Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me is described as an impossibly true love story – did this ethically change how you approached the material? How much is fact/fiction?
Jess: I think that we were worried about, or in denial about the fact that we were making a show about our actual relationship for quite a long time – for about a year. I think that once we admitted that that’s what it was about, the process got much easier. And our ability to be cool with the show that we were making and the way that our relationship fed into that, made our relationship better. It had become quite difficult to separate the work from the relationship, partly because we were fighting against letting the relationship enter the process.
Tim: Yeah, when we said it was going to be about us, we weren’t quite sure how much to open ourselves up to that and that was just nervousness, really, and getting used to the idea. So the ethics were only towards ourselves, I don’t think we had many ethical qualms about making up stuff that is quite provocative in some ways, because the story is about us – if we were OK with that then there weren’t any other ethical questions in the least. Although, a couple of things that have happened since we’ve decided to go down the route we went down have made me feel slightly uneasy about what I’ve written myself into.
Jess: That has less to do with our relationship and our love story than it has to do with questioning the way themes and stories are represented within art: are you making a point about something or are you becoming the thing you’re criticising? And I think that’s a question for any artist.
Tim: And in terms of making it safe for ourselves, one of the things we started saying was ‘Show-Tim’ and ‘Show-Jess’ because we are versions of ourselves in this show and we needed license to do whatever we want in this room and then go out and not feel like that’s necessarily true.
How did you get from the story to the concept for the performance?
Jess: The story came after the concept. I think that in some ways the whole show is the tension and the pull between Tim and me and our conceptual ideologies.
Tim: We have very different relationships to story – I quite like using story, Jess is a bit more into deconstructing story.
Jess: I think Tim’s talking about more traditional character-driven narratives with beginnings, middles and ends and that’s maybe not my point of entry. The show feels like a tug between narrative and non-narrative work. I think that’s probably the most concise way to say it.
Tim: It’s a construction and a deconstruction at the same time. Also, I think that every show we’ve made, the story elements have come totally alongside more physical, visual, in-the-moment interaction between audience and performer. Those kinds of ideas always come at the same time, they’re always butting heads and the way they butt heads and the sparks that come off that are what makes it interesting.
How do you strike a balance between the writing aspect and the performance art? Do you ever find that one takes precedence over the other?
Jess: We make text-based work, whether you call it performance art or performance or theatre, it is text-based – but text doesn’t have to necessarily be narrative or story-driven. So in a way, the form of the text can serve the performance art as much as it can serve the traditional narrative sense of what performance is. 70% of the text in this show is in the room; live, conversational text which is not narrative, it is functional text. It is text used to continually place and then shift the situation of the actual space that we are in. And the action in the piece is partnered with the text, as much as the narrative is partnered with the text.
Tim: So we spend a lot less time overall on creating text that’s happening in some fictional space elsewhere and more time thinking what kinds of questions can Jess ask the audience and what can happen between Jess there (indicating stage) and me in that booth there; that’s the action of the show. There is story that happens in a room elsewhere or, you know, beyond, but it’s deliberately almost not committed to, because we want to play with it and mess with it and just use it to make this interaction more interesting.
Reading about your past shows, you seem to have a focus on the audience – how much are you thinking about the audience and/or the effect you want to have on them during development and rehearsal?
Jess: In some ways you’re always thinking about the audience because the type of performance we make needs an audience, quite directly. Although I think that there are points where you have to be thinking about what the audience needs and how it’s coming across to the audience, there are also points where you just have to go “I just need this thing to be really good and then we need to lift it up” and then think about how it’s going to affect the audience. But whenever we’re working on a show, we’re constantly thinking “How is this going to interface with the audience, how do we think the audience is going to feel, is the audience going to take this the wrong way?”
Tim: That’s really delicate, because if you are doing something like asking an audience member a question, whether or not you want them to respond just, the slight difference in the tone or in the content of that will massively change whether it works or not. It’s the fine line between unsettling people and alienating them.
Jess: And that’s a constant thing, is how alienating can we be to the audience while also bringing them along with us. People don’t always have to like us, they don’t need to like me but they need to want to stay with me and find me engaging. The idea that you have to be likeable and that’s what’s going to make a show interesting I don’t think is true – they just need to find what I’m saying engaging enough or interesting enough or funny enough or weird enough to want to hear the next thing and to want to see the next thing. To actually allow yourself to be a conduit for people to feel whatever they want about you.
Tim: Or to feel two things at once. I think that’s one of Jess’s strengths onstage is that she’ll do something that makes the audience think “Is she about to hit me?” or “Do I want to go and give her a hug?” laughs
What inspires you to make theatre, or be in the arts?
Tim: Making something that’s specific to having a load of people in a room together and couldn’t be achieved over the internet, or on TV, or film. Also, being an audience member at certain things when I was younger that made me feel like I had to try and recreate that for other people. And ego – totally ego (laughs), you kind of feel like you’re giving people something but really as well as that, you’re giving something to yourself.
Jess: I think the idea that we can all come and sit in the room and have something happen that is awesome or hopefully awesome, and that’s not television. I don’t think that we can tell narrative-driven stories as well as movies can. The tools needed for that, to create that suspension of disbelief for us, works best in film because you can shift time and literally shift focus. What theatre can offer that’s different is that liveness, when you’re watching somebody do something in the moment and it exists only in that moment and somebody has physically had to be present with you for that story to be told – that’s why theatre is amazing.
Finally, why should everyone come and see Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me?
Tim: It’s going to be unique in the way that it blends really funny and really uncomfortably personal stuff and it will just, it will feel like a slightly dreamlike hour for whoever comes to see it.
Jess: And it’s about that existential crisis of trying to be the hero of your own life and watching two people struggle to do that.
Tim: It’s going to be an unusual take on a universal thing, which is what it is like to try and grow up and be in a relationship, and make room for someone else in your life that you want to be the hero of.