Sometimes a show can take on a life of its own. What starts out as a small production above a theatre in Islington, turns into something much larger down the line. One example is Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve F*cked which is about to start a nationwide tour. I had the chance to meet Producer/Performer Linus Karp and his partner Joseph Martin at the Scandinavian Café, and we started by chatting about how the recent run of the show had gone at the King’s Head
LK: It was very good in the end. It was stressful beforehand as its quite a big venue and initially, ticket sales didn’t seem to be going that well, which is quite nerve-wracking for a self-funded company. But then, in the end, it ended up selling quite well. I think the show got a lot better as we went through. In fact, towards the end of the run it was in the best place it had ever been, and I was really enjoying it. I felt so much at home in the show and had a lot more confidence in it than I had before. I think that the King’s Head felt like a good fit theatre-wise.
TE: Speaking of fit, the stage at the King’s Head is quite small and the bed in your set is quite long and I did wonder if at the point you stand it up, you were going to have jump down into the audience in order to do it.
LK: Having a short stage actually worked out well as it made the relationship with the audience very intimate.
TE: Does being so close to the audience distract you at all or do you sort of look over them?
LK: I think I got better at it. At Edinburgh, it was very different. The audience are more restive than a London one and it’s obvious but in the King’s Head, I never noticed anything that the audience were doing. Kat’s a very good director, and one of the most valuable things she taught me was that if I start feeling stressed while performing, then rather than the normal reaction to speed up, I should slow down, go as slow as you can. And I found this was great advice because it gave the room a chance to calm and draw the audience back in so that I could carry on. In your review, you mentioned the uncomfortable silences that had been added to the story and enjoying these slow tense moments where everyone is wondering what’s happening next. I was so pleased to do the King’s Head as it is such an iconic theatre. I remember seeing Maddie (original play director) doing a one-woman show there and I thought it was such a cool thing and something I wanted to do. I was nervous for the King’s Head run and the press night was quite stressful with not only all the press but also industry people invited as well.
TE: I took a friend of mine to see the show with me this time and afterwards we had quite an intense conversation about the show and Bobby, and although he enjoyed the show, he really had no sympathy for the character at all.
JM: I love that people have that reaction to it. You want those conversations to start.
LK: I think one of the things that is so amazing about the play is that Bobby is such a flawed character who could easily be a villain but is still likeable even though he’s doing these horrible things and keeps doing them. And it’s not just naivety, he knows what he is doing most of the time.
JM: It makes you fight with yourself as an audience member, to go ‘everything is awful, but I can’t help liking the guy’. Really gives you an internal debate.
TE: Which takes me back to my first review of the show where I asked how can you make me like this character? And that leads me nicely to the feedback you’ve received on the play, particularly on social media where people tend to be braver. Have you had much negative feedback?
LK: We have a twitter account for the show – @AwkwardProds – and most of the feedback has been really positive. Though after your interview last summer was published someone retweeted it who was querying why were we saying we weren’t endorsing bestiality which was slightly worrying
JM: There was that negative comment on Facebook during the Edinburgh run.
LK: There was someone who really hated it. They reviewed it on Facebook and were negative saying ‘I thought it was going to have comedy in it, but it was just some guy talking about his problems.’ And she left after the cat scene so never saw the whole show.
JM: And that’s fine but if you left without seeing the whole show you either can’t review it or should make it clear you left without seeing the whole thing. Otherwise, how can you give a review and an understanding of a show you haven’t seen?
LK: And in the case of Awkward Conversations the play is very different at the end to the way it starts. We did do some Facebook advertising and people were wondering why they were getting ads for bestiality on their feed.
JM: Generally social media has been good. We’ve got over 1,200 followers on the Twitter account now which for a theatre account is great, and more than some West End shows get.
LK: And that’s been interesting. The show obviously really resonates with some people.
TE: And now you’re taking the show out to the nation. What made you decide to do that?
LK: When we were starting the King’s Head, we were contacted by The Old Joint Stock Pub in Birmingham who offered us a couple of performances there. It’s so nice when you’re offered because it’s like you want me there, so there’s obviously some interest, not just me looking for a place to perform. Originally, we were talking about doing it in May. Then I was talking to Katherine (the Director) and we thought about getting a tour together. If we’d got interest in one city, then there may be others interested as well. So, I started contacting theatres all over the country. Luckily there was quite a lot of interest. Obviously, there were some who were like ‘this is not the show for us’. And I think we are going to the right cities for the play (Oxford, Bristol, Birmingham, Newcastle, Brighton, Manchester and London) and the right kind of venues. This time, I’ve got a producer working with me doing all the organisation, working with the venues and doing the administration.
