I vividly remember the first time I did a turn; devised in my council bedsit, created for a bunch of drunken East Londoners (when East London was about haircuts and not hoardings). I’d been labelled the fat one by various scene leaders, so, frustrated at my new found status, I rebelled. I thought I’d show them what my fat looked like – my plan was to get naked. Revolutionary.
Getting changed in a toilet cubicle, I remember feeling frightened and worried about their judgement. As I flung open my rain mac, trembling, and lip-synching to Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’, I revealed a stomach adorned in post-pubescent, pink stretch marks. The audience gasped, then jeered. It was then I knew that punters were more afraid of my body than I was. They were scared and perhaps shocked at its unadulterated truth. It was a lesson I would bring kicking and screaming into my work over the next decade – but at what cost?
Soon after, on the back of the 24 bus, I devised Hamburger Queen – a beauty pageant and talent show for fat people. It quickly gained a cult following and revealed my ongoing turbulent relationship with food, attempting to liberate others around me to do the same. I began to learn the power of the personal politic. Be it on the back of buses or in bedsits, my work seems to be constantly reactive, some might say mouthy. But for all of the experiences, friends and enlightenment I’ve gained, it still often leaves me kicking the wall, emotionally venerable, left alone to fester in a depressing dressing room.
The Worst of Scottee, made in collaboration with Chris Goode, is a good example of this. After growing up self-destructive, turning on everyone and everything in my firing line, this work turned me from being nervously honest and outright messy to being courageously honest and purposefully messy. After a few UK and Australian tours it was time to tuck Worst Of into its death bed. I ceremonially smashed the photo booth set outside the Roundhouse one Sunday morning, smelling of last night’s Prosecco and hiding behind oversized sunglasses.
The destruction of The Worst of Scottee set was not only symbolic but cathartic. After crying in that booth each night, revealing my darkest secrets and showing my battle wounds, explaining lies that even my husband was unaware of – enough was enough. The applause got painful, the accolades became violent and I was unwilling to walk over coals for a short burst of glory. With masses of vulnerability, a rollercoaster for my mental health and a fear of oversharing I want to ask loudly – why do I do it? Why do we do it?
Aside from the fact I know how to do little else, I guess the simple answer is because it’s fundable, commissionable and audiences find it appealing. Poverty porn, however well-intended, attracts poverty tourism.
I’m given awards, opportunities I’d die for and access to a life I never thought I’d have for putting it all out there – the allure is hard for anyone to refuse. Recently, when questioning my place in theatre, my mate told me that “yours are the stories that need to be heard” – so, must all working class artists bleed for their supper? Even if that audience is made up of those who have very little to complain about?
In my forthcoming work Bravado, my first text for stage, I am yet again picking scabs. Exploring my relationship to working class masculinity, Bravado is a memoir of growing up around brave, handsome and violent men and boys who betray, assault and love awkwardly.
When I began to write the show in a pub in Batley, I didn’t set out to creatively self harm. I wanted other people’s accounts of classed masculinity and violence in it. As I put words to the screen I began to write about how maleness has shaped, alienated and abused me, after which I yet again I found myself, again worrying in the toilet cubicle of a boozer.
Increasingly the work I make comes with trigger warnings that are getting longer and longer – Bravado is no different. To make sure those affected by the issues within my apparent imagination are looked after, we must hold audiences by the hand and tell them the punchline. If truth be told I’m agitated by these reveals. I of course empathise with audience anxieties or no-go areas and so I accept a heads up is often useful. However, my annoyance is that these stories were lived without trigger warnings. I guess I’m not annoyed by audience care but resentful they are given the chance to give my beef a wide bearth.
The show is not performed by me, as an act that questions the idea of responsibility to care and attempting to demonstrate the act of bravado. An audience member must volunteer themselves to do it. If no one steps forward the show doesn’t happen. It’s risky but I’m not afraid of it not happening – in fact it’s in some ways easier. By taking myself out of the room I’m still sharing the stories, but not laying witness to the half-smiles of empathy that aid scarring. I’m also trying to pervert the idea of a solo show. Being in the room means I survive, I live to tell the tale and so audiences are given resolution. My issues with maleness are far from resolved and so that comfort is not granted.
For the first time my work comes with a serving of guilt, and it’s seeped into the writing. I’ve written about the things that people have done to me. Some of the stories are old wounds for not only myself but my immediate family – they have changed and so it’s only right the writing hints at that.
It’s hard to untangle why I feel the need to air my grievances publicly – even when a lot of them might be deemed water under the bridge. But perhaps it’s because I long to be seen and heard after spending most of my life being ignored; my thoughts, feelings and anger unavoidable for the first time, every time. By sharing my experiences perhaps I am trying to rid myself of them, but the process and product only brings that grief to the surface again, making it present for as long as the show tours and the once scabs become wounds – no matter how well thought out your self care is.
Perhaps I’ll always pick at these stories for your entertainment – picking scabs might be painful but we all know how satisfying it can be.
Scottee’s new show Bravado is on tour in March – more info and dates here.