Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Sandcastles by Steve McMahon moves back and forth in time and memory to depict the tumultuous lifelong friendship of millennials Hannah and Beth. Beth is moving to New York. Hannah should be happy for her. When Beth goes missing Hannah can't reconcile how she reacted with the fact that Beth might be gone.
Hi Steve, thank you for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping?
I’m coping, thanks!
How does it feel to be having your World Premiere of Sandcastles at Assembly Festival this this summer?
Very exciting and a huge relief considering we were supposed to do the show in 2020 and for a long while it felt like it was never going to happen.
As well as bering an Assembly ART Award winner you have also been shortlisted for the Alba Award, what has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your work?
It’s validating when these things come along, especially as most of this job is relentless rejection. These occasional wee triumphs are a nice reminder that sometimes I’m quite good at this and sometimes people see that.
You are a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, what was your experience like there and how much did you time at the AADA help prepare and guide you on your creative journey?
It was formative. It completely opened me up and changed me as a human being and as an artist. It’s an amazing city to learn in, endlessly inspiring. Doing 3 years of acting training at AADA made me not just a better actor but a better writer too. And I met my wife there, which is the best of all.
Do nerves ever set in ahead of a festival run?
This is my first Fringe as a writer so it’s a whole new experience. I’ve done it 3 times as an actor and the nerves there are immediate, it’s about doing your job every day. As the writer, my job’s already been done, so the nerves this time are for everyone else.
What does Edinburgh Fringe mean to you?
It’s home for me. It’s in my DNA. I’m Edinburgh born and bred. I moved away to America, but I keep coming back every year. My year almost revolves around Edinburgh in August. I can’t imagine a year in my life without the Fringe. My wife’s birthday is in August and she’s been VERY understanding about that fact!
Can you tell me a little bit about how Sandcastles came about, what was the inspiration behind this new production?
It was a combination of some fellow immigrant actor friends in New York asking me to write something for them to do and the way I was feeling about the world at the time. I was delivering food on a bicycle for a British shop in midtown Manhattan on the day a car drove into a crowd of people in Times Square and that type of terrorist attack had been on my mind for a while so I was thinking about immigrant life, millennial life, friendship and terrorism at the time I sat down to write.
When creating characters like “Hannah” and “Beth” do you ever draw from people you know or have met?
There’s something of the actor friends who asked me to write for them in there, but I never wanted to just put them on the page. There’s bits in there of my oldest friends, bits of my imagination, and more of me in those characters than anyone else.
"We’ve all experienced the Fringe before and it’s hard enough to do in any case, so we wanted to make sure artists are looked after. I think that’s the lesson we came in with and we’ll leave with – know your worth."
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 writing Sandcastles?
Putting on a piece of theatre is, simply, very difficult. My director Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir and I met while ushering during the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe and she was also assistant director on a hit show at the time. She said I should send her some of my writing, she liked Sandcastles, we talked about how to do it, nothing came of it for a long time as it’s so hard to get any funding to work on anything. Then we applied to Assembly Festival’s ART Award for 2020 and found ourselves joint winner. For obvious reasons the show didn’t get to happen then and we’ve had to delay it 2 years. Assembly have been so accommodating in giving us the award 2 years later to get to do the show. They’ve offered us a great deal of support, from venue and rehearsal space to PR and technical support. We were determined to do the show properly or not at all. Everyone gets paid and treated like the professional they are. We’ve all experienced the Fringe before and it’s hard enough to do in any case, so we wanted to make sure artists are looked after. I think that’s the lesson we came in with and we’ll leave with – know your worth.
With a play like Sandcastles how important has the creative collaboration between your company, do you allow yourself much flexibility with your text or do you like to keep to what you’ve written?
I think being an actor first has left me open to flexibility with the text. I’ve done several re-writes in the run-up to rehearsals and also during, partly for time and partly for clearer storytelling. We’ve had to kill a few darlings but I trust Kolbrún and our cast to make the show better by bringing their expertise in the rehearsal process and that’s more important than me being precious about a line I’m pre-emptively patting myself on the back for.
How much does your background as an actor help to guide you writing process?
Hugely. I imagine it’s different for non-performing writers but for me everything informs everything and I’d like to think the dialogue I write has rhythms that make sense for actors to perform.
Where did your passion for theatre come from?
Good question. I didn’t grow up with it. I’m the first in my family to have any interest in the arts really. I enjoyed poetry and public speaking in primary school and was taken to the Edinburgh King’s panto as a child. Halfway through high school I developed a taste first for film, then theatre. I began devouring plays as a reader, then at about 16, started going to the theatre as an audience member and I haven’t looked back. I re-wear holey socks so I can afford theatre tickets.
What other themes or subjects are you hoping to explore as a playwright with Brite Theater?
My place in the world, the place in the world of those I know, the place in the world of those I don’t know.
Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer a fellow playwright?
I think reading and seeing plays is a great education. I didn’t study playwriting so I can’t speak to that but I think experiencing it done well, or badly, is an education in itself.
And finally, what message do you hope your fringe audiences will take away from Sandcastles?
I hope people will leave the show and speak to their loved ones and tell them they love them.