Miranda Prag's This Is Just Who I Am explores selfie-culture and the curated image of ourselves that we present to the world. We caught up with Miranda to chat about the show and what it's like to prance around a stage in a child's swimming costume.
What drove you to make This Is Just Who I Am?
It’s been a gradual coming together of several ideas. Initially, it was a sort of exasperated amusement at ‘selfie culture’ and the way social media has infiltrated our lives. I’d also had an idea for a semi-autobiographical show and was trying to write it. And as I tried to write it I realised I didn’t actually at all want to write a show that exposed my actual emotions in any way, and would much rather pursue my natural inclination towards being silly and rolling around on the floor. So I made a show about that instead - about showing the world the version of yourself that you want them to see - creating a ‘false identity’ that doesn’t necessarily match up with your own perception of yourself.
What are the main themes of the play and why are they important to you and your audience?
Broadly speaking, the themes are identity, authenticity and mental health, but I also talk about bees, custard creams and Turkish acid house.
I started thinking about identity as a ‘performance’ - about how we employ certain tactics or social conventions in order to make people see us a certain way - and about how the internet and social media have given us many more platforms from which to do that. At the same time, this is creating a culture in which we’re constantly comparing ourselves to each other, and feeling inadequate and isolated if we don’t seem to compare favourably.
It’s also about the stigmatisation of mental illness. People are starting to talk about mental health a lot more now, which is great, but I think there is still often a tendency to try and hide mental health problems behind a shiny veneer of OK-ness. I think many of us, even if we would never think negatively about somebody else’s mental health problems, don’t want to admit that we ourselves have any - which just compounds the problem. So it’s a show about trying very hard to appear a certain way while maybe not quite feeling that way underneath.
That all sounds a bit heavy but it’s actually quite funny, I promise.
There are so many ways to tell stories, tackle issues, explore ideas - why theatre?
Because no other medium would allow me to dress in a child’s swimming costume and parade around in front of a roomful of people, which is all I really want to do if I’m being honest. That, and, you know, the liveness of it, the fact that every performance depends on both performer and audience and the unique relationship they form over the course of the event. The fact that you can challenge the audience in a way no other art form allows you to. Also, as a solo performer, I find the feeling that the audience’s response is completely in my power weirdly intoxicating, but that’s just my inner dictator talking.
Also, even though I’ve tried loads of times to describe my show in words, I never feel like I quite manage to do it properly, so maybe the only way I can articulate it is with theatre (come and see it hint hint).
What was the last show you saw that you think everyone should see?
At Home in Gaza and London by Station House Opera. It was bloody brilliant. A group of performers in Gaza performed simultaneously with the company in London, and the two were linked by a live video stream. They used the video in really clever ways, so the two sets of performers seemed to really interact. It was a beautiful, fascinating, eye-opening window onto a community we don’t often get to hear from directly. And at the end the performers invited us on stage to share a meal with them, while in Gaza the performers and audience shared a meal exactly the same. Glorious theatre.
What else in the Edinburgh Fringe programme are you excited to see?
I haven’t had a chance to properly peruse the programme yet, so for the moment I’m going to have to say I have no idea - but my plan is to see lots of companies I’ve never seen before and discover as many new things as possible.
This Is Just Who I Am is on at 20.55 at the Assembly Rooms!