Interview: Sadie Clark

Sadie Clark has written and performs in Algorithms, a new solo show which bills itself as ‘the bisexual Bridget Jones for the online generation.’ We caught up with Sadie ahead of her Edinburgh Fringe run to find out more about the development of this piece, how it is to make a solo show and why Bridget Jones holds a place in her heart.

Interview © Amie Taylor 2019

AT: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to work in theatre…

SC: I did a degree in Natural Science and whilst I was studying I joined the drama society and remembered how much I loved performing.  So once I’d got my ‘sensible’ degree I retrained as an actor with a company called Fourth Monkey. I was in the very first year of their two year training course and a lot of that course was based on making your own work. So when I graduated in 2014, I ended up making quite a lot of work. I didn’t have an agent so the phone wasn’t going to be ringing with offers of work, so I made a lot. There was a lot of trial and error in what I enjoyed doing.  The first thing I wrote was a show called orgasm, which was a show exploring the orgasms of people with vulvas. Some of it was my own experiences and some of it was verbatim, based on the experiences of others, so I dramaturged those. I didn’t perform in it, I just directed it, and for me there was something really exciting about seeing something that I’d written and compiled being performed.  So I applied to join the Soho Writer’s Lab and I thought I’d have a crack at writing a one-woman show to perform, because I wasn’t getting many acting jobs myself. I found it a really helpful course and I discovered that I loved performing what I’d written. 

AT: What is Algorithms about?

SC: It’s a bisexual Bridget Jones for the online generation. It follows Brooke, who writes the algorithms for an online dating site; the algorithms that match people on the site, as she searches to find connection and love and happiness in a world that is increasingly online.  The question it asks is, why do we feel so lonely when we live in a world where connecting with other people is meant to be easier than it’s ever been?  It’s fun, it’s silly, it has a more poignant side to it, and it has a lot of Gabrielle in it.

AT: What inspired you to write this piece?

SC: Two things. The first thing may seem a bit basic, although it doesn’t feel basic, but I realised that I was bisexual in 2016, so quite recently.  I think one of the reasons it took me so long to realise this was because I’d never seen anyone represented who fancied all genders and it wasn’t a joke or it wasn’t a confused thing and they were secretly lesbian or gay. And I felt like if I’d seen more people like me, I would have realised earlier, because I’ve always had crushes on, well mostly girls when I was younger.  But I never realised that if I also fancied men, then that meant I was bi; I thought I was a straight person who also fancied women. I wanted to put a bi character on stage, but not have the story defined by a struggle with their sexuality, that it’s a just another part of them as a well rounded person. So my first inspiration was that I wanted to write a bi character.  Then beyond that the inspiration was this very weird relationship I was having with my phone and social media, where I felt addicted to my phone; I kept getting stuck in these black holes, scrolling down Facebook and I was quite depressed at the time. I was at home a lot, I didn’t really have any work and I was looking at all of these people on holiday and having babies and getting married, or getting published and getting promotions or travelling to exciting places.  And it was making the connection, of this thing that I now know is called the ‘Compare and Despair’ phenomenon, was having a huge impact on my mental health. 

AT: Algorithms is a solo show, how do you find rehearsing a solo piece?

SC: Rehearsals are always fun, because it is a really fun show.  I get very in my head, perhaps more so than when I’ve been in shows with other people, because I have a very over-active anxiety voice, that says ‘you’re rubbish, this is shit, why are you doing this?’ Even in rehearsals sometimes.  Although the more I’ve worked with Maddy [the director] the more that voice has faded. 

AT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

SC: I’d like to talk briefly about Bridget Jones,  I was re-watching Bridget Jones at the weekend and I looked up how much she weighed in kilos: 131 pounds equals 59 kilos so the fact that she obsessively feels she needs to lose another 20 pounds (or 9 kilos) suddenly seemed preposterous. It made me realise what unhealthy ideas I had (and still struggle with) around my weight that were actually really negatively influenced by things like Bridget Jones and diet culture. I know Helen Fielding was probably trying to say “look she doesn’t need to lose weight, she just thinks she does”, but the message I internalised as a teen/young woman was that losing weight will make you more desirable and ultimately happier (and this was not helped by the fact that Renee Zellweger had to get ‘fat’ for the movie and ‘getting fat’ meant going up to a size 12 or something which is below the UK average). I love the Bridget Jones franchise and there are so many nods to it in my show, (Gabrielle… Mark Darcy vs Daniel Cleaver… an overbearing mother) but re-watching the first film I did think how far we still have to go when it comes to diet culture and I’m glad that Algorithms has a much clearer message of self-acceptance, particularly with regards to how the protagonist Brooke feels about her weight, by the end of the play.

Algorithms will be on at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Venue 33, Pleasance Courtyard, Baby Grand at 12.45, Jul 31 Aug 1-12, 14-26.

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