Sunday, 23 July 2017

Fragile Dramaturgy: David Martin @ Edfringe 2017

New playwright tackles the fragility of being human at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Softsod Productions presents…

Fragile Man

It’s not an event, it’s a process.

The Space on the Mile (Venue 39); 10th-26th August; 11.50am (50 mins).

Playwright David Martin is making his Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut with a newly written two-hander dealing with the fragility of being human in the modern world

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The play’s topical inspiration was initially drawn from the dramatic and shocking rise in Western male suicide rates, highlighting the stress and isolation of 21st century living. There are still strong elements of this inspiration in the play but we undertook a series of improvised workshops and the play is now focused more broadly, on the difficulties we face in 'becoming ourselves’ and the mental and emotional struggle we face to know who we truly are, both men and women. 

The play's themes delve deeply into our shared experience of being human and take a new perspective on our freedom to choose, faith, guilt, self-preservation and the dawning reality of our own fragile existence. So what started as an exploration of the hidden depths of male identity has become a darkly mysterious, sometimes comedic and often moving journey of human self-discovery. 

It’s a play with strong overtones of what it is to suffer poor mental health, and how our own defence mechanisms, particularly repression, can often be as damaging as they are protective.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

It’s the perfect way to raise awareness of topical issues, to spark debate and to present and challenge ideas, beliefs, norms, expectations and behaviours held firmly by society. 

Fragile Man for example pushes boundaries on what it is to suffer mental health problems
in silence and to ask the questions “what would we do in this situation?” “how am I different in reality to people who suffer self-doubt, anxiety and repression which lead to ‘mental health’ issues?’  “is mental health something that is ‘out there’ (not my problem), or ‘in here’ - a key part of all of us” and finally “if I suffered uncontrollable loss, abuse, anxiety or internal conflict, how would this affect me and those around me?” 

We believe that Fragile Man is an expose of what it is to be human and how we are all affected by stress and demands and usually by loss. If this is the case, surely we all suffer ‘poor mental health’ from time to time and can admit it? So why do we medicalise, patronise and exile those who suffer mental poor health?”. 

Presenting these themes through the ‘acceptable’ medium of performance brings topics otherwise pushed to our outer-consciousness into the realms of our own reality. We simply can not ignore the messages. 

I have written Fragile Man from first hand experience, having suffered poor mental health myself and having worked for many years in mental health services. I have seen the devastating affects of poor mental health on people’s lives and know the importance of raising its profile.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I was so inspired by visits to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015 and 2016, that I formed Softsod Productions specifically to create a drama for the Fringe that would stand out from the crowd. So in writing the play I have always been focused on creating 50 minutes of dynamic ‘Fringe’ drama.  

And we truly believe in Fragile Man we’ve been able to achieve that in the writing, directing, production and performance. It even has its own originally scripted musical score to add to its unique and edgy feel. 

The play opens on an isolated hilltop with high drama that is both uncomfortable and riveting as we witness a chance encounter between two men which is destined to change their lives forever. 

Having watched it, people have described it as an unsettling and insightful drama exposing two men's fight for truth, justice and survival, as well as a unique, well-crafted, edgy and evocative. Audiences can expect themes of mental health, psychological disturbance, guilt, abandonment and projection. 

Less noted, but just as present throughout the play is the importance of your name and of belonging, the evanescence of love and the conflict of the very human need for both presence and isolation. The hilltop setting for Fragile Man is perfect for the dramatic opening and has allowed us to introduce plenty of metaphorical references; such as being on the edge, staring into the abyss, the fading of the light and the setting of the sun. 

However, the ‘real’ story is told through a series of flashbacks which take the men (and the many characters they portray) off the hillside and into a number of other locations in time and place. This shifting between the flashbacks and the hillside creates a real dynamic, with an accompanying, original soundscape, which helps transport the audience and projects the story forward with great pace and poignancy.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

Having been inspired by how many men are turning to suicide to resolve deep emotional issues we took the play on its own journey through improved workshops. We wanted the play to be direct yet mysterious, revealing and yet shadowy and inspiring and yet confrontational. 

Now it’s written, rehearsed and ready to go, we’re really proud to announce that our show is entered for the Fringe First Award and hopefully eligible for the new Mental Health Fringe Award. given the themes in Fragile Man are centred around suicide, self harm and repression - aiming to help raise mental health awareness. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The is our first Softsod Production, but yes, its focus will continue to be on ‘the human condition’ making plays that are edgy, challenging and always resonating with the deep psychology and complexity of our inner world. I have a degree in Psychology, practised as a Social Worker for many years and went on to be a counselling and
psychotherapy practitioner.

