Why was clowning the perfect medium for the tale of almost-30 American girl desperately trying to find love? Performer Carly Jurman explains all about innocence, performing solo, Steven King and her Camden Fringe show Unlovable in our interview. Have a read then book your tickets!
Jurman’s debut solo show, it runs at the Etcetera Theatre from 22-25 August 2019.
Unlovable follows the story of Judith, a 1950’s bachelorette, as she and her “voice from above” narrator try to find out what makes her unlovable. Perpetually single and hitting her 30s, Judith dances, flops, and falls into your hearts as she prepares herself for a big date, all set to your favorite 1950s tunes. But as we fall in love with Judith, will Judith begin to fall out of love with herself?
Written, performed and produced by Jurman, Unlovable is a modern take on the classic clown with a twist of autobiographical story-telling. She tackles issues of love/dating in the modern age, feminism and its relationship to perfectionism, mental health, and the effects of childhood trauma.
When Unlovable ran at Brighton Fringe in May, The Reviews Hub described it as “transfixing” and ” a special piece of theatre”.
Jurman is a solo performance artist; a writer, dancer, director, choreographer, actor (and for Unlovable, also costume designer, producer, and dramaturg), who has performed in productions including The Donkey Show and on comedy stages such as Upright Citizen’s Brigade, Reckless Theatre and The People’s Improv Theatre.
Unlovable is among 300 shows performing as part of Camden Fringe 2019. Others include another one-woman show, Adventures of a Trip Advisor Seaside Guest House Keeper, spy comedy Agent 14 and dark comic drama My Name is Cathy.
Carly Jurman on Unlovable
Where did you get the inspiration for Unlovable from?
I had a teacher once who, when students asked him, “How do you know what to write about?” he would say, “Ask your friends what you talk about most – that’s what you write about.” Clearly, I’ve spent a lot of time in pubs talking about my failed relationships, my unluckiness in love, my hopeful new dates and ultimately the eternal burning question of my life – why am I 30 and STILL single! So there was my prompt.
The show itself evolved from play – in the studio after hours writing, dreaming, dancing and listening to lots of love songs. That’s how Unlovable was born – I started with the song Mad About The Boy and it sent me down the rabbit hole of Spotify. I couldn’t get enough of the 50s music. It started with one, then two, and then I figured why not give myself a limitation – only 50s music. And thus Judith and Unlovable started to emerge. I didn’t know it was going to be 50s-themed or that I would invent a clown alter-ego until I started playing around.
When did you decide that the story would be a one-person show?
I just spent a year doing ensemble theatre training (the MA Theatre Lab at RADA) and I wanted desperately NEVER to work in a group again! Ha! I am kidding… but not entirely. I found that after my training I wanted to explore myself and what I learned outside of a group context.
I realised over the course of a year, where I was encouraged and supported in making my own work, that I was always drawn to the autobiographical. I guess I am at a point in my life where I feel like I have things to explore and say – and I spent so many years trying to fit into a mold of an NYC actor (auditioning like mad, being just another body in a room, doing shows made by someone else with themes and messages that didn’t align with my own). Felt like it was time to take control of myself as a performer.
What drew you to clowning and physical theatre?
Clowning is playtime. Of course, its more complex than that (and I do not claim to be a master yet!) but initially it’s founded on play and I’ve always loved to do that. I was always that friend, self-deprecating and sometimes embarrassing in public, who would do anything for a laugh.
I’ve also ALWAYS loved comedy. I Love Lucy, The Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton. (Unlovable is almost my modern version of this style). I also started my career as a performer in dance. I have danced for over 15 years and I have always been drawn to physical expression and using my body. Kind of all came together when I was introduced to clown by my teacher, Peta Lily.
Many audiences have a certain view of clowns and clowning – how would you describe it?
Obviously, clowns have a bad rep (Thanks Steven King!).
