Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Katie Guicciardi: "I knew I wanted to act from age seven. However, it was after seeing Robert Lepage’s ‘Seven Streams of The River Ota’ aged sixteen that I knew theatre making would be my path in life."
FOX | Pleasance Courtyard (Baby Grand)
31st July – 26th August (not 13th), 11:30 | TICKETS
Fox explores issues surrounding class and gentrification and the experience of seeing an area change before your eyes. It also brings to light the spectrum of changes, emotions and pressures brought about during a woman’s period of ‘matrescence’ and how, by becoming mothers, women undergo not only complex hormonal and physical changes but also emotional changes in how they perceive the world, the way the world perceives them and their whole identity and lifestyle.
Hi Katie & Lisa thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Katie: Really well. Trying to get eight thousand words into my head and they are going in, slowly... The excitement is definitely building.
Lisa: At the moment, I’m finishing a job at the Stephen Joseph Theatre up in Scarborough while squeezing in the odd day working with Katie in London, so I’m really looking forward to starting full-time rehearsals for FOX in a few weeks’ time. At the moment, I’m having to fit in phone calls with the Fox designer while running across Scarborough to get to a meeting with the council about outdoor performance licences.
How does it feel to be bringing FOX to Edinburgh Fringe?
KG: Amazing! I'm so excited to see this story come to life. I wrote it a while ago but it seems more relevant and important now than ever. I’m so grateful to have a fantastic team behind me and I can’t wait to get it in front of an audience.
Are there any nerves ahead of the festival run?
KG: Yes! It’s my first one-woman show and my first Edinburgh Fringe so I'm definitely a bit ‘rabbit in the headlights’! I've compared it to being pregnant for the first time. You don’t know what to expect, you’re excited to meet the baby but also very scared of pushing it out!
Can you tell me a little bit about FOX, what can we expect?
KG: FOX is really a play about help. Our desire to give it and our need to seek it. It aims to raise awareness of postnatal mental health, the unspoken issues around early motherhood and the importance of having a community or support system in place, no matter what your situation.
LC: It really takes you inside someone’s deeply personal experience at a very specific, difficult time in her life, and then it uses that perspective to examine fundamental human questions we all struggle with. I think it’s a great piece of writing and a great piece of acting.
What was the inspiration behind FOX?
KG: FOX is partly inspired by true events in that a man did turn up to live on the wall outside my flat for a month soon after I'd had my first child. It evoked a variety of feelings and emotions in me and I needed to get them out. At the same time, I had a number of friends who were suffering or had suffered from postnatal mental health issues and it became something I desperately wanted to raise awareness of as it’s clear that there is a lot that is not said when it comes to pregnancy, birth, new motherhood etc. I hope that the show gives a voice to the experience of new motherhood and the spectrum of emotions that come with it and encourages people to talk about anything they may be going through and to feel that they can ask for help when it's needed.
When you’re creating new theatre do you always, in some way or other, find yourself drawing from your own experiences?
KG: I think that there is and should always be a part of yourself and your own experience in everything that you make or create. The experiences we have helped to shape us as people so they are always present in the work we make and are a part of that work’s uniqueness.
LC: Absolutely – you need to make art that speaks to a wide range of people, but you can only start from the place where you yourself are.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing a play to life?
KG: For me personally it’s been the challenges involved in bringing it from page to stage. Before I had the wonderful team I have behind me now on the production side of things, I felt very unsure of how to get it up in front of an audience and feared it may end up in a drawer at home. I’m really grateful that my producer saw the potential in the piece and chose to support it.
LC: I think the character Katie is playing doesn’t know or understand herself very well, so there’s the question of how you get the audience to understand her when she herself doesn’t. Luckily the writing does that job pretty well, but I have to keep an eye on it. A lot of the ideas are quite subtle – around responsibility, around guilt – and the play is generally asking questions rather than answering them, so it needs to live in shades of grey, and that’s much harder to bring fully to life than a piece that’s making a single clear statement. There are a lot of small subtle details.
"...when is it ok to put your own needs first and when is it selfish?"
