Actress Debbie Bird knows all about the buzz of the rollercoaster experience of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe as she is about to take her new one woman show Buzzing to the Fringe for 2019.
I caught up with her between rehearsals and preview shows to find out about what the inspiration behind Buzzing was and her future plans after the Fringe.
1 What inspired your new Edinburgh show?
At age 48, I gave up a successful teaching career to go to ALRA and do my MA in professional acting. For our final, we had to create a piece of theatre. It was easier to create a solo show as I was so much older than the other students in my group. Someone said, write about what you know. Years ago, I was a party planner for a company selling sexy lingerie and toys, I was good at it. I had a stream of banter for the toys along with funny stories I had picked up along the way. So, the original piece began with Julie having an Erotica party and sharing the stories plus some insight into her own experiences of sex from virginity to age 50.
2 Is this your first visit as a performer at the Fringe?
No, I was here in my first year out of drama school, in 2017. I went with Second Circle Theatre in Meeting at 33, a verbatim, immersive piece about recovering alcoholics, set in an AA meeting. It was very successful, mostly sold out, and I had a ball. The Scotsman gave it 4 stars.
3 How much of your show does art imitate life/biographical?
My audiences regularly nod their heads and mutter agreement with what Julie says or does. Her story is relevant to every woman, and even some men. I have used elements from my own experience to springboard an idea and then developed it further to create Julie’s story. So, there are fragments of me in there, and some fragments of people I have met and chatted to during the process. I am not Julie, but I am trying to become more like her, she’s so inspiring.
4 What has making this play done for you emotionally?
Buzzing required me to make myself vulnerable and to dig deep into my own insecurities. As it developed, I began to recognise myself in Julie and have faced up to some deep-seated pain. I am more open, expressive and less inhibited as a woman. I like to think I have a more positive approach to my body and my age. I used to look at myself and think nobody would fancy a woman like me but it turns out, when I now look in the mirror, I am still as ‘sexy’ in my 50s as I was in my 20s, maybe more so now ‘cos I am not afraid to embrace it.
5 What was the inspiration behind your show?
Women over a certain age become invisible in our society. The menopause and lives of middle-aged women are still not discussed or explored enough. We are invisible, not seen as women with desires and needs, but as labels; mum, nan, carer. Unless you are under 30, you cannot be taken seriously as a vibrant female. Julie is a 50+ woman who has had enough of being seen as ‘past it’ and ‘boring’. She is anything but. She is warm, witty and the audience will identify with her tales and what it is like to be one of the ‘invisible women’. If you are menopausal, you’ll get it, if you’re younger, you’ll get it and if you are a husband of a menopausal woman, you will REALLY get it.
6 Why are there so few female stories being told in theatre, and comparatively few female solo theatre-makers?
I think it has something to do with women’s stories being stereotyped for so long, not taken seriously, like female stand up. It is always perceived that it will only be something women would be interested in and then ‘dumbed’ down. I’ve seen a lot of female solo work, but it is not so heavily publicised as its male counterparts.
7 What are your plans after Edinburgh with your show? Are you taking it on tour?
The preview audiences have wanted to know more about Julie and what else she gets up to, so I intend to answer those questions. Mark Farrelly and I will be meeting to develop the show into a 70+ minute show for a 2020 UK tour. Our first date is 13th February at The Quay Theatre in Suffolk.
8 What would you like to do beyond “Buzzing”?
I am a working actress, so I will always be looking for the next role to play. However, I am interested in creating more of my own work. A friend and I are looking at writing a show about Hattie Jacques and Barbara Windsor. So, I may be returning to Edinburgh with that next time.
Buzzing is being performed daily from midway through the Fringe from 15th-26th August at 7 pm. In-venue 277, Riddles Court, EH1 2PG.