Guest Blog: Josh Coates

Camden People’s Theatre are running the first ever ‘Fitter, Happier, More Productive’ festival this November.
I hope it’s the last.


…WAIT! Not like that. I realise the first sentence could be completely taken out of context, but hear me out.

‘Calm Down Dear’, a festival of feminist work, has grown over the past few years into a juggernaut of a performance festival. It’s the counter to all the boring, old, dead, white dudes haunting the West End. In times where Trevor Nunn is allowed to put on a ‘historically accurate’ production of some Shakespeare, a festival like ‘Calm Down Dear’ is a kick in the patriarchy’s testicles that highlights the important and exhilarating voices coming out of performance in this country. The more bullshit, force-fed, hierarchal theatre there is, the more ‘Calm Down Dear’ I want.

So what is ‘Fitter, Happier, More Productive’ counter argument to?  There are loads of shows about people who are sad/ill/poor (delete where appropriate). So why this, why now?

The society we are all part of thrives on the idea that those who inhabit it are all large barrels of bones and fat, desperate for the approval of anyone who will honour us the privilege of being listened to.  We have broken down language so we can convey approval through simple ‘likes’ and smiley poo emojis. But you know this.  I know this. My mum knows this.  My mum knows this because I send her poo emjois all the time.

We know this because we follow Instagram accounts of self-made style idols that have managed to find the tree that money grows on.  They are the epitome of the ‘improved self’.

We know this because we go on news sites where celebrities are demonised every time they show a weakness, either through a poor decision on who should design their Oscar dress, or in the way they choose to take their own lives. If we share similar traits, then we are equal to those individuals.

We know this because we’ve been taught to be employable rather than to lead a life that is enjoyable.

We know this because we see age as milestones of achievement and aspirations rather than an acknowledgment of what we have.

How do we fight this?

Art. That’s the main thing in my arsenal ( ß possibly the cheesiest sentence I’ve ever written but )

There are still a fair few big name shows that have really weird ethics when it comes to mental health. New musicals where the fact that ‘the baddie’ has been wrapped in a straight jacket by people in white lab coats is celebrated, or performances that have a moment of relief when they realise they’re not as insane as that other character doing some physical theatre in a glass box. The fact that some performances are based in spooky, dated mental asylums as opposed to mental health wards.

‘Fitter, Happier…’ is the antidote to the ideology that you have to fit into a society that is dictated to audiences from a whole stream of media and culture.

The reason I don’t want this festival to happen again is that I hope that this time next year we don’t have to fight against this homogenized theory that you need to fit into boxes that can easily be ticked.

I hope: That Sonderclap’s Are You Happy Now? tears away at surveys full of numbers and mocks the fact that you can’t define happiness by numerical value and that next year people have rallied together and ripped up these forms in the faces of the smug bastards who write them.

That Precious Cargo’s Into Thin Air breaks down the cult of success and people realise that their wellbeing should not be a consequence of high ranking jobs in offices that they fucking detest.

That Zoe Murtagh and Tory Copeland’s Sacre Blue challenges the idea that anxiety is a personal weakness rather than an affect of socio-political pressures and confront this through an anti-pity party.

That Urban Foxes Collective’s Be Better points and laughs at the cult of self -betterment by throwing some sass and shade all over those who believe in it.

That Cape Theatre’s We Choose to go to the Moon promotes that making people fall in love with you shouldn’t be a main concern within the self.

That my show, which I should have really spent more time plugging and telling you about rather than ranting , will point out the bullshit sanctions and consumerism that is making people who live in the North be treated like scum.

I hope that this gang of ragamuffins will not crumble beneath a grip that is making people ill, a grip that will tighten over the next 5 years unless we do something about it.

That something is using our voices.

This is what ‘Fitter, Happier, More Productive’ is rooting for.

If that sounds like fun, come on down. See some shows. Join the conversation.

Get Yourself Together by Josh Coates is on 5 – 6 Nov, in a double bill with Sacre Blue! – see both for £16!