TE: So is everything in place now. You know where you’re going, staying etc
LK: Pretty much. Accommodation is not 100% but that’s the last thing outstanding, though there is nowhere we are going where we have no idea of where we are staying. We’ve used contacts as much as possible. There are Facebook groups for places to stay when touring. My parents are coming with me for part of the tour and that will be so nice. I don’t drive that much so my dad is going to be doing quite a bit while they’re here. And, in a couple of venues, we have to provide box office so they will be set to work on that.
TE: I remember you saying your mum was out flyering in Edinburgh for you so she’s going to love working the box office.
JM: (laughing) Yes, at times they are a bigger part of the company than I am.
LK: They are so supportive, it’s amazing. They’ve seen the show many times and really love it, and mum’s read the play script a few times as well. She is probably my understudy. I think it’s quite weird for them watching me do the play. Especially as I had to warn my dad that there is a lot of talking about Bobby’s father and I had to remind him it wasn’t me talking about him.
TE: What’s the longest run during the tour?
LK: Most of the runs are one or two night but Newcastle, at the Alphabetti Theatre, is five (8th – 12th October). I was recommended it by a couple of different people, the theatre looks good, and they suggested I should do five nights as they were confident the show would work well.
JM: It’s nice to have a venue that believes in the show enough to suggest you do five nights, especially if they haven’t seen the show but are basing their idea on feedback and reviews.
LK: I have a friend who has done shows at the venue and I used them as a way in as well.
TE: You’ll be doing a lot of travelling covering all the cities.
LK: Yes, but it is a fairly logical progression and we end up in London in November at the Bread and Roses in Clapham.
TE: Do you think you will have to change the play at all for the different venues and audiences?
LK: We haven’t started rehearsals yet but I guess we will have to see.
TE: Do you need to rehearse?
LK: Kath suggested we only needed one day to ensure it was still there, but I would like to do two or three days just to be sure. It’s always scary doing it again for the first time and going to different cities there won’t be any time for previews, so I’ll just be dropped straight in and it needs to be tip-top from the start. I think the layout will be end-on in all the spaces except Alphabetti which is two sides so I just need to be sure it can be seen from all the seats.
JM: You do move about all the time on the bed and the position of the animals is different for each scene so that shouldn’t be a problem.
LK: We have slightly changed the set layout for each run. But no massive changes. The set is travelling with us, including the bed which makes me think next time I’m doing a play I won’t include a bed again. But it will be good to have the familiarity of the set with me.
TE: How are you feeling about the tour?
LK: It’s a new thing. But as we haven’t started rehearsals yet, I’m not feeling too nervous. Until we start rehearsing, I’m still more in my producer mode. It’s always nervous when you do a show and there has been a gap since I last performed it and doing it in new cities makes it exciting. The thing that’s always a bit scary is that the more positive reviews we get for the show there is a real pressure to ensure that we maintain that standard. People see the stars and quotes on the poster and that sets an expectation that we must try and live up to.
JM: That’s good. I think if you didn’t feel nervous at all the interest wouldn’t be there at it starts to
feel like a job.
LK: It’s never a job, it’s a lot of work but I still love the show so much.
TE: How do think the play would translate into other countries?
LK: It’s interesting. A few people have asked where the story is set. I think that has a lot to do with the last scene. I think the comedy is in some ways quite British but that’s not to say it wouldn’t work in other countries, though there are some references that are very British. There are quite a few international people have seen it, in England, and had no problems.
JM: I think even if it went to other countries it would still need to be performed in English.
LK: I would probably need to change some of the references to be more understandable to the country we were in. I think it’s universal in many ways. The story is about loneliness, mental health and dad issues and these are world-wide issues. I would love to take it on an international tour but its unlikely I could unless we had a major investor in it.
TE: Would you go back to do Edinburgh again?
LK: I was up there for a couple of weeks this year with a kids show and it was nice to be up there without all the stress of having my own show. I caught a few shows including in the venue I was in last year and really appreciated how big the room was and the fact that I had filled it, which was a great feeling. I’d love to go back and just do a few performances in a nice venue. I’d be happy with a full run, but I wouldn’t want to organise it all again by myself.
