FITTER at the Soho Theatre – Ell Potter and Mary Higgins discuss their latest verbatim show
The duo return after their last show Hotter ran at the Soho Theatre earlier this year
There are moments in the making of FITTER where we wonder if our process for creating theatre is the most time-consuming process in the known universe. We start by finding interviewees. The youngest is 8 years old, a pupil of writer Ell in her part-time tutoring job; the oldest is 102, who we find at Stockwell Good Neighbours, a community collective in – you guessed it – Stockwell. Besides these two, there are 41 others from all around the world: a man in his mid-20s who we interview over Skype as he smokes in his basement in Arizona; a double lung-transplant survivor who we interview in his quiet North London living room; two 47-year-old builders from Manchester who we interview six pints down while a football match blares in the background of the pub we're in. We ask them all the same questions, quizzing them on what it means to be a man. We're talking wanking, douching, sh*tting, shame, beards, bums, and numbness. Well, we didn't ask the eight year-old the exact same questions.
At the beginning of each chat, we tell the interviewee that "interviews normally last between 30 minutes and an hour". The truth is, interviews can last well over 2 hours, depending on the chattiness of the person we're talking to. And when you're asking questions that people have never answered before, things can get very chatty. The result is over 70 hours of interview recordings, which we painstakingly transcribe in full.
Once all the material is collected, it's time for the fun bit. We draw the shape of the show, sprawling over a whiteboard, linking bits together. "I like what they said about douching: shall we turn it into a ballet?"; "I love the way he said that. Let's make it into a song"; "I think we might need to buy loads of multicoloured exercise balls and inflate them onstage. Where can we find a huge pump???". The sheer volume of interview content means we have to be super selective: we're cutting and slicing our way through the material and leaving reels by the wayside. We could make the show about 903 times over if we wanted to. But it means that what we're left with is only the crème de la crème.
A vital part of the verbatim-theatre-making-process is sharing the work with your interviewees before it 'goes public'. It's important they get the opportunity to hear how their voices are used and give it the all-clear; you don't want someone to suddenly regret the moment they divulged their niche kink to us a few months ago, when they find that the entire show is built around it. The night of the work-in-progress performance comes around, and we're Absolutely. Bricking. It. It's a weird vibe because, a) it's the first time we've performed for an all-male / masculine-presenting audience, so b) the pre-show audience-murmur is about four octaves lower than we're used to, which is c) making us more nervous than we've ever been before. Their "how-will-they-have-used-my-voice" nerves are met and matched by our "how-will-they-react-to-how-we've-used-their-voices" nerves. But we're relieved to report that they… sort of loved it. The next stage is going public.