Tuesday 2 July 2024

Thinking outside the box at Buxton Fringe

Our Fringe entrants take their responsibility towards the audience very seriously. We always love to learn more about their creative processes. Barbara Diesel wrote to us about the thinking behind her play, Dear Eliza, which is being staged at Underground at Spring Gardens. Read her words below. We hope her message sparks a conversation.

For further information about all our Fringe shows see our What's On listings here.

Writer/performer Barbara Diesel in Dear Eliza

Next month, I’m looking forward to performing my debut one-woman play, Dear Eliza, at the Buxton Festival Fringe. It’s been quite the journey creating and sharing this story. It dives into mental health in a completely unapologetic and raw way, with an added blend of dark comedy. I made a pointed effort to ensure my protagonist would be as morally grey, authentic, and real as possible.

I feel strongly about the power of Fringe theatre, particularly in the case of representing mental health issues. A few months ago, I summarised it like this:

 “The problem with depictions of mentally ill characters in fiction is that they are either nothing like a real mentally ill person, or they fit perfectly inside of a box. Often, when a film/book/series/play decides it wants to depict a specific illness, they build the characters around that diagnosis. They seem to tick off the symptoms and only then add in family/occupation/a handful of hobbies… afterwards. Creating what is a nice, neat, symptomatically perfect character.

The problem is that humans don’t tend to tick all the boxes. Humans are hard to diagnose. Humans have comorbid symptoms with other illnesses. Humans don’t fit into neat boxes. Only characters do.

So, most depictions of mental illness are, inherently, fictional. There’s little consideration of the symptomatic murkiness that can exist between different disorders. And the spectrum of experience is disregarded.

That’s why representation of mental health disorders is so different if you go to see Fringe theatre. A lot of the time, it’s been written by someone who really knows what they are talking about. Just as importantly, it hasn’t been surrendered to the industry – an industry that relies on being sensational or romantic or shocking in order to be commodified.

These ‘alternative’ depictions might blur the lines or leave you wondering what was actually ‘wrong’ with the character. They might confuse you because they haven’t been neatly packaged for you. But that is the reality of human beings with mental illnesses, as opposed to characters with mental illnesses. Human beings don’t fit into boxes. Only characters do.”

The best compliments I have received have been from audience members either telling me that they found Dear Eliza to be cathartic, because it genuinely resonated with them, or that they now better understood a family member/friend/colleague thanks to watching the play. That kind of experience is so difficult to have through mainstream media. So, for me, this is what makes Fringe theatre so valuable.

Buxton Fringe

Website: www.buxtonfringe.org.uk
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