Since she graduated from RCS in 2012 Amy Conway has been working as a theatre maker, performer and practitioner throughout Scotland. A recipient of multiple awards including the Summerhall Autopsy award and the Fire Exit Pyromania Bursary, Amy’s show Super Awesome World is touring Scotland as part of SMHAF 2018, with dates at Cumbernauld Theatre (5 May), Paisley Arts Centre (6 May) and the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (9 May).
In the first of a series of conversations with theatre performers at this year’s festival, Mabli Godden talks to Amy about depression, escapism and computer games:
When did you first make your own piece?
I applied for a slot at Arches Live in 2012 with my friend Sarah [Bradley]. We were going to do a show about internet dating and we got paired up with another artist, Kirsty Byers, because we’d both proposed something similar, and so we ended up doing a semi-autobiographical, weird, stupid, sketch show about internet dating and the internet and the control we had over our lives. That felt quite fresh at the time but it’s probably quite a dated show right now.
Do you think the theme of technology has continually run through your work, as it has returned in Super Awesome World?
Oh wow, I never considered it that way. I would say that’s maybe an accidental thing. The theme that has run through my work though has definitely been wellbeing: how we interact and connect with one another, relationships… and how we don’t connect with one another, how we’re disconnected in a world that has technology as an alienating force. Though in Super Awesome World I pitch it as being a positive thing, which some people are surprised at because they’re like: “oh yeah, gaming. Gaming contributes to mental health problems.” And I’m like: “well actually…”
But gaming is also an act of escapism?
Yeah, and it’s a way that people can be a better version of themselves or can be a more confident, braver version of themselves and sort of work through their frustrations through a fictional world… an immersive fictional world, I think is the important thing.
And is that something you’ve done yourself?
Well, at the start of the show I say that I loved these games when I was younger. I mean, I loved anything that was story based, which is, I think, why I make theatre now. And games have narratives where you’re the protagonist; it’s that active involvement that I love. But I didn’t play games as an adult, and a lot of my friends were still playing video games and I think gaining an incredible amount of joy from it…I wanted a way to talk about the depression I’d experienced for those few years but without it being a depressing show. This sort of felt like a way in.
I watched a TED Talk by Jane McGonigal and she was basically talking about a game that she’d created to fight chronic illness. Because she’d had a concussion and it had debilitated her so much that she’d wanted to take her own life and because she was a games designer she was like: “well what do I do best?” And she decided to make getting better into a game, and it was about breaking things down into small goals and tasks that she was able to finally make some progress and get out of that dark place. So I think it was breaking that down and looking at the mechanics that make up video games, I found it was a great metaphor for talking about some of the difficulties that having a mental illness can throw up at you.
Was there ever a specific target audience for Super Awesome World?
People suggested at the [first] sharing that this would appeal to young people but I certainly went in kind of going: “well this is for everybody”. And because I was telling an autobiographical story, I guess, in my head, it’s sort of reaching people that have had a similar experience to my own. One of my previous shows was about me, my mum and my grandma and you can’t get more personal than that, because my upbringing and my maternal relationships are unique to me, but the show was universal because people have universal experiences and actually by telling one particular story, that’s very authentic. I find that’s more affecting than trying to reach everybody by being as general as possible or as wide reaching as possible.
Was there a daunting element to putting your own experiences on stage and saying, this is mine, this is personal to me?
I think that’s definitely always at the start of the process. For example, some of the text that I wrote for Super Awesome World I found quite difficult to write or it was quite emotional to write because at the start of the process I was still kind of going through those things but by the time I get to the stage [of performance]… the subject matter isn’t so raw, or I’ve managed to face anything that I need to face. I have completely got ownership of what I’m saying, and although I do have an intimate relationship to it and it’s still things that happened to me, I’ve become more the performer than the subject of these difficult things that happened.
Was the act of making maybe somewhat therapeutic?
Maybe it sounds trite but I think it was therapeutic. I mean, I certainly feel that I was already on a road to recovery when I proposed the idea – I couldn’t have made the show if I hadn’t already got through the worst of it, and I think that maybe that wouldn’t have been advisable and it wouldn’t have been responsible for me to make that when I was still ill. I am sort of putting myself at risk to an extent, it’s very exposing, but, yeah, every time I say those things and I say things that I felt when I was at my very worst, it does feel like therapy and I do feel stronger. And it reminds me, it keeps at the forefront of my mind, how dark things got and in some parts of the show I am looking at those kind of negative thoughts, those pitfalls that kind of creep in and will lead you down a path towards that dark place again, and I’m so much better able to recognise those things because I’ve been doing the show and experiencing it for a while now.
Interview by Mabli Godden
Full details and booking information for Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World, touring Scotland at SMHAF, can be found here.