Interview: Rhiannon Faith - on why there's nothing to be afraid of...

Tuesday 9 February 2016 by Carmel Smith

Rhiannon Faith 'Scary Shit'. Photo: Roxanna Ross

Rhiannon Faith follows last year’s The Date – which was based on the real life relationship of the two dancers performing the piece – with another work borne out of real life experiences. In Scary Shit, a show about fears, phobias and female friendships, Rhiannon performs with dancer Maddy Morgan. It all started after they attend CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions and found there’s really nothing to be scared of…

Where did the idea for Scary Shit come from…
I had a really big issue talking on the telephone to people I didn’t know. At first I thought it was a bit silly, but it actually started to affect me a lot. I needed to contact venues to try and programme my work, and found it crippling. I felt I was failing as a business woman/artist and decided it was time to ask for help. I suggested to my friend (and company dancer) Maddy Morgan that I needed therapy to cure my ‘talking on the telephone phobia’. Maddy thought she might need therapy to help tackle anxieties about her fertility. So we both began our journeys by deciding to attend six therapy sessions led by therapist Joy Griffiths. We filmed the sessions and used the footage as a way to start talking about our fears.

So we created this new dance theatre show which uses our personal experiences and the science of psychology at the heart of its process. The show investigates fear, how we all experience fear and how strategies of dealing with fear can be learnt. The show has a DIY dance theatre aesthetic performed using theatre, comedy, movement and audio taken from our therapy sessions. We talk about being women, we test our friendship and we learn how important it is to ask for help, using the voice recordings of our therapist Joy to stay on track. The movement in the show is verbatim, taken from our physical behaviour in our therapy session and the dialogue is autobiographical. At times it’s silly, hard, very very honest and quite outrageous.

Does your work always tend to emerge from personal experiences?
Pretty much. Not just my personal experiences, but those of the dancers that I work with too. When I first started to create work I would take much more of a choreographic role and ask my dancers to open up, to find material that was already part of their own histories and put themselves in a vulnerable place when they were on stage. I felt by being the ‘self’ on stage the dancer would become more ‘real’ to the audience, and could translate their story in a relatable way. I realised I was asking a lot of my dancers and felt some responsibility to put myself through that process, so I started to perform alongside them. It is harder then I thought! You start to unravel, you dig up memories and start to remember behaviours and decisions that you may have tried to forget, but I think that’s important, I think the audience experience that sincerity and respect that frankness. I have always made work that has the human condition at the centre, human beings fascinate me.

When we made The Date we were looking at a real-life relationship, real emotions and real experiences – between the dancers who performed the work. For Scary Shit we followed that process only the difference is we are focussing on friendship. There is something vulnerable, authentic and honest that happens on stage when the performers are reliving real-life, there is an investment and risk. Making The Date taught me that the results are unique but the experiment needed to be managed with care, which is why for Scary Shit we involved a therapist. I don’t think we can make a piece without her now!

You’ve got a wide range of collaborators and partners on this production – from Arts Council England, to Rich Mix – and it was produced through the Open Lab Scheme at the Barbican/Guildhall – can you tell us about the challenges/opportunities in working with so many organisations?
The support from ACE and respected venues have been brilliant. We have had lots of really great venues working with us, offering space-in-kind or financial support which has given us time and space to create, experiment, reflect and refine our process and helped get the show on the road. The challenges have really been about sharing the work at the right time in order to receive feedback that moves us forward. Being booked in both London and regionally, has been really great to meet new audiences, and invite them into our processes. We are super lucky that we have interventions from Bryony Kimmings who helps us look at the bigger picture of the work but also one of the mega opportunities working with the Open Lab scheme at the Barbican was that we were able to bring Wendy Houstoun on board as a mentor. She is a personal hero and she was bloody brilliant at helping us look at the detail in the show. One of our most important collaborators in this project is CBT therapist Joy Griffiths. Not only has she been an inspiration for creative material, she has made life-changing benefits to both Maddy and myself and we are truly grateful to her for being part of the work.

What are your plans for Scary Shit?
We have shows at Rich Mix and The Pleasance coming up that we are really looking forward to and will be taking the show to festivals this summer before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe 2016, and then onto a national tour. We are running the show alongside side talks with Joy Griffiths and a neuroscientist! We are also planning our new show, that was born out of conversations whilst making Scary Shit, but that’s a secret at the moment! There’s more to come so keep an eye out.

And how’s your phone technique now?
I did a ‘Rewind’ technique with Joy and within a day I was absolutely fine. I was using the phone without even realising. In fact I’ve done a number of phone interviews about the show and have spoke to several programmers on the phone since. So it has made an exceptional difference!

Catch Scary Shit in London this month:
Rich Mix, Sat 20 February, 8pm The Pleasance , Fri 26 & at 27 February, 7.30pm

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