I’ve been really obsessed with talking about clowning lately, actually. I was drawn to clowns because of their innocence. Clowns embody hopefulness and possibility. The reason we watch clowns is because of their incessant hope in the face of all adversity. No matter how daunting or silly the task, how many times they get knocked down, they get back up and go again with the same energy.
They also share with the audience. They bare it all. When a clown is hurt or happy – they express it. I find that refreshing in theatre. We so often see characters trapped behind fourth walls, channeling their emotions between the other actors but never to the audience. As a clown myself, I enjoy being able to look my audience in the eye and say, “Hey isn’t this all a little fucked up?” and go back to the show. There’s so much play between audience and performer that each performance is unique for that audience. I love that. The clown couldn’t exist without its audience.
For my show, clown was the right medium. My character Judith (who SPOILER ALERT! may be an alter-ego of myself) needed to live in that world. She needed to be innocent, trusting, have the naivety of a clown. People had to fall in love with her, trust her, follow her blindly so when her bright-eyed optimism cracks its more effecting.
It’s a one-woman show. How do you feel about being the only person on stage?
I LOVE it. Might be the narcissist in me! But I do feel a sense of empowerment that I think most people in their lives never experience. My show also has a lot of audience interaction and smashes the fourth wall. I find it liberating and also a very scary but cool responsibility to have the audience’s experience in your hands. I also love improvising so much and I don’t have to worry about taking liberties, as there is no other actor onstage to consider. It’s a bit of a performer’s jungle gym having my own show. Of course, being on stage alone also comes with its own dangerous cocktail of intense fear of judgment, criticism and failure. I usually have a bit of a panic a few hours pre-show thinking “Why the hell do I think I can do this?! You damn fraud!” but that disappears as soon as the show starts. Then all hell breaks loose and there is no time for judgement and criticism, especially from myself.
How was your Brighton Fringe experience and has anything changed in the show since then?
Brighton Fringe was an awesome festival. I really loved being a part of it – so many great shows, such a great energy. Had a great time. I think my favorite part of Brighton Fringe was meeting people after. I had a lot of very personal interactions after the show. Had people coming up to me and sharing their experiences with the subject matter I delve into in Unlovable (you’ll have to see it!). I was not expecting that at all. I had people share photos with me, poems, stories of their lives and it really just floored me. I was so touched by my audience, who even if they didn’t share, were warm, engaging, supportive and kind. Brighton has some amazing people!
And yes, things have changed!! The show is a lot the same, but I re-worked the whole beginning (which I struggled with for a long time!) There’s a new song! Do we love Buddy Holly? And some structural changes! I had some things that erked me about that version but I hope it still has the same effect. I also spent many many many hours recording and re-recording, as the show runs to a voice-over track. That is time consuming and stressful, but worth the work in the end.
How are you feeling about bringing it to Camden Fringe?
Excited! And scared! London feels like home to me. I’ve always loved to perform in the city I love best! And there are sooo many other cool shows and artists taking part, I feel privileged to be here! But that’s also the reason I’m scared! Coming over from NYC is tough. There’s lots of pressure to get an audience in and do well. Just trying to ride the wave of positivity and know that no matter how big an audience, just the experience of putting yourself and work out there is hugely rewarding.
And how are you feeling about performing at Etcetera Theatre in particular?
Can’t wait! They’ve been super helpful and supportive so far! And I used to see shows there when I lived in Camden, so its great to be part of the community!
What can audiences expect from the show?
Oh boy – lets try this list of adjectives and see how it goes! It’s wacky, silly, stupid, messy, offbeat, quirky, weird, cute, fun, heartfelt, surprising, personal, BONKERS. That clear?
To put it this way, its a show about wanting to find love and going about it in all the wrong ways. There will be songs, dance, some cake, some booze, some dinner, a lot of hair, cute outfits and maybe a revealing moment or two or three. You may relate or you may recoil, but you will meet Judith and all her antics!
Full festival programme
For details on all 300+ shows in the 2019 Camden Fringe programme, visit the festival websiteClick here