Guest blog: Annie Siddons

Annie Siddons is performing a work-in-progress of her new show, How (Not) to Live in Suburbia, as part of Whose London is it Anyway? Festival on 21/22 Jan @ 9pm

When asked to write a blog, Annie read some of the other blogs on the site and noted that the ones that were interviews were the most compelling. In the absence of anyone real to interview her, she employed an alter ego, Girda Schlesinger. Here she talks to Girda Schlesinger about her work.

Girda – so this is your first autobiographical show. Why are you doing this now?

Annie – I returned to performing my own work  in 2013 after 10 years solely working as a playwright when my kids were young. I made a show called Raymondo, In Edinburgh 2014 I was part of Escalator East to Edinburgh and I found myself meeting a shit ton of excellent people, most of whom are now collaborating with me on Suburbia. That is a wonderful and extraordinary thing. I also saw a show which challenged everything about the way I had made art up until that point. Everyone’s seen it now – Kim Noble’s You’re Not Alone. But that show blew my mind. And made me angry also. And then I questioned why I was angry. And why I had been so protective about putting real stuff from my life into my art. So I decided to talk about actual stuff that was going on with me in my next show, not in a veiled or metaphorical way as I’d done before, but in a real way. And I also wanted to change my life, because my life at that point had become untenable.

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Girda – Untenable? That’s grandiose.

Annie – In terms of living my life with integrity and not going completely insane, yes. There’s a really beautiful quote from Julius Caesar in which Portia says to Brutus “Dwell I but in the suburbs of your good pleasure?” The suburbs here obviously connotes what is unimportant, unthought of, peripheral. And I was feeling that I was dwelling in the suburbs of my own life and also  – and not coincidentally  – actually living in suburbia.  And, as a mother, and as a single mother, I was making this harder for myself by berating myself for having those feelings, and that was where it started to get dangerous.

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Girda – That sounds kind of serious. What kind of show is it?

Annie – It’s a blast, kid. Well I want it to be good. As in honest, and funny, and brutal. It’s actually an unholy sprawl at the moment. It’s a performance with film. We made a LOT of film. It was fun to do. We kind of forgot that it would all need editing and sound stuff doing and I think that’s been quite tough for Richard (deDomenici) as he is the busiest art imp in town. We’re still honing the relationship between the live stuff and the film, and that’s partly what this WIP will hopefully do for us. Also we’re honing the relationship between the character of Annie Siddons who has stuff happen to her, and the performer Annie Siddons who is relating these events on stage.

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Gilda – Why is it in a Festival about London?

Annie – because it is in part a love letter to London, which is how I identify – as a Londoner – before any other nationality or ethnicity –  and a polemic on why suburban culture is inherently hypocritical.

Girda – Tell me about your collaborators.

Annie – At risk of coming over all Leslie Knope, they are the best. Justin Audibert  and Adam Robertson did Raymondo with me, so they’re from the relatively old guard, but Richard, Nicki, Jen and Anthony are new, post Edinburgh 14 connections.  It’s challenging for me to trust people in an art process because I’ve been doing most things in my life on my own for so many years, but this has been part of the process of confronting my demons, in an excellent life-complementing-art-way.

Girda – So has this show changed your life?

Annie – HA. You’re joking but it is in the process of, definitely. It’s very challenging to make a show, any kind of show, when you’re  a single parent and you’re stressed and exhausted and have too many demands on you, and you’re in the suburbs of your own life etc, and this has an impact on how you function. Being fully present in rehearsals and meetings and writing days and getting the best out of your collaborators and making sure you’re not being a morose dullard or a labile fucktard and you are getting the work done and being a good colleague and excellent human being can be difficult. (This is partly a bigger question about how the arts are organised, and how we are expected to work 100 hour weeks in order to get everything done and get paid for some of that if we are lucky. This is to do with capitalist work structures, obviously and parenting structures too.)  But maybe one of the things that’s changing about me is that whereas before I was definitely of the macho school of sucking it all up, working way too hard, and then going insane, which was not really cool for people who care about me, now I feel like I have some people around me who slightly understand what my life’s like and don’t judge me for it.

Girda – What do you think of Parents in Performing Arts?

Annie – I think it’s brilliant. I have some slight concerns with it, which are to do with the sense of privilege and middle classness it slightly reeks of, the focus on babies, and also I really would never have wanted to bring my kids to rehearsal ever, unless I was making a kids’ show, and I’m slightly chary of the emphasis that that campaign seems to have on that. For me, I have to compartmentalise to be effective in either role. And if you’re making work for adults, it’s often not appropriate to have kids around. I’m not letting my kids even SEE Suburbia. However, mainly, I’m delighted, all the hats off, etc and I wish it had been around 16 years ago when my oldest daughter was born.