When a production like FOX is running is it always evolving or are you able to avoid changing too much of it?
KG: It is early days but it has already evolved a lot in terms of the script alone. We are still editing and shifting bits around as we discover the shape of the story and the journey of the character. I imagine it will evolve further during the rehearsal process and then again when in front of an audience during previews and performances.
LC: A one-woman show is a really different thing to a play with multiple characters in it – I often say that directing a one-person show is more like coaching someone who’s going to run a marathon than like a directing job. Normally I try to develop a show through rehearsals and previews and arrive at a “final” version in time for press night, but this is all about Katie’s work and it’s her baby. If she suddenly decided in week 2 of performances that she wanted to change loads of stuff around, that would be her call. (Katie, if you end up deciding that maybe ring me for a chat first!)
What was it about Katie’s play that really interested you as a director?
LC: The questions that it asks. There are questions in life that have no right answer, but that we find ourselves having to answer and keep answering as best we can even though we have no perfect solution – and to me, those are the most interesting basis for drama. This play is about one of the big ones: how do we balance other people’s needs and our own needs? Who are we responsible for? Yes, it is about post-natal mental health, but it’s also about something most of us will struggle with without ever giving birth to a baby – when is it ok to put your own needs first and when is it selfish? Are you giving too much or too little to the people who need you? How do you tell the difference?
How would you describe FOX in 3 words?
KG: Honest. Brutal. Necessary.
LC: Brave. Complex. Moving.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
KG: Yes. From as far back as I can remember. I knew I wanted to act from age seven. However, it was after seeing Robert Lepage’s ‘Seven Streams of The River Ota’ aged sixteen that I knew theatre making would be my path in life.
LC: Robert Lepage was a massive early influence for me too, we should have made a version of this with video, Katie! I never really got to go to the theatre while I was growing up, but I caught the bug somehow anyway – I used to write and direct plays continually and make people from school be in them.
"And at this point, the way I direct a play changes according to what that play is and what I sense it needs."
What was the first play you directed?
LC: If we discount my early efforts at school (although the one aged around 14 where I made everyone be characters in a silent black-and-white film and sprayed their hair and faces black, white and grey was pretty memorable…) I guess it would be the first play I directed at university, which was Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse. The first couple of plays I directed after university were new writing for the Edinburgh Fringe, so some things never change!
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
LC: I think when I started, I was particularly interested in visual storytelling and creating a clear visual world. And that hasn’t exactly changed, but I spent five years working in a new writing theatre (Theatre503 in London) and that really taught me the importance of finding the right style for each play – you feel that responsibility very keenly when you’re bringing a piece to its first ever audience, you want to fully realise the writer’s intention. And at this point, the way I direct a play changes according to what that play is and what I sense it needs. Over the years, I’ve collected a larger toolbox of skills, and I pull out what’s right for that job. I don’t think I myself have a particular style – I have my particular taste, but that’s harder to pin down.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
KG: During rehearsals for ‘Hamlet’ with The Factory Theatre Company, the director Tim Carroll wrote me a note on a piece of paper and handed to me. It said ‘Don’t be afraid to be beautiful.’ He meant for me not to be afraid to show my true self on stage and it really resonated. To expose one’s truth on stage is really a gift to the audience.
LC: ‘Hold your nerve’ – from Katie Mitchell. My runner-up, also from Katie Mitchell, would be “know what genre you’re working in”. I spent a good five years working professionally without ever thinking about genre, then she gave me that advice after I explained a disastrous miscommunication I’d had with a designer, and it’s become one of my starting points in considering a show.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
LC: Find two or three fellow directors whose opinions you really really trust, and get at least one of them to watch a rehearsal or preview for every show you do and give you notes.
KG: Just do it. Stories make the world go round so if you have one – tell it, write it, make it. Without delay!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
KG: I hope that people will be moved by the story. I hope they will be able to relate to the character in some way and to feel more comfortable reaching out for help or to offer help in their own lives. I hope that it raises awareness of postnatal mental health, putting it more visibly on the radar and encourages open conversation.