Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Sadie Clark: "I think I spend too much time worrying about what other people think though, which is ironic because the message of the play is really to stop worrying about what other people think of you."
ALGORITHMS | Pleasance Courtyard (Baby Grand)
31st July – 26th August (not 13th), 12:45 | TICKETS
The tragi-comic Algorithms introduces the bisexual Bridget Jones for the online generation.
Hi Sadie & Madelaine thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
SADIE: Good, lots to be getting on within the run-up to Edinburgh and our previews…
Are you all set for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?
SADIE: Things seem to be falling into place… I’m juggling wearing three hats: writer, actor and co-producer, which can feel a little bit like I’m spinning too many plates, but I haven’t had a breakdown, yet… and I’m starting to get very excited about August.
MADDY: I think so – we’ve had some time since the Soho WIP version of the show to finesse it and add some extra design elements, so feeling really excited and looking forward to it!
Will there be any nerves ahead of your Fringe run?
SADIE: So many nerves! I think I’ve had one excitement shiver for every thirty nervous stomach clenches.
MADDY: Of course, you always feel a bit nervous when putting something up in front of a paying audience, but I feel really confident that people are going to respond well to this show. Also last year I was at the fringe as producer and director of my own company’s show, Ladykiller, which to be quite honest broke me a little bit, so this is going to be much more fun!
How does it feel to have Algorithms going to the Pleasance this Summer?
SADIE: Terrifying-exciting-still-can’t-quite-believe-it! I’ve been to the Fringe as a performer twice before, but it really feels like a whole different ball game when it’s a show you’ve written that you’ll be performing, alone on stage every day for the month. I’m really excited to be doing it, and especially at Pleasance Courtyard as it’s my favourite Fringe venue and as it’s something I’ve been dreaming of doing for years, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m dead nervous too.
MADDY: So happy to be going back to the Pleasance! I just love this venue – they feel like they are the most supportive of emerging artists and they are doing some great stuff so very happy to be part of that.
Can you tell me a little bit about Algorithms, what can we expect?
SADIE: Algorithms is like Bridget Jones’ millennial, bisexual, younger sister.
It’s a tragicomic one-woman play that follows Brooke, the algorithm writer for an online dating site as she searches for love, happiness and connection in a world defined more and more by online interactions. You’ll probably relate to it if you’ve ever wasted hours on social media wondering what you were doing with your life, ever felt lonely, or ever wished your Mum would stop asking you why you were using WhatsApp so late on a work night...
MADDY: Lots of proper laugh-out-loud moments, maybe the odd tear or two, some seriously funky dancing, and finally the joy and awe that will no doubt ensue when you see our SECRET WEAPON in the jubilantly triumphant ending! But information about this item is embargoed…you’ll just have to come and see the show!
What was the inspiration behind your play?
SADIE: I began developing the play after thinking about the negative impact social media was having on my mental health. Known as the ‘compare and despair’ phenomenon, I was getting caught up in a curated online world of filtered Instagram posts and Facebook statuses, thinking that everyone else’s lives were much more fun, sorted and happy. Despite having hundreds of online friends and followers I was feeling increasingly lonely and isolated. I wanted to explore those feelings in a story, and thus Algorithms began.
I've also had *a lot* of first-hand experience online dating, and my Science degree means I’ve always been interested in the logic behind things. It seemed natural therefore to research the maths and science behind matched-based dating apps. And so Brooke 'the algorithm writer for an online dating site' was born.
Finally, it was clear to me Brooke (the protagonist) needed to be bisexual. I felt strongly that had I seen more bisexual characters in pop culture growing up I would have realised I was bi much earlier in life. We rarely see openly bi characters on stage or screen, yet bisexuals make up the majority of the Lesbian-Gay-Bi community. So why are we still regarded as the ‘invisible minority’?
"I worry that people aren’t going to relate to it or will think I’m a narcissist."
When you’re writing a new piece is it hard not to inject your own experiences into the characters?
SADIE: Well… I would say about 50% of the show is very much based on my own experiences… and almost all the characters have a little bit of me in them… I don’t try to avoid it, to be honest. I think the best writing is authentic, and my most authentic observations will always come from my own experiences. Of course, usually, it’s just the flavour of an experience that’s been used to write a character or event, as opposed to the whole piece being a verbatim show about my life. The narrative is definitely imagined, but it’s peppered with reality. And my Mum will proudly admit to anyone that the opening scene really did happen…
Do you think audiences still have misunderstandings about bisexuality?
SADIE: Yes, I think the main misunderstanding is people struggling to believe it’s real or take it seriously. I saw a number of plays last year where the bisexual characters were considered to be ‘secretly gay men’ or ‘straight girls doing it to be edgy’. This was often the butt of some joke that audiences roared with laughter at. This is bi-erasure (questioning the legitimacy of bisexuality) and it’s still a huge problem in our media and pop culture. When writing Algorithms I wanted to put a bisexual character centre stage without the associated harmful stereotypes and myths (that we’re greedy, unfaithful, confused, promiscuous, that it’s just a phase or we’re secretly straight/gay). I wanted to create a bisexual character whose sexuality didn’t define her - a bisexual character with a universal story to tell.
