Josh talks about why he wrote Wanna Dance With Somebody!
It is December 2014 and I am in something of a bind. Earlier in the Autumn Running Dog Theatre had been commissioned to make a new show for Outpost, a pop-up theatere festival in Plymouth. Myself and Sian - the then only members of Running Dog - had spent two weeks making the early stages of a show we titled To Alexander (who could only see the sea), a show about struggling to come to grips with climate change and how we use stories to deal with loss. (A lot of these ideas stayed with us – as did our propensity towards unnesecarily long subtitled show names). We had then applied to redevelop the show and perform it at The Bikeshed Theatre for their From Devon With Love festival. However as often happens life, or more specifically Arts Council Funding applications, got in the way – Sian was snowed under over Christmas submitting her other companies’ first Grants for the Arts Application and for fear of not being able to put enough time into making the show up to standard, or the far more important fear of breaking herself, we decided that it would be best not to redevelop To Alexander. The Bikeshed was still expecting a show from us, leading us to the aforementioned bind.
It is February 2016 and I am writing my own Grants for the Arts Application. The application is to redevelop the show which had become Wanna Dance with Somebody!. In the Autumn I had worked on new material for the show and taken it to Pilot in Wolverhampton. This had been great but I’d spent the weeks leading up to it rehearsing, by myself, alone in a big empty room. I had decided that I never wanted to make theatre solo again. And so I was writing an Arts Council Application so that I could bring in some people to help me make the show better. And yet here I was, in the spring, spending weeks by myself, writing applications (we were also in the process of applying for a tour of fringe festivals in the summer). Anyone who has ever worked freelance or been unemployed will know there is something deeply soul sapping about spending hours, by yourself, at a desk, or a computer. Your days have no set beginnings or endings and so your days slide – one into the other, interminably. A week passes and you know you have been doing things but nothing seems to have been done. Not only this but I wasn’t even really leaving the house, I wasn’t seeing people, Exeter is small and the few people I’m close to were all busy. I’m lucky enough never to have suffered from serious depression, but these were low times, I could feel the world growing dark at the edges, and like a weight on my chest the world falling away from me.
2 and a half year previous. It is October 2013, I have just graduated from the University of Exeter’s Drama course – naturally I am unemployed. Very fortunately my Uncle has a house in the wild’s of North Devon so I am able to live rent free for a few months whilst I get myself on my feet. Again though I am by myself, my Uncle occassionaly visits and everyone I know is a 45 minute drive away. I spend days alone without talking to another person. To begin with, this is fine. I read, I watch TV, I do endless job applications. I get a job at Domino’s in Exeter. I oscilate between being alone in a house and spending my nights driving around by myself delivering Pizza to people I will never know. And when I’m not doing this I am driving the 45 minutes between where I live and where I work, always in the dark. Occassionally I crash on a friend’s sofa when I can’t quite face the journey back – more often than not I do this simply so that I will have someone to talk to. Summer changes to Autumn and because I so rarely leave the house during the day I don’t even notice. Autumn changes to Winter and I am at a house party at one of my friends in Exeter. And I am not happy – I feel a little like an alien dropped into some weird science experiment. Awkwardly I hover, between groups of people, trying to gauge how long I can leave it before circling back round to my friend – the only person at the party I actually feel comfortable with. I go outside and look at the stars (because, you know, I’m an old soul) and think how ironic it is that I have been grindingly lonely, and here I am surrounded by people and the feeling is only amplified tenfold. And so I quit my job and I sit in a large dark room by myself lit only by a single desk lamp and I make a show about sitting in a large dark room by myself lit only by a single desk lamp, and about space, and how I am sad, and isolated, and lonely, and anxious, and how I can’t imagine distances, and about driving through the night by myself, and driving through the night with my father, and about going home, and about Voyager 1 and about a dozen other things because I’ve spent so long by myself with no one to talk to about anything other than pizza toppings that all I want to do is is scream and talk about all the things all the time forever. The show I make is called The King of Infinite Space, and despite not having an unnecessarily long subtitle (or perhaps because of this) the general consensus is that whilst not irredeemably awful it is generally a bit shit. This, I feel like in hindsight, is because making a theatre show and saying it at a load of people is not the same thing as making a theatre show and sharing it with people. Or, perhaps more pertinently, this is because making a theatre show is not the same thing as just talking to people, having human interactions – and one of those things is more important than the other.
It is December 2014 and I am in something of a bind. I decide that I’m going to make another solo show. I don’t really know what it’s going to be about but I know I only have two weeks to make it and, for a variety of reasons including most honestly I am simply in a much happier place in my life, I decide that whatever I do I want the show to be a joyful one. I want it to be fun, and silly, and big and loud and open and giving and out. I want to spend sometime in a space with some people and connect with them, and if I can’t do that, at the very least I want to try. The show I make is called Wanna Dance With Somebody! Or, A Guide to Managing Social Anxiety Using Theoretical Physics (because goddammnit aren’t I just a sucker for a good subtitle). It’s not a perfect show by any means, and in it’s earlier versions it’s still quite a sad show by all accounts but I feel like it is better – and more importantly I feel like I am better – happier, healthier – because of it.
The show changes quite a lot over the intervening two years, it grows and it shifts sometimes it spirals off in a weird direction and then wheels back round to work out that it was facing the right direction the whole time. And I am anxious and I am lonely – sometimes more, sometimes less. When there are people with me it’s better (the show and myself) and when there aren’t I slip back, just a little, the sinking and the hole don’t ever really go away. And there are times when I just have had enough of things (the show and myself) but on the whole things are better for it.
And when I dance, or when I’m with friends, or when I’m not – sometimes it’s better and sometimes it’s not.
Also I got a cat, and that helps quite a lot.