Edinburgh Fringe 2022
Sunny Makes a Scene
The story of an American teenager grappling with her dad’s heroin overdose. Fed up with the superficiality of his wake, she demands answers from her family. Irreverent, absurd and emotionally nuanced, this dark comedy looks at the divisive impact the US opioid epidemic has had on children and families.
Hi Kiera, thank you for taking the time to talk with The New Current, how does it feel to be heading to Edinburgh Fringe and C Venues this summer?
Thank you so much for having me. It feels pretty surreal. This is definitely the most public I’ve ever taken my writing and I’ve received so much support from the people around me. As a young artist, this is totally a dream come true.
With this being your debut production to come to Edinburgh Fringe are there any nerves ahead of your debut?
Ummmmm, yes!! The nerves are definitely there, but I feel like that’s just part of it. At this stage I’m just focused on getting everything together. It also helps that I have an incredible team of close friends who I can really trust to back me up and offer reassurance.
Mycelia Media House is a new production company based in LA, what made you decide you wanted to showcase the stories you want to tell and create like Sunny Makes a Scene at the Edinburgh Fringe?
The name of the company invokes the real meaning of mycelium, which is the network of fungal filaments underground that transmit messages between organic life and play a critical role in healing the earth. We believe storytelling has a similar ability to heal through connection.
Gen Z is unique because we grew up with the internet. We’re overwhelmed by information about the world’s most pressing flaws and so we feel motivated to uproot old systems that are no longer serving us. We feel connected to people we’ve never met because we can see them and hear them and relate to them, too. We’re so excited to bring Sunny to the Fringe as our debut production because it’s in alignment with this focus on social impact.
We also embody this meaning in the way we’ve structured the company. We all have varying expertise, areas of knowledge, and there’s no real need for a hierarchy. For example, Alexa is an actor with directorial experience and roots in UK theatre, Emilie is an actor with casting and project coordination experience, Paloma is a producer with directorial and writing experience, and Olive is an actor and singer with stage managing experience.
These are all girls I’ve known for a long time, who I love and trust deeply. We’re all contributing to the project from a place of love and authenticity and it’s felt. Our poster, trailer, show score, etc, were all produced by friends of ours who felt connected to the story. It’s about building a network by empowering people to bring their expertise to the table and trusting them to take the reins from time to time.
Our intention with Mycelia Media House is to sort of cut the industry bullshit - the social climbing, the people pleasing - and instead focus on staying connected to each other and the art we co-create.
You are also going to be supporting two Scottish organisation through your Fringe run, Crew and Scottish Families, how did you get involved with these organisations and how important is it for you to be able to use this platform to help groups like this?
Yes, we’re so grateful to these organisations. We found Crew after doing some internet research. We were looking for a group that focuses on de-stigmatising addiction and treating it with harm reduction strategies. We directly emailed Crew and then they introduced us to Scottish Families, an org that serves families who are living with or have lost someone to addiction.
We will be handing out more information about these orgs during our run. After each show, audience members can chat with Crew staff, and they can even walk down the street to receive free Narcan at their conveniently located headquarters. There will be a donation link available for those who would like to support Crew 2000 and their life-saving work.
We think it’s really important to use our platform to promote groups like this because they’re offering such crucial services. To bring up such a heavy topic and not provide information on the people who are working everyday to help alleviate the crisis would feel like such a missed opportunity, and almost irresponsible.
Artists and activists need to stick together.
Can you tell me how Sunny Makes a Scene came about, what was your inspiration for this show?
After my dad overdosed in 2014, I was diagnosed with CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is really common for children of those struggling with addiction because it involves an on-going, repeated traumatic event or relationship dynamic. For years I’ve lived with many symptoms, but by far the most severe has been the survivor’s guilt. “Sunny Makes a Scene” speaks to the experience of an entire family trying to navigate the immense guilt that arises when, despite all our trying, none of us were able to prevent the seemingly preventable.
It’s a complete shock to the system. It’s like, how could someone die in despair when they were so deeply loved? There’s no way to answer this question, so as individuals we tend to turn on ourselves and each other. A drug related death has such a ripple effect. That’s what the story’s about.
It was also really important to me that I wrote to the experience of teenage girlhood. I think girls in general - and especially girls brought up in unstable homes - are asked to grow up too quickly, to be emotionally mature and prepared for devastating life events. The core conflict is between Sunny and her mom because neither of them have had the space to really express themselves. To be messy. Women are often tasked with holding space for others, smothering our pain for the sake of essentially holding down the fort.
In this story, Sunny is clearly loved, but what she doesn’t have is someone telling her it’s okay to scream very loudly. This piece is written almost as a fever dream out of Sunny’s imagination. It asks, what truth might come to the surface if we let our collective guard down?
