An Interview with Sam Underwood

An Interview with Sam Underwood

How would you best describe Losing Days?

Losing Days is a solo show with live music. It’s a fast and funny look at my journey with Manic Depression, with a kickass Frank Turner soundtrack.

 

Who would you say it is for?

Frank Turner fans and anyone who enjoys live music for sure! It will most likely resonate with anyone who experiences depression and other mental health issues – or anyone who knows someone that does. Also, anyone who wants to learn a little more about what a large portion of society deal with at some point in their lives.

“Talking is the only way to honestly share a personal story”

How was it first conceived?

One aspect of my condition is way more fun and productive than the other. My “manic” encourages me to DO things. After an awful episode last year stuck in a car for three weeks, I came out of it wanting to create something around it. I wasn’t sure what at first.

At the Fringe in 2015, I saw a show that saved my life and started waking me up to the fact that I had issues that needed to be addressed – ‘Fake It Till You Make It’ by Bryony Kimmings. If anything positive was going to come out of the events of last year, I wanted to share it for the purpose of helping others wake up themselves, not feel ashamed of their condition and smash the taboo’s surrounding mental health in general.

I visited Frank Turner while he was playing a gig nearby and asked his permission to use his music in my show – his album, ‘Tapedeck Heart’ was the only thing that kept me grounded whilst I was in that car. He said yes, and the rest if currently happening!

 

What is the history of The Boxroom Larry’s?

The Boxroom Larry’s was the name of my Dad’s band. Their performances were limited to a makeshift studio in their boxroom where they got high and recorded multiple Beatles covers. As a nod to my Dad’s passion for music we are playing the gig they always wished that they could have played.

 

Was it hard to balance the tone of your show?

Very much so. Losing Days underwent multiple re-writes over the past 8 months – and continued to be tweaked up until the preview.

The question of Performance or Expression vs. Talking became a big theme in my show – a performance is not honest. Talking is the only way to honestly share a personal story, else you are distancing yourself from the vulnerability that connects people to it. The songs are the performance element of the piece, and that is connected to the conceit of the show.

The amount of humour that is in the show was not difficult to uncover as it is all coming from the truth of my experience – which is usually more funny than we think. Also, by being self-deprecating, it allows the audience to feel more relaxed to engage with the subject matter.

Depression is not a laughing matter – but my Manic has been a darkly hilarious journey at times.

 

How would you describe society’s attitude and approach to mental illness?

I believe that we have been cultured to present how wonderful everything is, to project success. Showing vulnerability is often met as admitting defeat, and that is something to feel ashamed of. In a world where the media sells us statues of perfection, whether it’s physical appearance, financial success etc., why would anyone want to open up – or ask for help – at the prospect of feeling somewhat imperfect.

And on the other side, I believe there is a discomfort in not knowing what the ‘correct’ way to respond, behave or respond to the knowledge that someone you know has mental health issues. So there is discomfort on both sides, which only leads to silence. And that silence can be life threatening.

 

How can it be improved?

First of all, de-stigmatizing mental health by continuing to talk about it and have people share their stories has to be the first step. Media and advertising can help of course, but there is no greater power of communication than talking to each other. The arts are a good place to start. That’s what it is there for, in my opinion – to create dialogues, pose questions and start conversations.

“de-stigmatizing mental health by continuing to talk about it […] has to be the first step”

How has your understanding of mental illness changed over time?

That I don’t need to be ashamed of it. That more people than I thought, people that I know, deal with some form of it. That my life has been exponentially better since being open about it.

 

What kind of artistic licence does your show take?

I guess implementing songs as part of the story telling is the artistic license (unless you count rearranging some of the songs). It’s not a musical – the songs serve as a distraction, a device to express my problems rather than deal with them.

 

Do you prefer doing live shows or working on television?

It’s hard to answer that. They are both so different creatively.

Theatre is more immediate – there’s a direct connection between you and your audience, and you are all taking this journey together. It’s also never going to be the same – the idea of a community gathering to hear a story – it’s a unique event. On-camera work I would describe as more intimate. The camera is your audience – it’s closer and it does not need as much “projection”.

As an actor onstage I feel like I take a long journey every performance. There’s a stamina needed in that. With on-camera work the stamina isn’t about being prepared for a long journey, but having to recreate organically, relive in the moment “moments” from the journey over and over again. That takes a stamina and patience of its own.

 

Have you been to the Fringe before?

Two times before – 2011 (3D Hamlet) and 2015 (One Day When We Were Young). I love producing and performing at the Fringe.

 

What is your involvement with Dickless? What’s that show about?

I’m the Artistic Director of the theatre company that produced the show.

Dickless is a one woman riot performed in rep by two New York based British actors, written by a British playwright, 2017 Peter Shaffer award winner Aisha Josiah and produced by New York based international company Fundamental Theater Project.

There won’t be tragic heroes searching for understanding, or profound musings on gender identity – though there won’t *not* be that stuff. Over the course of one night in the seedy underbelly of small town England, quests for vengeance are doomed to go wrong – and these lasses have no mercy!

If Shakespeare wrote a spoken word football chant about headless cats and drunk 11 year olds while questioning his biological maleness, it might turn out something like Dickless!

Come down. Find out.

Read our review of Dickless here

 

Image: Initiative 26

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