Victoria Firth is currently up at The Edinburgh Fringe with her solo show ‘How to be Amazingly Happy’, which is all about finding a new ‘once upon a time’ after the ‘happy ever after’ fails to turn up. In a world where we are geared and primed to ‘get married’ and ‘have kids’ from the get go, she is asking some big questions around what happens when that doesn’t happen. It’s an important topic and one that isn’t discussed enough, so we were thrilled to run an interview with Victoria about the creation and inspiration behind this solo piece.
Interview © Amie Taylor
AT: To start with, please can you tell us a little bit about your career in theatre and about you as a performer…
VF: I live in Yorkshire and for the last decade I’ve been the director of the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. I got into theatre out of a great passion for the work and making the work happen and so I wanted to have a creative practice of my own even whilst working in more managerial arts roles. I consider myself to be an emerging performer, but emerging at middle-age. It’s my third incarnation of emerging because in my 20s I performed, mainly in TIE [Theatre in Education] and then about 10 years ago I did an MA in Ensemble Physical Theatre and started making some physical and live art pieces and then took another hiatus and now I’m back with this.
AT: I think that’s really important to touch on, especially when a lot of schemes class ‘emerging performers’ as under 25, where the reality is that many people emerge later, or shift disciplines and ‘emerge’ at a later stage of life. I think it’s really important to share our experiences of emerging later – how has it been for you?
VF: I think I take more hiatuses now because I life stuff gets in the way and having a day job means you become less flexible or more attached to it! I think changing art forms is really interesting because I definitely have done that in trying to find an art form that better fits around having another job. That’s why I started making solo work, because it’s not like I can rehearse and go on tour with a big ensemble.
Initially I found it quite frightening, how the work would be perceived and if it would be good enough – particularly because with solo autobiographical work there’s nowhere to hide. But I found I was very supported by other artists and venues and the fear was just in my head. When I experienced that I was able to pick up momentum very quickly.
AT: What inspired you to create this piece? And why now?
VF: One of the reasons I took a hiatus from the last time I was performing was that I was exploring the viability of having a family and it was a very pre-occupying struggle for a number of years. After that I decided I wanted to go back to performing, and I did a number of courses, one of which was a week long course on making theatre with the artist Bryony Kimmings. After several writing exercises we shared with the group topics we had written and then the group fed-back on which ones they thought would make a good theatre show. Everyone, unanimously, was interested in these ideas I had about whether to have a family or not, and what happens if you can’t, how your treated by society if you don’t have kids and how you have to reinvent yourself in your middle age. And part of that was how do you have more fun? I wasn’t actually sure if I was ready to make that show because it was all so personal but people were very encouraging. That was around 18 months ago, and slowly the idea has developed and I became ready to make it in to a show.
AT: How has it been making something that is so personal?
VF: It’s changed over time. At first the exposure of it felt very challenging. But I thought a lot about the audience and how they might feel and that’s why the show’s quite funny – because I really wanted it to be light and entertaining.
After I did my first scratches of it I felt the vulnerability of setting out this personal material. It is personal, but I also feel that since then the show has developed a life of its own – it’s more than that now.
I’m also mindful I am coming at it from a queer perspective. In terms of my own experience, I had a lot of internalised homophobia around ‘Am I allowed to have children?’ and ‘Where are the role models?’ that kind of thing. So I wanted to include some reference to that but it’s not everyone’s experience – things are moving on quite quickly, different kinds of families are forming and there are different ways of doing things. So i’ve also tried to touch on more general issues such as what makes us happy and how do we shape our own destinies.
AT: You talked about having your audience in mind a lot while you were making it – what do you hope they’ll take away from this piece?
VF: I hope that if they have relatable experience that they’ll go away feeling a validated by it – that they’re not on their own and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for trying and failing in any aspect of life. One of the things I felt, for a long time was the shame of failure – you know when you try something and it doesn’t work out.
But I hope everybody will go away feeling a bit more fired up to just do what they want to do. Because I think that in life there isn’t anyone who’s going to come and rescue you. You have to make yourself happy and take care of yourself.
Victoria’s show is running for until the 27th Aug at The Pleasance Courtyard (33), 11:35am. (Not showing 13th/14th) Book Now.