Tbb’s Albert Yanney Speaks to Yolanda Mercy Ahead Of Solo Show ‘On The Edge of Me’ Focusing on Mental Health
On The Edge of Me is a ‘Solo Dark Comedy’ which fuses storytelling, poetry, live music and audience participation. This unique production combines the aforementioned elements as a gateway to exploring mental health issues in correlation to the dilemma of graduate unemployment.
Written and performed solely by playwright Yolanda Mercy; On the Edge of Me is heading to Wandsworth Arts Fringe Theatre this month.
Since 2015, the play has gone from strength to strength: rated four stars sold out in Soho; and winning the Rich Mix ‘Small Story Big City’ Emerging Artist Programme Award.
The play centers on the story of Remi, a recent graduate, who navigates the audience through her 21st century journey of discovery and struggles with unemployment and a mental health disorder.
We were delighted to be able to speak to Yolanda about OTEOM and its central themes this week.
Yolanda welcome to The British Blacklist. First of all, tell us about your working history in the Arts sector…
I always knew I wanted to work in the arts when I was younger. I wanted to be a backing dancer for someone like Jennifer Lopez or Janet Jackson. I attended the Brit school from age 14 and my main focus was dance but I did drama as an option. After the Brit school, I got a place at Trinity Laban – where I did more dance and developed my voice as an artist. It was during my second year, and a physical theatre module that I found Peter Brook on a shelf in the library. From that point my life was changed. I realised yes, I love dance and Janet Jackson but what I really love is how a production, song or art piece can tell a story. Stories with words and visuals really excited and led me to explore theatre more.
The first show I saw was “Rope” at The Almeida. This dark yet thought provoking show ignited my interest in challenging stories and things that make me question people and their moral compass. After my first time at the theatre that was it. I wanted more. So I joined the Young Vic Young people’s council and saw everything at the theatre. I did all of this during my degree… Then when I left I started grafting. I still remained close to the Young Vic although branching out to learn more.
I did my first paid acting job for ITV. It was a re-enactment of a robbery, after that I did Aladdin at the Lyric Hammersmith, The Street Scene – my first opera at the Young Vic, Bow Down – my first paid touring acting job, Poet’s Manifesto – my first lead role, then I created On The Edge of Me – my first solo show.
When and why did you decide to write the ‘On the Edge of Me’?
Almost 2 years ago as a reaction to the things that were going on around me and I was personally experiencing. I knew a lot of people who were tackling the the dilemma of being qualified and unemployed leading to a mental health issues ranging from (mild to severe). However with all of this going on, no one spoke out about it, which made me question- why not? As a reaction to this, On The Edge of Me was born.
Do you believe there should be far more serious conversation and government initiative on this matter?
I think that people are now becoming more aware and open to having conversations about issues of unemployment and mental health. However, I think it’s time to convert the conversations into actions. We need to start implementing the ideas and putting things into place to support people.
How much background reading, field work and research did you undertake during the making of this production?
I did a lot of speaking to people, attending groups and testing out the play. By the end of this process, I was overwhelmed with how many people said that they felt like “I’ve written their lives”.
What are the acute challenges of executing this type of solo dramatic performance?
I think the challenge that held us back for a while was funding. This piece was rejected 3 times by the Arts Council but we were persistent. I worked a lot with the show’s director (and long-time friend), Jade Lewis, to find ways of being resourceful. Tapping into our networks opened up a lot of doors and possibilities which led to money. Eventually we received Arts Council funding. It has been a long journey, which at certain points left me feeling like I should just give up. However, every time I got close, an opportunity would come my way and I’d perform the play or lead a workshop about it (the way I created it); and then people would come up to me and say,“I’m glad you are sharing this story, we need more real life and relatable stories like yours“.
When people say things like that to me, I remember why I wrote this piece.
As much as this is a ‘one-woman show’, who else has been intrinsically involved in the making of this production?
Jade Lewis has been there a lot; she’s always supported me and helped me expand the vision for this piece… Even in the cold winters when we were emailing and hustling she was my rock and kept fighting for this piece. Alongside her I’d say my family, peers and audience who come to the show over and over again. They provide feedback and always support. In terms of the writing, I’d definitely have to give Jules Haworth (Soho Theatre) a lot of credit. She saw the piece 9 months ago and worked with me dramaturgically and really unpicked the piece to help me create the new and highly improved version of On The Edge of Me. In terms of making the piece happen smoothly, my show’s producer Gemma Lloyd, who is a boss! She is so positive and very supportive. She has been in the industry for over 15 years and made so many amazing projects. I always feel so blessed when I think that someone of her calibre and prestige is working with Jade and I. She’s helped us take our work to another level. Then last but by no means least, Rich Mix and Ideas Tap. They believed in my idea; supported it through to a full show, and without them I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. Their support has helped me gain funding and more shows.
I find it interesting that you perform alone to address the topic of mental health; a characteristically “insular” personal or “individual” human experience. How intentional was this decision?
I wish I was a genius and could say I totally thought of that but it wasn’t. However, I intentionally involve the audience to help question and think about mental health and its perception as an illness.
What did you discover that impacted upon you the most regarding the mental health of graduates and its relationship to unemployment?
That a lot of people are affected by it, but no one speaks about it. However, I think this is slowly changing.
What do you hope this play will achieve for those who come to see it this month?
I want it to break down the barriers and stigma attached to unemployment and mental health issues by allowing people to start having a conversation around it. I think you said something earlier, which really resonates with this piece and the themes it addresses which is about “isolation”. Many people feel alone/and or isolated but I want this piece to support people in speaking out and getting the support they need. The aim is also to get people to start a conversation with people who they think may be affected.
When and where can we see you perform the play this month?
This month (May) I’ll be at Wandsworth fringe – Saturday 7th (2.45pm), Sunday 8th (6pm) and Sunday 15th (7.30pm).
I’ll be leading a FREE workshop using On The Edge of Me to explore how to create and produce a solo show 19th May 4.30pm at
Chorlton Arts Festival 27th May, 7.30pm
What are you doing once this interview is over?
After this interview, I am preparing for my creative day. I’m creating a new theatre show and web series – so I’ll be camping out at BAC to work hard!
To find out more / book tickets to see On the Edge of Me go to:
- Wandsworth Fringe: http://wandsworthfringe.com/2016/event/on-the-edge-of-me
- Platform Hub: http://www.platformislington.org.uk/
- Chorlton Arts Festival: http://www.chorltonartsfestival.com/event/on-the-edge-of-me/
interview for the british blacklist by @AYanneyTBB