Why do you think fewer bisexual people are ‘out’ compared to lesbian/gay people?
SADIE: Despite what many people might think studies have shown being bisexual still has a greater stigma attached to it than being lesbian or gay. Many people incorrectly associate bisexuality with promiscuity or being “confused” or a “phase”, or they think it doesn’t exist at all. And this biphobia and bi-erasure we experience don’t only come from the straight community, it comes from the lesbian and gay community too. So coming out can feel scary because it can feel like you’re all alone, with misunderstanding on all sides. We’re also still grossly under-represented and misrepresented in the media, which doesn’t help bisexual visibility and confidence in coming out. On top of that, even if you do come out, bisexual people will often find themselves having to come out again and again and again, as others are quick to make assumptions that they have “switched” from straight to lesbian/gay and back, depending on their partners’ gender. So I think overall many people probably find it easier not to come out as bisexual at all.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this production to life?
SADIE: For me, it’s my anxiety. I feel doubly exposed performing something I’ve written and so it often gets the better of me. I worry that people aren’t going to relate to it or will think I’m a narcissist. I think I spend too much time worrying about what other people think though, which is ironic because the message of the play is really to stop worrying about what other people think of you.
MADDY: I think one person shows can be tricky because the performer has to create everything for the audience, including other characters. This is particularly so for ones which aren’t unified in time and place – Algorithms has tons of locations and happens over the run-up to Brooke’s (Sadie’s character) 30th birthday, so clarity is probably the biggest challenge. Hopefully, I’ve done my job!
What was it about Sadie’s play that interested you as a director?
MADDY: As a director, I am all about finding ways of disrupting representation on stage, but in a way that is entertaining and accessible. Sadie has created a bisexual character whose story is not driven by her sexuality but is more about coming of age in the early 21st century. She’s sex-positive, she’s a bit geeky, she has unashamedly hairy armpits, and yet she’s fun and attractive – shocking, I know! But seriously, these things, while they seem small, are actually pretty unusual outside of our little theatre bubble. I like to think of them as tiny acts of revolution.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
MADDY: From a very early age, I always loved performing up until I actually spent a few years being an actor. That is a seriously hard career path! I trained, I loved it but hated being in the industry, so I went away and did something else, only to return to the theatre through working in participatory settings; with young people, with people with mental health histories, in prisons. That sparked my directing career really – telling stories through collaboration. I absolutely love it!
How much has your approach to theatre changed since you started?
MADDY: I think I’ve become a lot more serious to be really honest, which is why working on Algorithms has been such a breath of fresh air because it is so much fun working with Sadie! It might be an age thing, but I find myself thinking very seriously and deeply about everything, which is great for some things, but sometimes it gets a bit ridiculous and I have to just switch that bit of my brain off! I’m definitely a lot more discerning about what I want to work on and what I am happy to put on stage in terms of what and whose stories are being prioritized.
Once a play is running do you find it hard to not keep tweaking it?
SADIE: I’m a major perfectionist so I never feel like anything is finished. Even though I first performed Algorithms last year at Soho Theatre I’m now talking to women who work in tech writing code and algorithms as part of further research and development (funded by the Arts Council). So I will be rewriting bits of the script over the next month or so based on that research. Once it’s up at the Edinburgh Fringe I’ve made a promise not to make any script changes though as I want to be able to switch my brain into actor mode and focus on that. I’m going to try really hard to keep that promise...
MADDY: Oh god, I’m awful! I have only just managed to finally stop giving notes on Ladykiller after nearly 40 performances, so watch out Sadie! I still write down notes, but I just don’t give them anymore. Seriously though, as a director you have to trust your performers and hand the show over to them at some point. Up to press night, fine, but beyond that, let them take ownership, I say, just as long as they aren’t changing the fundamentals of the show, they can fly with it!
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
SADIE: “Don’t waste your time on jealousy: sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself”. Mary Schmich told me that (via Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everbody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)' - a song I highly recommend listening to). I’m still working on taking that advice on board…
MADDY: Be professional. That doesn’t just mean the generic understanding of what professionalism looks like, that’s a given. It’s hard in creative industries to take ownership over your career (goodness knows, it’s taken me the best part of my adult life to calling myself an artist comfortably), so we need to shift how we think and talk about ourselves and our work. That means, treating yourself more like a business; how do I talk about myself and my work? What are my expectations about pay, working conditions, hours etc? Am I going to wait for the phone to ring or am I going to get out there and find out what I can do for myself and my career?
SADIE: Uh oh, now I’m panicking my advice was a bit broad stroke… but then again, even though it’s great advice for life in general, I think it’s particularly true within the creative industry. We rely on social media so much for self-promotion it can be hard not to get caught up in comparing how your career is going compared to other people.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow director?
If it’s not offered, ask.
Reflect – again and again, and again.
Make your boundaries clear.
If in doubt, go for a walk and have an ice-cream – it’s only theatre.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
SADIE: That there is no magic algorithm for the perfect life… but maybe we’d all be a little bit happier if we stopped comparing ourselves to everybody else.
MADDY: A bounce in their step, a tear in their eye, and song in their hearts.