Interview: Sam Danson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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BI-TOPIA is a coming-of-age story exploring the highs and lows of the bisexual experience coming to The Hullabaloo, Darlington on Tuesday 13th February and Live Theatre, Newcastle on Friday 8th-Saturday 9th March.

Written and performed by Sam Danson and Directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair it looks at the under-represented links between poor mental health, sexuality and masculinity.

We catch up with Sam to find out more…

What were some of your favourite theatre productions growing up?
There were so many! I loved big productions like ‘The Producers’ for its large-scale flamboyant satire, but my favourites, and the two that have served as inspirations for this piece are, ‘Fleabag’ By Phoebe Waller-Bridge, ‘Chewing Gum Dreams’ by Michaela Coel. I love theatre that can both make me laugh, as well as inspire/teach me about new perspectives or issues.

What other artistic disciplines inspire your practice?
I could go off on one rambling here, so will try to keep it as brief as possible!

There are so many similarities with all forms of art; how they make people feel, and the thoughts behind them. Different art inspires me at different times. I have been frequently inspired by the stand-up comedy from Stewart Lee, Daniel Kitson, Joe Lycett and Jonny Pelham, all are very different but each have a unique take on stand-up and storytelling.
Music is huge for me too, sometimes I will listen to the same song over and over again whilst I’m writing certain scenes, this can range to staying in a ‘party vibe’ and having Cher’s Believe blasting out endlessly, to the emotional turmoil of singer/songwriters First Aid Kit & Josh Ritter, both of which are hugely inspiring on how they vocalise experiences with mental health, loss and love.
I also watch TV comedy shows on repeat, including Almas Not Normal By Sophie Willan, Big Boys By Jack Rooke, and Curb Your Enthusiasm by Larry David, my favourite TV show of all time!

How did you get into writing and performing? And how does one inform the other?
It has been all I have ever wanted to do, when I was in school, I was going to acting classes and taking part in all of the shows I could. I would also write scripts on the family computer, a few months later I’d find them terrible and write something else.
I studied Theatre at University, but it was what I did away from University that proved to be the most important things; I, and a few friends took a stand-up collective to Edinburgh Festival. I joined a young theatre company at Contact Theatre and kept on performing as much as possible.
There are so many roadblocks around when pursuing a career in the arts, so I felt writing as well as acting was the best way forward, that way I could create my own opportunities. 

Could you briefly describe your writing process?
My writing process has changed over the years, but my current one that I find most useful is to first decide what story I am telling, what themes I want to explore and what medium it is going to be (book/play/TV/stand up etc.). I will then write whatever scenes I am in the mood to write in that moment, not worrying about where it’ll fit in any story. Eventually, I’ll have pages and pages of disconnected scenes, I’ll then put the titles of each on post-it notes, and create the story I want to tell, I’ll inevitably have to remove some scenes, or add one or two others to connect a few dots, but that feels fine! I would then read the scenes aloud, and continuously edit. Before having this technique, I would get frequently bogged down in story structure and whether certain scenes ‘work’, and I would stagnate and overthink it. Giving myself the license to just write, and think about where it fits later, really helped me.

Tell us about BI-TOPIA. What is it about and were there any events that inspired it?
BI-TOPIA is a semi-autobiographical comedy theatre show about the awkwardness of growing up and trying to fit in, whilst everything you learn about yourself makes you feel like you don’t (fit in). Bisexuality, mental health issues and a complete lack of ability to flirt, drive this show. 
Inspiration came from personal experiences that’ve been heightened and combined with wider issues that I care deeply for. I knew I wanted to write something that would connect people, start conversations and raise awareness of not only important issues in our society, but also highlight how ridiculous this world is.

The show’s description seems to have a military feel to it. Is this reflected in the production?
Yes, this is completely reflected throughout the production. The protagonist comes from a military family and finds it easiest to see metaphorical battles with mental health or identity as real, physical battles. The character’s dream is to be like a man from the war films, the kind played by Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks, but having a bit of Rambo inside him too (not literally, unfortunately).

BI-TOPIA was directed by award-winning Rikki Beadle-Blair. What was it like working with him and what did he bring to the show?
Rikki has not only been a fantastic director, the perfect person for this production, but he has also just been an incredible mentor. Rikki really encouraged the project’s awkwardness and authenticity, the first week of rehearsals we kept going over the script, making sure it told the exact story we wanted to tell, with no time wasted. His vast experience really showed, and it was something I needed, and greatly appreciated for my debut show.

What do you hope audiences take away from the BI-TOPIA?
I hope audiences feel the show spoke to them in some way, a lot of the themes are relatable to not just bisexuals or the LGBTQ+ community, but everybody. I think that’s the main thing for me, that nobody is ever that different to anybody else, and therefore it’s strange we are made to feel alone in this world, or ashamed of who we are. I want to normalise talking about mental health struggles and highlight how heteronormative values can create huge and unnecessary issues of identity and shame for young LGBTQ+ people.

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