but we’ll have guest performers throughout the month taking part too. Also, with a randomly generated show, you can’t not have a flexible approach!
How important is the creative collaboration between your team when working on a production like 52 Souls?
The original productions were some of the most collaborative projects we’ve ever done, with 53 performers, 7 directors, and a bunch of different writers for the multiple scenes and perspectives about death and mortality. In this current version we are refreshing a few scenes and redirecting some sections, but in general Nat and myself will be leading on the creation of our own performances and then combining them live in front of an audience everyday. It’s live collaboration every performance.
"We want to continue fighting the corner of digital theatre as other more established and better resourced organisations renege on their responsibilities to do so and we want to keep making more lo-fi immersive and interactive work at affordable prices for everyday audiences."
What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced with this show and what have been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from 52 Souls?
Trying to tackle a topic so broad as death and mortality is a really difficult task, especially trying to do it outside of your own individual opinion on the various associated topics. We also wanted the show to have a range of different styles and feelings in it, comedy and tragedy, theatre, music, puppetry, magic, poetry, mime, and everything in between. We managed it for the first production and have kept it up for all those since, including this one, but it was a very deliberate and careful process to ensure that we covered enough stuff with enough detail to allow for a fair stab at addressing the broad subject of death and mortality given that out of the 53 scenes in the show the audience is likely to only see between 9-13 each performance.
Where did your passion for theatre come from?
I’m not sure, I always performed as a kid; music, magic, and theatre, but I just kept it up. It’s really lovely to tell a story to a live audience and to see it hit home and effect them, to have that ability to communicate to other people an idea or felling you have about the world. It’s not a perfect industry, not by a long shot, but at it’s core there is something really inherently human and that I love.
How did Chronic Insanity come about and what types of theatre genres and themes are you hoping to explore with future productions?
We started the company in 2019 with the aim of producing 12 shows in 12 months which, in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, we achieved and then some. We’ve managed to repeat this every year since. We create and facilitate live events in a variety of traditional, found, and digital spaces. We make work accessibly, affordably, sustainably, and inclusively. We seek to change the definition of what theatre can be by playing with form, genre, medium, and technology. We follow Staging Change guidelines, actively provide opportunities for theatre makers from all backgrounds, and record how each production is made so people can learn from them. We want to continue fighting the corner of digital theatre as other more established and better resourced organisations renege on their responsibilities to do so and we want to keep making more lo-fi immersive and interactive work at affordable prices for everyday audiences.
Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone wanting to get into theatre?
Trust your gut and do something different. I see so many people trying to copy what other people do and then complaining that no one is paying attention to them, but actually that makes sense cos they aren’t doing anything attention grabbing. At the same time, don’t just do whatever you want to do, theatre is a collaboration between the performance and the audience and just because you think a show is important or necessary doesn’t always mean that it is. Although these are almost opposite statements, they are both important to balance when getting into theatre. Find your unique voice and story that is also appealing to an audience and keep doing that until you don’t want to do theatre anymore.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from 52 Souls?
I want them to have had an hour in a dark room to separate themselves from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to be able to reflect on, and consider, death and mortality. This has never been more important than nowadays and we want audiences to be able to take away the beneficial effect of being able to confront and reconcile some of their feelings about this terrifying inevitability.