Q&A: FXXX BXXXXX, Writer & Director

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is FXXX BXXXXX and I am an artist. I mostly work as a writer and director in theatre and opera, but I’m interested in collaborating with people who work in all sorts of other disciplines too. Most of what I make has a live element - I like audiences to encounter something living.

How did you get here?
I have always been interested in performance, and wanted to work in theatre from a very young age. I first worked as a musician for several years, mostly in small, rural touring companies. I eventually did an English degree at university, but I don’t think this is something you have to do if you want to work in the arts. I then moved into writing and directing my own work.

What is Never Better?
Never Better is hard to describe, and that’s exactly why it’s exciting! It is a combination of installations, music, singing and acting, all inspired by the history of mental healthcare in Gloucestershire. The installations are big, conceptual, physical artworks, which actors, dancers and musicians perform inside, as the audience explores the site of Blackfriars, an incredible old priory in the centre of Gloucester. There is also a new choral composition, commissioned especially for the project, that will be sung by a choir.

How did you get involved in the project?
I grew up in Gloucestershire, so it’s always been important to me to be involved with what’s happening here. I’d previously worked with Strike a Light festival, and knew about the county asylums — and I’d also made a few bits of work about mental health before — so when the idea for Never Better came up, I was very keen to help make it.

How is the project coming along?
The project is a really interesting and unusual meeting of different disciplines, so it’s been a brilliant process so far. Our creative team is made up of local artists and craftspeople as well as practitioners from around the world, and it feels like the subject of mental health is something that everyone can relate to. Collaborating on a creative response shows you just how much there is which connects us.

I’ve also met lots of new people while working on the project, which has been a big source of creative energy. People like Sally Middleton at the archives, along with her team of incredible volunteers, have helped to turn this project into something with much broader and deeper reach than I could have hoped for.

Have you come across any challenges you didn’t expect to encounter?
It has been a challenge to find a way of capturing the material in the archives, as there is just so much of it. The crucial thing is to avoid making something reductive or two-dimensional, which would be an easy trap to fall into — the historical records are very one-sided, with the patients’ voices almost completely missing. Hopefully we’ve found a way of encouraging people to imagine what the patients’ experiences might have been, without pretending that we know all the answers.

What are you looking forward to about the performance?
The project is really ambitious, and combines lots of different types of work — I’ve never made anything like it before, and I don’t think audiences will have seen anything like it before. We’re working with archivists, printmakers, florists, architects, breweries, farms and lots of local people, so I think there will be lots of unexpected elements which take audience by surprise.

What would you like people to takeaway from the project?
We’re making Never Better for Gloucester — there’s nowhere else this project could happen, and that’s an amazing thing. I’m learning so much about my home county through the making process, so I hope people will come and discover things about the place they live too. I hope people come away feeling like they want to talk about what they’ve seen, and about mental health. It can feel like a scary subject, but so much of that is stigma. If we can start conversations creatively — like we hope to do with Never Better — I think we might all find it easier to say what’s on our minds.

Image: www.oedipa.org

David Drakeley