Sunday, 26 July 2015

Stand Up Dramaturgy: Dave Pickering @ Edfringe 2015

Stand Up Tragedy is returning to the Free Fringe with a mini festival celebrating the sadder things in life.
Stand Up Tragedy

8th – 30th August (except Tuesdays)
7:30pm at the Banshee Labyrinth
Getting Better Acquainted

11th, 18th, 25th August, 7:30pm at the Banshee Labyrinth

What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity: 12.05pm 8th - 30th August (except Mondays) at Cabaret Voltaire, 36 Blair St, EH1 1QR, Venue 338

Like a Russian doll filled with laughter and tears, the Stand Up Tragedy team is creating a festival within a festival within a festival: inside the Edinburgh Fringe is the PBH Free Fringe, and inside the PBH Free Fringe is Stand Up Tragedy’s Edinburgh line-up. Building on two years of bringing quality tragedy to the fringe and four years of showcasing tragedy across London, we are expanding what we do to include even more diversity and emotions.

As well as putting on 12 hours of tragic variety, we are opening up the stage to include guest hosts and special collaborations. Added to this, we are producing host Dave Pickering’s first solo show and three public interviews with some of our tragic collaborators.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Dave Pickering: Stand Up Tragedy was inspired by a bit by the comedian Eddie Pepitone which I heard on the WTF Podcast. He imagined a dystopian America where people went to get together and cry at the futility of life. But I thought that the idea of Stand-up Tragedy would actually be a great idea. I have a background in theatre and was already interested in the tragedy and understood that the catharsis it provokes can be a positive thing, I like dark and sad stuff and so the idea of running the night was born. It came from the name and the idea of focusing on sad things and developed from there. Early on I decided it would be a variety night and showcase storytellers, spoken word artist, musicians and more as well as comedians. 

During the years running it I've tried to spread the net as wide as possible and include as many types and styles of performance as well as many different interpretations of what tragedy means. Over the years doing it I've got a sense of the tone and style of the night. I've found my hosting style and developed the idea of creating "a safe space to talk about unsafe things." 

As the show has developed I have themed it, first theming whole nights and then sections of the night. I then introduced the idea of guest hosts to make the voices presenting the tragedy more diverse. I aim to design line ups so that you get lots of different emotions, laughter, tears, thought and that kind of thing. I like moments where tone shifts between happy and sad. 

In the long form version of the nights we have a sing along at the end but for the hour Edinburgh version we end with a theme tune. As I've done more of the nights I've honed the start of the night which acts as both a way of telling people what the show is and as a content note. Since the show can go to dark places I have found a content note is advisable if I want to create a safe and supportive atmosphere were we can touch on these things. 

The show itself is always different and I don't know what the performers will do which I also think is important as it means they go on a journey with me. I talked about it a bit more here: and this podcast kind of tells our origin story.

What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity came from many places. I began with the idea that I wanted to explore how patriarchy hurts men. But that idea came out of 4 years of doing an in conversation podcast and 5 years of telling true stories as part of the Spark London true storytelling team. 

The process of talking about my life and my thoughts in those forums as well as following a lot of feminists and reading their thoughts via twitter made me interested in looking at this area. Basically it's the culmination of years of telling fragments or parts of the story in various ways. Again to a certain extent the show also began when I thought of the title and imagined what the show would be. It developed often through conversations and online communications. It was also very influenced by the book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks as well as other feminist and queer writers who gave me new tools to look at these issues. I then wrote a script. While working on the script I conducted an online survey to find out what men think about masculinity. That survey took off and ended up being filled in by 1000 men

But doing the survey also made me rethink a lot of the script and ultimately gave me a frame work to hang the show around. It offered the Ted Talk style elements of it to go with the true storytelling and polemic elements. The other element that formed a beginning for the show was coming up with what I would be wearing and how that would be transferred into art work. This was a visual concept.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Apart from the unlikely possibility of your show making a profit or being discovered Edinburgh is a brilliant place to meet and see performances. It feeds the line-ups for Stand Up Tragedy's London shows. It also provides amazing "networking" opportunities and potential new audiences. But mostly its because during the festival a city is turned into one big performance space and you are an an inverse of reality where everything is about art and ideas and creativity. 