As a result I am fascinated at how the unconscious, upbringing and socialisation affect us in ways that are often barely perceptible. 

I am keen to use our writing and performance to focus on this ‘hidden vulnerability’ within all of us whilst also ensuring the drama is also always entertaining, humorous but challenging.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

After performing Fragile Man for the first time to a live, paying audience (our Preview Performance) at the Bath Fringe Festival at a marvellous Fringe-friendly theatre the Rondo Theatre, we are fairly certain now what the audience will experience and take away. 

We gave the Bath Fringe audience members feedback forms to fill in which asked some very pointed questions aimed at generating constructive criticism to help us shape any parts of the show that people felt it needed. 

So when we received comment after comment about how much they had enjoyed the show, ‘got’ the show, felt it was real, moving, inspiring and relevant, Jacqs (the Director), Richard (my fellow ‘creative’ and actor) and I were taken off guard somewhat. I’m going to admit that I welled up at one stage where an audience member I didn’t know spoke in such glowing terms I didn’t know where to look or what to say to her. 

So it’s given us a renewed confidence that the play is Fringe-ready and destined to generate a fabulous response in Edinburgh. Fragile Man is designed to take people on a very personal emotional journey and we’re confident people are going to experience it as much as watch it. From the feedback, my favourite comment was “deep issues, beautifully communicated”. We all came out of the evening glowing.

After watching Fragile Man we anticipate many entertaining evenings sat with friends, a glass of wine and some bar snacks, whilst trying to unpack the hidden depths of the play and piece together all of its messages, some clear, some barely-visible, some light, some refreshing and some deeply disturbing.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The key strategy was to write a play that had strength and depth in its writing and in getting the audience to go on the Fragile Man (person) experience with us. 

The play was developed and refined through Workshops and in live rehearsals. Undoubtedly the greatest challenge has been in getting the scripting of the play to the quality we wanted in the timescales we’ve had. 

Deciding to do a Preview at Bath Fringe at the end of May was both the best and worst decision. It put us all under enormous pressure to get the production ready for such an early date and we often doubted we would be ready. But it also gave us a target to aim for and in achieving it, this has taken a lot of pressure off us when bringing the production to Edinburgh. 

During the early days the workshops had generated a huge amount of material and deciding what to leave out was a real test. For example, the play has had 4 different endings since January, each with a lot of merit, so again it was hard to let the early ones go in search of the one with just the right impact and ability to both surprise and delight. 

I think a lot of writers struggle with this aspect - in getting attached to a particular plot line which is good, but not good enough and struggling to let it go in search of  'the one'. But I was encouraged by writer friends and family to be brave and to trust my instincts. And in doing so we’ve got a story and an ending that we're extremely happy with and is hopefully anything other than what the audience will be expecting. 

Their experience will be, we believe, one of a lasting impact of Fragile Man, one to ‘keep’ from their Edinburgh experience.

Fragile Man is an unsettling and insightful debut drama exposing two men's mental and emotional struggle to know their true selves. On an isolated hilltop they must face their darkest secrets and deepest fears in a chance encounter destined to change their lives forever. 

A battle for truth, justice and ultimately their own survival.

The play’s topical inspiration was initially drawn from the dramatic and shocking rise in Western male suicide rates, highlighting the stress and isolation of 21st century living. 

Further developed through improvised workshops, Fragile Man has grown into an originally scripted drama which delves deeply into our shared experience of being human and takes a new perspective on our freedom to choose, faith, guilt, self-preservation and the dawning reality of our own fragile existence.

On making its Fringe debut, Fragile Man’s writer, David Martin says…

”what started as an exploration of the hidden depths of male identity has become a darkly mysterious, sometimes comedic and often moving journey of self-discovery, which is relevant, thought-provoking and designed to resonate loudly with its audience.” 

Inspired by visits to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015 and 2016, David formed Softsod Productions specifically to create a drama for the Fringe that would stand out from the crowd. 

He continues … “in the hands of our outstanding Director Jacqs Graham and alongside fellow creative and actor Richard Miltiadis, we truly believe Fragile Man captures the very essence of the Fringe, in this unique, well-crafted, edgy and evocative piece of theatre.”

Genre: New Writing; Drama
Original script and original musical score: David Martin

Cast & Crew
Director: Jacqs Graham
Producer: David Martin
Cast: David Martin and Richard Miltiadis
Sound and Lighting: Neil Bonnett
Photography and Arts: Sammy Pea

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