Erstwhile Off the Cuff co-founder (and former SUDS member) Mike Smith quizzed current SUDS member and director of ‘The Blind’, Dodie Finamore; and she fired a few questions right back at him..
Mike interviews Dodie
Sell me your show in 20 words:
Watching theatre is boring, let’s experience it. An immersive, sensory piece that’ll transport your mind.
What was your first experience of SUDS and what made you get involved?
My first experience of SUDS was being in a play called ‘Hold Them ‘Til Tomorrow’; it was a devised, promenade piece about social media and identity. It was a wonderful, challenging and rewarding experience where I made great friends and they really welcomed me into the society. I wanted to keep up the practical side to complement the academic weighting of my drama degree and thought it would be a god way to meet people.
What are some of the challenges and rewards associated with directing live theatre?
The main challenge for me was keeping control of my stress levels. The show – whatever you do – becomes your baby, and the responsibility is huge. However, the rewards make the challenges so much more worth it. Watching audiences react to your work is refreshing, as they often come at it from a different angle and everyone gets something different out of it. And the buzz after a show is just something else.
What advice would you give aspiring directors?
I personally wouldn’t identify as a director, as I much prefer performing, but that really helped me in my role. My advice would be for someone wanting to direct to also try some performing as it makes you much more understanding and able to think as both a guide and mover.
Have you ever got involved in improvisation?
Apart from improvisation warm ups, no, I have never been involved in live performed improvisation.
Dodie interviews Mike
What was your experience of SUDS when you were at Sussex?
SUDS was big in spirit but low in organisation. There were some extremely talented writers and actors who were performing (mostly) interesting and original theatre. However, various administrative issues meant that these were often limited – sometimes leading to innovative solutions (bin bags, roof tops and ladders), but also having a detrimental effect on what could be performed and how many shows per term. The most notable example of this being the mis/undermanagement of the then Gardner Arts Centre and its ultimate closure.
Nevertheless, great things did happen and great friendships blossomed in that hotbed of creativity. The four-to-five years I was at Sussex saw a big push to cement a more stable and conducive environment and I hope the SUDS of today is keeping up the standard.
How did Off the Cuff start?
During the SUDS production of ‘Marat/Sade’ in Edinburgh (Fringe 2005), a number of the cast were inspired by The Improverts – Edinburgh Uni’s resident improv company – at Bedlam. We took notes, formed a group from within SUDS and started some informal rehearsals that autumn. The rest, as they say, is history.
Well, no, we started performing to paying audiences (still feels like a sham) and improving/reflecting as we went. From start to Edinburgh success in five years felt like a real achievement for us, so I’m really proud of what Cuff has achieved over the decade it has been around.
During your time with Off the Cuff, you performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. What’s your opinion on free fringe (which mostly includes comedy) and what would be your advice for a new company taking up comedy?
The free fringe is an excellent way for small-scale productions (stand-up, one-man shows etc) to get a stage and an audience. There are other low-budget, innovative alternatives too such as theatre in sheds, buses, castles and vans which have all been tried at the Fringe. However, I feel we should be happy to pay to see theatre – with or without the promise of quality. We are supporting an ancient art form and even bad theatre has its place (to make the good shows even better by comparison). The Free Fringe is a reaction to a commercialisation, and a trending towards the mainstream, of the Fringe (it’s in the name). To preserve the spirit and ethos of the Fringe festival, venues should be realistic about their venue/publicity charges and perhaps a little bit of the Fringe profits each year go back into subsidising Fringe newcomers and helping to discover those new Pythons, Leagues and Dreadfuls.
If taking comedy there for the first time, my advice is: publicise, publicise, publicise. You can’t be visible enough. Hire a hot-air balloon emblazoned with your show details, float along the Royal Mile distributing warm scotch pies wrapped in your flyers while singing Highland songs about your show. It is bloody hard work and you won’t make any money, but if you’re organised, canny and put in the effort – you’ll break even, make friends/contacts and have a whale of a time. What else is September for other than a Fringe comedown?
Tell us a joke:
(I can’t claim it as mine) “The first time I met my wife, I knew she was a keeper. She was wearing massive gloves” – Alun Cochrane