Doug Crossley: I think the fringe is a bit like where some kind of sacred hallowed ground meets Butlins

 

Doug Crossley’s show, Give Me One Moment in Time is a piece of theatre ten years in the making. After a decade of ruminating and confronting difficult feelings, something happened that made Crossley decide it was time to commit how he feels to the stage. We had a chat with him about being human, the intersection between comedy and tragedy, and learning to play the piano.

 

What can audiences expect from Give Me One Moment in Time?

This show is a whole-heart-on-sleeve invitation to share this one moment in time with me. It’s funny, it’s silly, it’s heartbreakingly sad. It’s all the feels, at once. It’s got original songs too. I wrote my first play when I was a student about my brother’s attempted suicide. Looking back, it may not have been the masterpiece I thought it was, but, fuck, I believed it was amazing. My friend was going to direct it and we were going to take it to Edinburgh because we had great big dreams and we wanted to take the world by storm. That never happened. Ten years later, a couple of years ago now, that friend took her own life. That kind of fucked me up a bit. I won’t lie. So, I had a bit of a breakdown, learnt to (sort of) play the piano and then wrote this show.

 

How have your feelings about the original relative you were going to write the show about changed or developed over the past ten years?

It’s my older brother. I loved him then, and I still do now. That hasn’t changed. But the pain, the confusion, the sadness – well, we’ve worked through a lot of it and we continue to talk about the madness of our upbringing. He is alive and well and sober and one of my best friends and supporters. So, yeah, things have changed entirely and yet they haven’t changed at all if that’s not too poetic of a thing to say.

When I wrote that first play I was in a teenage tailspin. I didn’t know it at the time. I was already carrying trauma and then, when that happened, it was a deeply shocking, painful and confusing thing to try and understand as an 18 year old. I was very angry at the system that was providing the particular antidepressants. It was irresponsible. I think I am maybe still angry about that.

I am a huge advocate for what we call “mental health”, but it can not be divorced from the body, the spirit, the whole human. Our care systems are not yet emotionally intelligent enough to handle the nuance of most things that are coined “mental health”. I guess I’d point to a larger societal structure problem that is putting outcome above process. I think lots of our health systems target symptoms rather than causality. I’ll continue to write about this and explore it in my work rather than write an accidental op-ed in this article.

 

What was the journey like as you learned to play the piano for the show?

I am most definitely not Mozart, but I am making headway on Les Dawson. It was so much fun. I had an awesome teacher (Alexander Chisholm-Loxley, YourSpace Music Lessons) who immediately understood what I was trying to do and helped me do it. I wasn’t looking to become a concert pianist, but I wanted to learn how to use the piano to process my feelings and communicate stories, and he helped and gave me all the tools I needed to do that. I would love this show to inspire people to get back to their hobbies and things that make them feel joyful. I’d love it even more if it inspired people to quit the rat race and follow their dreams, but I’ll cease being an old hippy and not say any more on the topic.

 

Why do you think blending tragedy and comedy works so well for both performers and the audience?

I don’t see them as separate. I love and am always drawn to things that make me ask: “Is that funny, or is it desperately sad?” In my show, in particular, the fun is found in humanity and honesty, and heartache. I think there are great moments that will make people laugh (I hope) because they are followed or preceded by devastatingly sad things. We talked in rehearsal about that rich sense of connection and storytelling and laughter that can happen at a funeral, or at a time of great sorrow, because we are somehow a little bit more vulnerable. Incidentally, I’m naughty, and I like to laugh at things I am not supposed to laugh at. Both my parents have a wicked sense of humour but my Dad, especially, always has a wry smile at things that aren’t meant to be funny. He’s influenced me in that way and I’m grateful to him for that.

 

Do you find talking about mental health is easier through theatre or song?

I am not trying to talk about mental health. I’m trying to talk about being a human, all of it, and that encompasses mental health. Far too often “mental health” is framed as if it’s an additional and separate “opt-in” kind of a thing that affects only some of us. It isn’t. It is the heart of who we are. I am talking about the shit that motivates us, beneath our jobs, aspirations, and even our identities – I think there’s a deeper motivating force and I’m trying to connect to it. I like theatre because it’s one of the few art forms that is largely free of advertising messaging. I like that there’s a certain expectation of respect for theatre too, you know, people come in and sit quietly and respectfully for the most part. So, that makes it a good space to talk about the shit that matters.

Oh, and the singing? It’s the most vulnerable thing I could think to do. I am not a natural singer, but it doesn’t stop me. I unabashedly love musicals and show queens (wherever they fall on the gender spectrum), and I am also really interested in the way trauma manifests in the body (The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk is an outstanding read and highly recommended). For me, trauma is lodged around my throat and my voice. I have a quivery, croaky, shaky voice, so singing a whole show is a fucking terrifying challenge and I am quietly thrilled to have undertaken it.

 

Did writing the show help you confront any mental health issues you might have been struggling with?

Without a doubt, this show has raised all of my demons to the surface. Fear, self-criticism, doubt, shame, trauma, anxiety even my battle with suicidal thinking and ideation, they have all been things I’ve dealt and continue to deal with through this process. But I have a therapist, and I’m in an ongoing discovery process around these things. I even got myself a therapist to see while I’m up here. Yup. I got to keep this show on the road baby (and by that I mean, myself and my literal show).

 

Why should Edinburgh Fringe-goers choose Give Me One Moment in Time?

Because, honestly, you legit get a real piece of my heart to take home with you. Fortunately, I have a huge heart and it’s forever regenerating so I am ready to give it away fully. I am quite literally singing my heart out for your entertainment.

My friend died trying to find the freedom that we have to sit down and allow ourselves to be affected by the theatre. So, I am inviting people to come and see my show and be there fully. Just for a moment, not trying to be anywhere or anything else. Is this possible?

The Fringe is awesome, I make a joke in my show about it being like a holiday camp meets a holy ground. So, that being said, come on down, let me take you to church.

 

How would you like audiences to leave the show feeling?

That exactly what they are feeling is perfect. Whatever it may be. And that there is nowhere else to try and get to. Ambitious? Maybe.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

When I sent the invitations to this show out. My friend wrote to me to tell me that a mutual friend of ours had recently committed suicide. This was just a week ago that I found this out. It broke my heart all over again. All of the things I say in my show had fresh meaning. This friend had taken her own life after a long and hard-fought battle with mental health problems. So, it isn’t appropriate to tribute my show to her, as my show is already dedicated to a friend. Instead, I’d like to dedicate this article to her. Let’s keep talking, shall we? If you come and see my show, talk to me, take care of me, it’s a crazy vulnerable experience. So, I might need to do some dancing at some point just to shake it off. I am also very interested in any ways in which I can talk about suicide. So, anyone reading, I’m very good at speaking, I even know a thing or two about writing, find me at dougcrossley.com and let’s keep the conversation going.

 

Give Me One Moment in Time by Doug Crossley, Pleasance Dome, until 26 Aug, 2.50pm, £12 (£10)