Edinburgh Fringe 2022 
Interview

Chris Singleton
HOW TO BE A BETTER HUMAN
VENUE 26 - Summerhall - Red Lecture Theatre
Aug 3-14, 16-21, 23-28 - 18:00 /  Tickets
July 6, 2022

A spoken word comedy about grief, loss and self-acceptance telling Chris' story of losing Dad and Wife in the space of a few months. Exploring lightness and humour in death and divorce. How we can lose everything and find the strength to rebuild. How growing a beard can be the best decision of your life, and why some hedgehogs are absolute d*******s.

 

Hi Chris, thank you for taking the time to talk with The New Current, how does it feel to be heading to Edinburgh Fringe this summer?

 

It’s our first fringe ever, so I’d say I’m probably oscillating between “incredibly excited” and “slightly terrified”! It’s going to be incredible to bring the show to loads of new audiences, and also on a personal level – to see so much great work by so many different companies.

 

You had an amazing response to How To Be A Better Human during Furnace Festival in 2021, what did getting this reaction mean to you?

 

It felt absolutely incredible. It’s our debut, so to receive such overwhelming feedback was so affirming and vital for us as a company. And for me as an artist – to be able to take my own experience of grief and see that it was also helping other people talk about and process their own experiences with both tears and laughs…it’s exactly why we made the show.

And what has it meant to you to be able to bring How To Be A Better Human to Summerhall during Edinburgh Fringe?

 

Oh wow. Well – it’s a spoken word show about a personal social issue, so I kind of feel like we’re right at home with the Summerhall vibe! To suddenly see Brave Words up there with the “big-hitters” – it’s felt absolutely gorgeous and Summerhall just feels like the right fit.

 

Has the show changed/evolved much since you premiered it?

 

A little, and very naturally. One or two gags that never landed have been trimmed, the odd adjustment to little sections. Nothing too major though – I had quite an extended writing period during the Covid lockdowns, so a lot of the edits had already been made. It’s ten minutes shorter than it used to be and I wrote in a little tribute to my pet guinea pig?

How To Be A Better Human is a very personal production, did you have any apprehensions about using your own life, story and experience to create this show?

 

So many people warned me not to do it! Other artists who had toured very personal shows. I guess my apprehensions were kind of eased by the fact that writing the show became part of me processing grief – it was a help and a support, rather than something to fear. We were also concerned about audience safety from day 1 – it’s hard-hitting at points, and we wanted to make sure the audience didn’t feel unsafe at any point – but were given permission to grieve (and laugh!) along with me.

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"The content is so emotional as I relive Dad’s death onstage, so I wanted to give them something to watch and listen to that allowed them to sit in their own personal space for a few minutes."

With the personal nature of your show what has the experience been like working with your director Tom Wright and what have been the challenges using powerpoint during your show? (I remember one fringe many moons ago where the audiovisuals just died causing a lot of laughs but a very stressed act).

 

Ha! I remember a point in rehearsals where I cursed my choice to ever use Powerpoint. We’ve been through three clickers and had some right stinkers – we did a show with a three-second delay on every click, so I had to adjust my joke timings for the entire performance. On the whole it’s not been too bad, and thankfully my background is in improv comedy so I’ve always managed to dig myself out!

 

I knew Tom was the right choice of director. A gentle wit who had eyes on emotional safety from day one. We had a very collaborative rehearsal room and a lot of laughs and nerdy conversations to alleviate the heavier moments of talking about death.

You have music created by Reece Jacob and your shows animation is made by Huckleberry Films, with a show like this how vital is the creative collaborative nature of theatre making?

 

As soon as I started writing the show, I knew that the audience would need a “break” in the middle. The content is so emotional as I relive Dad’s death onstage, so I wanted to give them something to watch and listen to that allowed them to sit in their own personal space for a few minutes. I couldn’t create that personally, so I drew on a close friend in Reece, and a company whose work I liked in Huckleberry Films. The power of a group of artists creating together – it just makes the whole thing better, more creative, more responsive. It’s great.

 

When writing and performing in a show how flexible do you allow yourself with it show once it’s running?

 

It varies! The poetry in the show is identical every time – as are some of the big emotional moments. I spent a lot of time crafting the words so I make myself say them the right way. The bits in-between…there’s always the temptation to lean into audience response and have a bit of fun. I did a performance at the Lancashire Fringe and the audience were so generous and giving so much back, that I had to have a bit of fun with them.

 

Since first performing How To Be A Better Human what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you have learned about yourself?

 

It’s funny because the central message of the show is that we are all enough as we are, and we shouldn’t try to be “better” all the time…and yet my inner critic is always there, chatting away in my ear. So I guess the most valuable lesson is repeatedly reminding myself of the moments of pride and joy I’ve had in performances – so that when I am feeling more critical I have a positive voice to balance it!

Have you always had a passion for poetry and theatre?

 

I started doing both when I was a teenager. My mates all wanted to make bands, so I started writing lyrics and words – and at the same time joined a drama club. They became a big part of me finding my identity in my teenage years. I’m still friends with my first drama teacher – she came to see the opening show!

How much has your style and the approach to your writing changed since you started out?

 

Since I started out – a lot! I’ve definitely found my voice and learnt the ways I like to write. I’d say I write in quite an urgent mode – in the moment, reliving details, not afraid to take a sudden turn. One thing that has always been present has been a love for comedy, playfulness, silliness. I don’t think I’ll ever write a show or a book that is purely serious from beginning to end.

As Artistic Director of Brave Words Theatre what do you hope to the work you create will contribute to British Theatre?

 

We’re all about stories – recognising the power of them and giving everyone chance to tell them. So through our artistic work, I hope we will contribute stories that make people think about life, help them empathise with other’s experiences and inspire them to find their own voices. We work in a lot of the most disadvantaged communities of Leeds – so the other element of our work is running pay-what-you-can youth theatres that are accessible to all and help develop young people’s voices.

Is there any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer a fellow theatre maker or poet making their Edfringe debut?

 

I’d say ask someone else – I don’t have a clue! The piece of advice I’m trying to follow is not to have any expectations – to come up and enjoy, experience, connect with other people, see work – and to set reasonable goals for what you want your show to achieve.

 

And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from How To Be A Better Human?

 

I’d like them to take away a little bit of permission to share the painful experiences of their lives with others. Death happens to all of us eventually – and we can either hide from that fact, or we can talk about it.