We interviewed Jack Wakely, one third of Silent Faces Theatre alongside Josie Underwood and Cordelia Stevenson. They are currently performing their show ‘A Clown Show About Rain’ at the Edinburgh Fringe, which explores living with mental heath through the medium of clown. Our reviewer Megan Holland gave it 5 stars earlier this week, so it was a delight to catch up with Jack and find out more about this show and Silent Faces.
Amie: Tell us a little bit about you and how you came to work in theatre…
Jack: I never got in to theatre when I was young, I was really shy when I was a teenager. But when I got a bit older I joined an am dram group, which I really enjoyed so went on to study musical theatre for a year, which wasn’t for me at all. I felt that I had to look a certain way and dance a certain way and I had a horrible time. So I put that idea to bed for a bit and then in my early 20s I moved to London and became involved in You Me BumBum Train, which was meant to be just for a couple of shows, but I got super involved and ended up doing production and being in it. I used to go to work in the day, do the show in the evening, finish really late and then get up the next day and do it all over again. It relit that fire for me. When I was 27 I went to Goldsmiths to do a degree in drama and theatre and that was a turning point for me. That was where I met the two women that are in Silent Faces with me.
Amie: And tell me a bit more about Silent Faces and what inspired the the three of you to form as a company…
Jack: We got thrown together when we did a module on clowning and we all fell in love with it and became friends through that. We made a performance with a few other people that was really well received by our uni and ended up taking that to Edinburgh. And we thought it would be really nice to work together again for our final project, as had all chosen to do the devised theatre module. And that piece, Follow Suit, ended up being our first piece as a company, which went to the Camden Fringe and Brighton. I think we have this desire to use comedy for more than just having a laugh; the idea that if you can make someone laugh then you can really get under their skin and if you can get under their skin then you can dig down and deliver the message.
Amie: In your own words what is this show about?
Jack: Largely it’s a show about talking, which is weird when you consider that clown is a silent form. This idea that if we can talk about mental health and communicate it to the people we love then we can get rid of the stigma around it and have open conversations, so that hopefully people suffer less. It’s about friendship and caring for one another, but also about asking for help and not having to hide. It’s a very gentle play and it’s a lot kinder and sweeter than our previous work. It’s told by three clowns on a boat and two clowns that listen to the shipping forecast to get to sleep at night.
Amie: What inspired this piece?
Jack: This will sound really weird, but Josie had a dream that we made a show called ‘A Clown Show About Rain’ – so that was where the title can from. Though the content of the piece is very different to her dream, in which we were all half naked at one point – there’s no nudity! All three of us have experienced mental illness and living through that and supporting one another through it. So it’s something that’s very close to our hearts. And we were adamant that we didn’t want this to be a show about someone having a crisis and then getting over it, it was very much the idea of living with mental health and it is a constant thing. So we’re using the weather as a metaphor; the idea being that it’s not always a downpour and it’s not always a storm, sometimes it’s just a drip. And that drip colours everything, it’s not always a big dramatic moment. Sometimes it is living with low level anxiety, or depression every day.
Amie: With all that in mind, is there something you were hoping audiences leaving your show would be thinking or feeling?
Jack: I hope it starts a conversation, and that it normalises this conversation. That we shouldn’t feel like outsiders because of our mental health, that it’s something everyone has and it goes through ups and downs. This is one of the main reasons we teamed up with Rethink, the mental health charity, their main mission is to smash the stigma around mental health and to get rid of the stereotypes that exist around mental illness. I hope that the main things people will take away are a: I should talk to someone (if I’m struggling) or b: Recognise something in a friend that they could reach out to. If a friend stops coming out or behaving differently, to check in with them.
Also I think it’s important that we go onstage as a company of openly queer members, I think that by nature that is a political act. To be visibly queer in a public space is a political act. And to appear on stage is too, which is particularly interesting for me as people have a tendency to refer to us as an all female company, which – I’m not a woman – and I urge people to maybe consider their assumptions. That’s important to me. I always play characters that are genderless and I still get gendered by people. And even though the show isn’t about queer subjects, it’s important to me that that’s there, and for me personally, living as a trans person is also linked to my mental health. That’s something I’d like to make a show about in the future.
A Clown Show About Rain runs every day at The Pleasance Dome (23), 13:40, until the 27th August (Not 20th). Book Now.