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Edinburgh Blog: Joe Sellman-Leava on the impact of winning a Fringe First

'We lose sight of what's important if awards become the goal'

Joe Sellman-Leava in Fanboy
© Toby Lee

Edinburgh 2015 was a whirlwind. Labels was my first solo show, and I didn't know how it would be received or where it might lead. When a show that you and your collaborators have worked so hard on is awarded something like a Fringe First (given by The Scotsman newspaper), it feels amazing: the sense of being in the same club as artists you respect and admire, who've inspired and influenced you. It's something I won't forget, and will always be grateful for.

I think it's also important, when reflecting on what followed, to step out of the magical whirlwind of a 'good Edinburgh'. The award helped Labels tour more widely, including more rural touring, going to UK theatres I'd not had relationships with previously, and my first experience of international touring. Equally, once I'd taken the lovely silver plaque home, I still faced rejected funding bids, tour dates with low tickets sales, and audiences and critics for whom my work just didn't resonate.

Then there's moving on to the next thing. Winning an award for one show doesn't mean guaranteed success for the next one, which will, rightly, be judged on its own merit. Lots of us, me included, can feel competitive with ourselves – like we have to exceed, or at least match, past successes, or over-compensate for bad reviews. This is something I've really tried to reflect on, now I'm about to take my new show, Fanboy, to Edinburgh. To remember that each project is its own thing, with its own process. That you can't predict or control the outcome. And that, first and foremost, I make theatre because I love telling stories, in this medium, collaborating with other artists, and connecting with audiences.

Awards are a wonderful bonus prize. It was a true honour to win a Fringe First, and I will always treasure it. If you're fortunate enough to get that kind of validation, and any opportunities it may bring, then that's wonderful. But we lose sight of what's important if awards become the goal. You don't have to win them for your work to be meaningful.

Fanboy is at the Pleasance Dome from 3 to 29 August