It's a great place to lose your mind and find new things to fill it. To a certain extent its always a gamble and always unlikely to bring you tangible quantifiable results but it sure makes you feel alive. Also I believe in the Free Fringe and in direct relationships between artists and audiences and this is a growing element of the Fringe experience.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
At Stand Up Tragedy they should expect to laugh and to feel sad. More than that is hard to say because of the variety show nature of what we do but we have amazing performers from established acts like Stewart Lee, Josie Long or Rob Auton to up and coming and unknown acts. 

And there will probably be talk of death, illness, violence, bereavement, mental health issues and other tragic things. Sometimes these topics will be played for laughs others for tears but either way they will be about truth and catharsis.

What About the Men? is a mix of ted talk and true storytelling. It doesn't have many laughs and is about some pretty serious subjects but hopefully it will make audiences feel challenged, inspired and moved. At the very least audiences should expect to see a bearded man with glasses wearing a purple dress and fedora.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Well I studied theatre studies at university and so even if I wanted to I would find it hard not to think about the semiotic meaning and the phenomenology involved in my performance. As a solo performer I use a full length mirror to help me block it. I have shown the performance to various out side eyes and have performed work in progress showing and extracts to audiences during the process to get an idea of the feedback. There are restrictions within the Edinburgh slot which have effected many of my dramaturgical decisions. The shows have to be 55 mins, as they are free fringe they have to be low tech and are likely to be in front of intimate audiences.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
Play-writing, devising, performance poetry, tragedy, stand- up comedy, true storytelling. In terms of true storytelling American nights like The Moth and Risk have influenced me as well as all the people I see when hosting nights. While making this show I was influenced by Monica Lewinsky's Ted Talk among others. I am influenced by tragedy from the Greek plays to Arthur Miller and Howard Pinter.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
Currently the internet and social media are often places I develop my work and collaborate with people, also in terms of discussions (generally on mic as part of my podcast). I also have to tell a true story about a different subject each month as part of being a Spark London host which has developed lots of my material. 

Mostly I just get obsessed with an idea and talk about it to everyone I can and write as much about it as I can and read as much about it as I can. I make a lot of notes and collect them all together. And I document this process on social media and so it is interacted with by the people who connect with me there. Generally I start with the theory and the high concept. Then I plan the structural elements like character and plot and shape. Then I try and put as much raw human stuff into it as possible. Then I step out and try and push that back into the structure (or a new structure that has presented itself.) In some ways I don't really see a difference between theory and practice, they are sortof the same thing and always linked. In a way I see art very much like the political idea of praxis. Theory and performance feed back to each other solving each others problems and asking each other questions.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I think art is a conversation between artist and audience. Both have responsibilities to each other. Together they create the meaning of the work. Ultimately I believe in Barthes and Foucault's theories of the death of the author but I also believe its a messy and human and unquantifiable thing. It's for the audience to decide on the shows meaning though not me. 

My job is to try and communicate what I have to say to them as best I can. But I also have to try and make this exchange as consensual as possible, it's a negotiation and both sides have to respect each other and consider the results of their actions if the show is going to work as an effective conversation. Although what effective means is also subjective. I do want to challenge people and I hope that they will also challenge me. I have to take responsibility for my art and the meaning it creates, even when it is not the meaning I intended.

Stand Up Tragedy is more than a live show; it’s also a podcast, and during the festival, our podcast feed will become a tragic channel, putting out the amazing array of tragedy recorded on our stages.

The aim of Stand Up Tragedy is to create safe spaces to talk about unsafe things.

12 Hours of Tragedy (8-9th, 12-14th, 16th, 19th-21st, 26th-27th, 30th):

Stand Up Tragedy aims to make audiences laugh until they cry and cry until they laugh. We invite performers from all parts of the arts to stand up and tell tragedy. We make you sad; we make you think; we make you smile. Expect music, comedy, fiction, spoken word, true stories and more, all playing up to the tragic form but not always taking it too seriously.

