ED2015 Interviews ED2015 Theatre ED2015 Week0 Edition

Stuart Bowden: Reversing into the Fringe

By | Published on Tuesday 28 July 2015

Stuart Bowden

Having wowed our reviewers not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times in total at the Fringe (and actually five times, because two reviewers insisted on seeing his 2011 show), Stuart Bowden arrives at the Fringe with another new show this August.
‘Wilting In Reverse’ is a “strangely compelling story with live music, vigorous dance moves, understandable words and a fair bit of profound (probably life-changing) body movement”. And if sounds like Bowden hadn’t really figured it out when he wrote his show blurb, you’re probably right, his shows usually evolving right up to Fringe kick-off, and well beyond. But the results are always worth experiencing. We spoke to Bowden to find out more.

CC: If, like us, readers have seen and loved your past Fringe shows, how does ‘Wilting In Reverse’ compare?
SB: Well, like my previous shows it’s a strange story told with words – spoken and sung – body movements and some parts of my soul. Sometimes the lighting changes to simulate different settings; and emotional environments. I would say this show is more ambitious in the complexity of the story. But like previous shows, there is a mix of sad bits and funny bits, it’s melanchomedy.

CC: How do you decide on themes for each of your show?
SB: I tend to just stick with the big ones, death, existence, loneliness – they’re the funniest ones I think.

CC: With the mix of music, storytelling and physical comedy – do you approach each element separately, or do they all just emerge from one start point?
SB: When I make a show usually the story is the bread; I try to make it fresh, the type of bread you could just eat on it’s own, but then I sprinkle the treats around. It is essential that the treats match the bread, so not ice cream or candy, the dancing is cheese, the songs humous, and so on.

CC: I sense that a lot about the show was still being thought out when your publicity bumf was written! Is that true? Do you like the deadline the Fringe provides?
SB: Yeah, the deadline of Fringe is a great motivator, I like the energy that pressure injects into the creative process. It’s probably not great for my health though.

CC: Does the show evolve during the Festival itself? Or will it be pretty much fixed once you arrive?
SB: I never actually finish my shows, they are always evolving. I try to develop the ideas with the audience. My shows are mostly one person – me – in front of lots of people – the audience – so I always think it would be rude to ignore everyone else in the room.

CC: I think you like it when an audience is more willing to participate. Is that true? Are Edinburgh audiences good in that regard?
SB: Yeah, having a room full of people is a great opportunity, so I try to use that to create something hopefully unique for them. In a similar way to it being rude for me to ignore the audience, I think it would be rude for an audience to come in and ignore the show. And I’m a fairly nice person – I’ve been told – so I don’t try to embarrass people, apart from myself. So yes, I like everyone to feel a part of the event. Edinburgh audiences seem pretty used to that. Though sometimes I think they are a little too well trained, so I have to work harder to surprise them.

CC: I think I can say you’re becoming something of a Fringe institution. Is Edinburgh an important part of your year?
SB: Yes, very important, for the last three years I have brought brand new – untried and untested – shows. It’s risky, but there is a creative energy that fills the city for the month and that feeds the work.

CC: You list in the theatre section, but could probably just as easily appear in music, comedy or spoken word. Do you feel a closer affiliation with the theatre genre?
SB: I always find it really difficult to define my shows, but the theatre section seems the broadest. I think I would annoy an audience if I put it in the comedy section, because not everything is geared towards laughter. I think maybe sometimes I do annoy the more pretentious members of the theatre audience, but it’s fun to annoy them!

CC: Do you ever do more straight gigs as a musician? Would you like to?
SB: I haven’t really much, but I’d like to more. Occasionally I do live music accompaniment for shows. But never really just music. My one musical claim to fame is that I once did a gig where I supported Jens Lekman; I’m a big fan of his so that was pretty cool.

CC: Tell us about your life before we first discovered your shows at the Fringe. How did you end up in the UK?
SB: Well, I was born at moonset, star-beams twinkled when I first opened my eyes; then the symphony began to play and I pooped on myself. Fast forward 25 years and I made my first solo show, it was a very strange creature, about a man having a relationship with a human sized worm. It was not a hit. It was my second solo show that I took to Edinburgh Fringe.

CC: As well as the solo work, you quite often collaborate too – and with other Fringe favourites like Dr Brown and Bryony Kimmings. How do solo and collaborative projects compare?
SB: I get so lonely on my own, so I try to balance solo work with collaborative work. This is important for my sanity. In many ways collaborative work feels easier as you have someone else to bounce ideas off and share the creative process with. Collaboration inspires my solo work too, seeing what other makers value and their different processes keeps my work fresh.

CC: Are there any other Edinburgh Fringe regulars you’d like to collaborate with on future projects?
SB: I would love to work with other musicians. I’d also love to make a really stupid comedy. As for naming specific people, it’s a bit tricky, like flirting, it’s best not to be too public about it, who knows whose hand I might be touching under the table.

‘Wilting In Reverse’ was performed at Underbelly Cowgate at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: stuartbowden.co