Did you have any apprehensions about creating a new show that deals with such a salient issue facing millions of Americans?
When I first started writing the play I had a lot of fear and apprehension, like even though I was writing from first-hand experience I made myself a fraud. I realised that was coming from a place of shame, so I didn’t let it stop me. But at the same time, the opioid epidemic has devastated millions of people. I felt a very valid responsibility to be mindful of the impact of my words. I worked with this by asking myself a lot of questions as I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again.
Is this true? What am I not saying? It’s been about facing myself and being honest.
I don’t expect every person impacted by the crisis to directly relate to Sunny and her family, but I do know that when an artist is able to drop their defences and share something emotionally true, it inevitably resonates with someone, somewhere, somehow.
Sharing these intimate and personal stories about addiction is urgent because addiction is one of those things that’s so deeply characterised by lying and hiding and fear. Shame dies in the light, and we all benefit from that.
How cathartic has the experience of writing this play been for you?
It’s been really cathartic. Experiencing this loss at such a young age meant shutting down to protect myself. Writing “Sunny” was sort of like a delayed processing. It provided a safe space to allow these feelings to come up and pass through. I’m also a big nerd and I’m majorly obsessed with language, which helps, because when the feelings became overwhelming it was easy for me to shift and focus on the craft. Once I had it down on paper it felt easier to see this experience for what it is, something that happened, and not who I am.
What were your biggest challenges creating “Sunny”, was it hard not to make her too Autobiographical?
I had so much fun creating Sunny. I approached it with the understanding that this is a short play, so the characters need to be dramatic versions of themselves to make an impression. She’s autobiographical in the sense that her emotional experience is the same as mine, but her personality and way of expressing came from my imagination. She’s sort of an alter ego. It was like, what if I went through this, but instead of being sensitive and composed, I was loud and irreverent? Her qualities are certainly inspired by aspects I see in myself, but they’re cherry picked and blown way out of proportion. This really helped maintain a necessary degree of separation between me and the story, which, at its core, is more auto-fiction than auto-biography.
What would you say have been the most valuable lessons you have taken from writing this new show?
Trusting other people with my work is one of the most valuable lessons I’m learning through this experience. It’s definitely an interesting process, going from the very isolated writing desk to this collaborative production space. Whenever I feel off-balance or like I need to take control, I remind myself that the whole reason I want to produce this piece is because I believe in my collaborators and their ability to elevate the work.
I definitely have a clear vision, but more than that I want everyone to feel good. I love the creative process because people are allowed to be experimental and expressive. It’s in that flow state that the magic happens, so being flexible and keeping things light is a huge priority.
"It’s like giving your soul a big hug. It cultivates a foundation of self-trust and it also benefits everyone around you."
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Yes! I grew up in a small town right outside Manhattan. My family would take the train into the city every weekend, walk down Broadway, and buy cheap last minute tickets to a matinee. Sometimes we wouldn't even get seats, we’d just stand in the back. I’m really lucky to have been exposed to so much theatre at a young age. As far as storytelling goes, it was definitely my first love.
For any teenager currently living through what you and your character “Sunny” have gone through is there any advice you could offer them?
The summer after my dad passed, I went to Ireland for a writing intensive workshop and it truly saved my life. I was writing poetry and personal essays (as if I could get anymore autobiographical!) and it felt like this immense release. For me, writing has always felt like a deep emotional need. I think because for a long time, it was the only place I could safely express my feelings.
These days I’m inventing new characters and expanding into new worlds. I’m leaning more into comedy, but I’m still approaching writing as a way to transform pain into something beautiful. I’m still using it to heal.
My advice to anyone living through what “Sunny” is experiencing is to find your outlet. It doesn’t have to be written in any serious way. Singing is great, it really soothes the nervous system. Any instrument. Dance. Yoga. Any athletic pursuit. Studio art. Fashion. Something cool and science-y! Lol.
Finding something that feels good and gets you to that “flow” state is so important when you’re spending too much time in fight or flight. The creative space is a safe space. It’s like giving your soul a big hug. It cultivates a foundation of self-trust and it also benefits everyone around you. When you open that channel, you’re doing transformative work.
It’s also important to be patient with yourself, and take small steps toward vulnerability. First with yourself, journaling is great for that, and then with the people around you. I know how isolating it can feel. Be kind to yourself. Take deep breaths. And try to remember that yes, grief sucks, but it’s also beautiful. It means you share love with someone.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from Sunny Makes a Scene?
I really want people to see this show and find compassion for themselves and the people around them. The stigma around addiction and mental illness is so vicious. If we can face these topics head on, we can work with them. We can lead with love and we can heal.
Crew is a harm reduction and outreach charity (charity no SCO 21500) based in Scotland, aiming to reduce drug and sexual health related harms and stigma, and improve mental and physical health without judgement.