TE: Apart from Awkward, are you working on anything else or is this play your sole focus now?
LK: Pretty much it is. Though while I was in Edinburgh, I saw loads of other shows and kept thinking that I would like to try these out. I want to do as many different things as possible. It’s hard doing a one-man play and it can get lonely, especially during Edinburgh. I have started having some ideas about doing sketch comedy. Recently I’ve been doing some kids shows, and I’ve been working on a queer kids play. I really enjoy performing kids theatre. And I recently did Converting The Preached To which was part of Full Disclosure Theatre’s new writing night at Southwark Playhouse, which was great fun, and played completely against my own personality and beliefs.
TE: Was that difficult to play?
LK: Not really. Just like with Bobby in Awkward you find what the thing would be for you. So, I think the ‘preacher’ was not evil so much as he just said what he believed in. For me, I picked up on that so I spoke as him – using homophobic words – in the same way, I would talk to a group of LGBT people. As if I was trying to educate people, which was what he was trying to do in his way. I would love to do more LGBT+ theatre as well.
TE: The tour starts on the 24th September and runs through to November. Are you getting feedback on how things are going from the venues?
LK: Some, Bristol have put us on the cover of the brochure for their season. And Birmingham is selling well, in fact we may even do an extra day there which is nice.
TE: Ultimately, what would you like to get out of this tour?
LK: That’s a good question. In a selfish way it’s about me enjoying doing the show, and hopefully furthering my career. Plus, I haven’t been to that many places in the UK so it’s going to be a chance to take the play and me to new places and meet new audiences. And it’s the next exciting step for the show. Started in a small theatre, then Edinburgh and the King’s Head and now this.
JM: Also, whilst it isn’t an aim, a happy by-product is that it solidifies your version as possibly the definitive one as well. From picking up a book in Foyles to taking the show round the country.
LK: I remember when I read it the first time, I felt, it’s strange to say considering what’s it is about, connected to Awkward. It felt like it was something I would have loved to have written with my sense of humour and I just loved it. I think it is so weird, and wonderful and funny and sad and emotional and everything. I feel so lucky I’ve managed to get to do this play that I’ve loved so much. From the first rehearsal at the Lion & Unicorn, which was quite stressful, when we went to the King’s Head, it was like bringing out an old friend. It has really matured the more I’ve performed it. And so much of the show comes down to how I am at the time mixed with the audience feedback which varies every show.
TE: after the runs you’ve had, do you worry as much about the reviews as you did at the start?
LK: Not quite as much, though they are still important.
JM: As with Edinburgh, we read the ratings before Linus, but he was always aware of the overall star ratings.
LK: The star ratings can be an issue. In a couple of reviews, the write-up was great but then we only got three stars. It’s great to have positive reviews but you do end up remembering the negative ones for a long time. Another issue can be if the reviews come out late, one of the ones in Edinburgh came out on the last day. But the good thing is that I have those reviews and can use them later.
TE: Are you hyper-critical of yourself?
LK: Yes! I do analyse each show afterwards, and I will have a night when I feel I’ve had a bad performance, but I think the show is at a point where we won’t have a bad night. There was one at the King’s Head where I was annoyed with myself afterwards, but it still got great reactions. Sometimes you can’t judge how it’s going yourself. I do worry – especially if there is a bad review – when I worry that maybe everyone is just being nice to my face, and I must remember how many people have seen it and said nice things to me without being prompted.
TE: You went for crowdfunding for this tour. How has that been?
LK: I never wanted to do it like this. I don’t want to ask people for money. It feels a bit selfish when there are so many charities looking for funding…
JM: But people want to give money to the arts as well
LK: Then I thought it was just financially difficult and I couldn’t make this tour work without help and if people willingly wanted to support it then that would be great. It’s so nice that people do donate.
JM: The best bit about going down this route is that you aren’t pushing your needs on people, you’re putting the link out there and then it’s up to them.
LK: I think you’re right. It’s a great show and I really didn’t want money to be holding the tour back. And it was fun working out the rewards for the different levels.
TE: When are you starting rehearsals?
LK: Sometime in early September. I would like to schedule three, but it may end up just being two. After Oxford, we may look to see if any tweaks are needed but the show is pretty much there. I’m really looking forward to it and can’t wait to get started.
TE: Well, best of luck with not only the crowdfunding but the tour itself and I look forward to hearing
about your experiences when you get back.