Our August 2015 line-ups include Tiernan Douieb, Shazia Mirza, Rob Auton, Adrienne Truscott, Christian Talbot, BBC Poetry Slam Winner Sophia Walker and Asian Women of the Year Award winner Sajeela Kershi. Every show offers a completely new combination of tragic flavours.

The show is hosted and curated by “fiercely intelligent and intelligently fierce storyteller Dave Pickering” (Exeunt Magazine), “a man with an obvious and commendable taste for the bizarre.” (John Fleming).

What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity:

Dave Pickering takes us on a personal journey through gender as he tries to explain masculinity both to you and to himself. Part true storytelling, part TED talk and part apology, the show looks at how the patriarchy hurts men too, how the patriarchy has hurt him, and how he has hurt people because of patriarchy. Drawing on an anonymous survey of 1000 men, feminist theory, internet memes and his life experience, Dave will explain the conclusions he has come to after 33 years of trying to make peace with being a man.

The #ManSurvey, which was started as research for the show, has become a thing of its own. All 1000 responses plus analysis is collected together as an open-source resource at

Content note: This piece will talk at times about violence, sexual assault and bullying.

Cookie note: Dave will not be accepting your cookies for this show, but he will offer you cookies at the end.

The London preview of the show is at the Dogstar in Brixton on the 23rd July from 7:30pm.

It will also be previewed at Standon Calling on Friday 1st August.

Special Editions

Stand Up Tragedy is dedicated to having multiple voices and approaches to the tragic, and we have invited some guest hosts and collaborators to help expand what we do. We have eight special editions of the show:

10th August: Tragic Jabba: hosted and curated by Jenni Pascoe from the North East based spoken word night Jibba Jabba. “showcasing the great and good of the region’s spoken word and poetry scene” Narc Magazine

15th August: Tragedy Fails Better: Hosted by Varjack and Simpson, this podcast crossover with their Fail Better podcast will look at the tragic failures performers have had on and off stage. “a great rapport and on-stage chemistry and a natural feel for what’s funny and how to engage the crowd.” Sabotage Reviews

17th August: Guest host: Samantha Mann: hosted and curated by Samantha Mann. “Samantha Mann is a minutely observed comic creation for those who love cringe humour.” Roger Cox, The Scotsman

22nd August: Tragic Violence: a showcase of the most tragic comedy that sketch group Casual Violence! have created. “Casual Violence mix Game of Thrones, the League of Gentlemen and Roald Dahl to create dark, twisted and silly skits... Leading the new wave of sketch comedy" The Sunday Times

23rd August: Other Tragedies: a special edition of Other Voices spoken word cabaret, where all the tragedy is delivered by people from groups we rarely hear from. ‘A showcase of spoken word at its best… Don’t miss this, it’s wonderful’ Three Weeks

24th August: Guest host: Keith Jarrett: hosted and curated by London-based serial poetry slam champion Keith Jarrett. “his astonishingly practiced delivery and his inclusive manner just invites you into his words” Sabotage Reviews

28th August: Guest host: Lucy Ayrton: hosted and curated by Oxford-based spoken word storyteller Lucy Ayrton. "Storytelling as it's meant to be" Three Weeks

29th August: Guest host: Louise Fazackerley: hosted and curated by Wigan-based poet Loise Fazackerley. ‘a voice that tingles with promise’ Ian McMillan

Getting Better Acquainted:
Getting Better Acquainted is a weekly podcast where we join Dave Pickering on his journey to get better acquainted with the people he knows from his closest friends and family to someone he once met at a party. It’s partly an oral history project, partly an autobiography through conversation, and partly a collection of opinions and experiences recounted by an ever-growing latticework of people. There are lots of shows about famous people; this is a show about the rest of us.

GBA was nominated for a 2012 Radio Production Award, and has aired regularly on Resonance 104.4fm. It has been recommended by Time Out, was featured on the BBC Radio 5 live podcast special, Helen and Olly's Required Listening, and was picked out as a podcast to listen to in The Guardian in November 2014.

Tuesday 11th August: Getting Better Acquainted with Jenni Pascoe

Tuesday 18th August: Getting Better Acquainted with Samantha Mann

Tuesday 25th August: Getting Better Acquainted with Keith Jarrett

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