Ben SantaMaria talks about growing up gay in the 80’s at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Name: Ben SantaMaria
Name of Edinburgh show: Really Want to Hurt Me
Venue: Assembly – Baillie Room at Assembly Hall (Venue 35)
Performance time: 3pm
Show length: 60 mins
Ticket price: £11 (£10 concessions) peak, £10 (£9 concessions) off-peak, £7 previews

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I’m the writer and director. It took me years to realise directing and devising didn’t hit the spot completely for me on their own. So I took a long and winding path to writing, which is my main love now – but I guess that’s saved me from getting jaded too soon! My work’s been on at venues like Southwark Playhouse, Riverside Studios and Theatre 503, where you can see this show in their Edinburgh Previews season on 25th July.

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Really Want to Hurt Me is a new one-person play, performed by the fabulous Ryan Price and presented by my company Flaming Theatre. It’s a dark comedy about a schoolboy growing up gay in Devon in 1984. The constant pressure from bullies and everyone else around him to be straight and act “masculine” makes him feel more like he’s living in Orwell’s version of 1984. Over the course of two years, we see him gradually fight his suicidal feelings of self-loathing by escaping into the glamour of ‘80s pop music like Culture Club, Eurythmics and Tears for Fears, and later indie music like The Smiths. He also starts to find himself by disappearing into playing characters in plays at school and youth theatre, to replace the fake self he’s forced to play in his everyday life. The show mixes some painfully honest and funny confessions with dance sequences to ‘80s songs, to explore what gay life was like back then away from the big city stories we usually hear, but also with a strong relevance for young LGBTQ people today.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
We received Arts Council funding to develop and preview it last winter at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, which as you know has since sadly closed, and at the Old Red Lion, where it seemed to go down very well with audiences and reviewers. It’s a deeply personal play for me, based on my own experiences growing up in Exeter. But it’s also inspired by Stonewall’s School Report last year, which found that almost half of all LGBTQ pupils still face bullying, half regularly hear homophobic insults and many suffer low self-worth, self-harm and attempt suicide. So our show speaks as much to young people dealing with those struggles now as to older audiences who can stroll down memory lane to their own teenage years through it. It also brings a new West Country voice to the growing discussion of mental health issues in theatre, and elsewhere.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors too?
Wash regularly. Try to do just one thing at a time and actually experience it instead of running at everything like a maniac. Probably advice for life there, but it’ll see you through the fringe too!

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Last time I acted in an Edinburgh fringe show, I was the Earthworm in a dodgy musical version of James and the Giant Peach. I had to wiggle about in a wrap-around duvet like a giant condom, singing at a rowdy crowd of kids with a hangover at the crack of dawn every day. Good times.

It seems only fair to hand this question over to Ryan as well: “I was actually to blame for one of my best mates achieving their most embarrassing moment. In our final year at drama school we did The Priory and at the beginning I had to creep on and run off while another character runs on to investigate where the noise is coming from. On opening night as I ran off, I knocked over a chair. I was completely unaware I’d done this but so was the other actor who ran on stage, tripped over the chair and flew halfway across the stage… (Sorry, Rach.) Karma got me, though, and in the same show I had to blow out a candle. I did so a bit too aggressively and covered my whole face in hot wax, which dried instantly and made me look like I was very unwell.”

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
This could take all day! Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner, Maxine Peake, David Hoyle, Sharon D Clarke, Howard Barker, DV8, Complicite… The mavericks and the survivors – anyone who sticks to their quirky vision, doesn’t let anyone dilute it and just keeps on going.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Over to Ryan again: “I try not to do one set thing before a show or else I get scared that if I don’t do it every time, something will just go drastically wrong. If I were to let myself do that I’d end up with about 17 different routines, rituals and blood sacrifices I’d have to perform and I’d never get on stage. I do like to try and meditate or exercise on show days, though, to clear my mind, or just listen to loads of Lil’ Kim…”

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Tom Wells’ new play, Drip, is a fresh take on being a gay schoolboy today that’s obviously fascinating for us. I loved his play Jumpers for Goalposts a few years ago and had a blast at the preview of Drip at the Bush, so I’m really keen to hear those Belle and Sebastian-tinged songs performed in it again. We’ve been part of Soho Theatre’s Edinburgh Lab this year, which supports a handful of artists taking shows to the fringe. The other acts I’ve met in that group all have real integrity as people and are taking a brilliant bunch of shows to the festival. You could do a lot worse than look out for the shocking pink Soho Theatre Young Company logo on those flyers! The show I’m going insane for, though, is Janeane Garofalo: Put a Pin in That. I last saw her in New York years ago and can’t wait for this. My fringe goal is basically to become Janeane Garofalo’s BFF.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
One of the reviews of our previews said the play manages to be full of fun ’80s references and music but also universally relevant. That meant so much to me. We’ve reworked and reworked the show to make it as honest and direct as we can, so it honours the experiences of queer people in those tough years of the ‘80s, but also includes all audiences. It tackles tough subjects with a lot of jokes. Ryan’s had a fair bit of amazing praise for his performance so far. Plus there’s dancing, Kate Bush, Kajagoogoo… what more could you want?!


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