With the countless acts showing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, one show you just have to see is Chewing the Fat – a real, gritty, yet seemingly funny show about our relationship with food, complied by 24-year-old freelance theatre maker Selina Thompson, from Leeds. “To begin, I wanted to be a journalist”, she told me. With not much time between the end of her degree and the present day, I couldn’t help wonder how Chewing the Fat came to be: “It was actually my final degree piece at university… It started off as a 20 minute piece, which was a really raw version at the time. I showed it at a festival and was told it had real potential, so I got a little arts council grant, developed it into a full length show and have been pretty much working towards this moment since then.”
When I asked about her motivation for the piece, the conversation went slightly serious. “In my last year of university, my drama class consisted of 30 girls and only six guys. A lot of us had really weird/complicated/messy and difficult relationships with food. We’d have conversations about each other (as girls do) about those we thought had eating disorders but were completely incapable of having those very honest, upfront conversations about our own bodies. This made me angry and upset, so for our performance dissertation, where we could do what we wanted, I wanted to do a piece which addressed that and find a way of telling the truth as much as possible. The only way I could do that was talking about my own relationship with food. For many people in the performing arts industry, body image is a really big deal. I watched a lot of shows about fat including Hamburger Queen by Scottee and things like that, and I wanted to create a piece that was messy, funny, honest and raw which tries to look at ‘my fat body’ – exploring topics such as binge eating and stuff like that.”
Thompson comes across as a cheerful, bubbly person, and the tone soon changed back to excitable and full of jokes as I asked about Edinburgh, and what she hoped audiences would get from this one woman show. “I hope people find the show entertaining, funny and… if someone comes to see it who has experienced similar issues with food that they can relate to, and they use it as a starting point for further conversations that we weren’t able to have as student whilst at uni – the issue of body image can begin really early, especially in young girls, then it’s important to try and break that negative outlook,” Thompson concluded.
The festival brings a wide range of theatre lovers to the Scottish capital every year.
What is it about the famous fringe festival that Thompson loves so much? “This is the first year I’ve gone to perform”, she tells me, excitedly. “I’ve gone up in previous years just to have a run around and see a couple of the shows. I also love the fact that everyone is there! I find it really exciting because I don’t live in London so don’t always get to see a shows I really want to. But during the Fringe, I know I’ll be able to catch up and see what I may have missed out on because it’s all in one place! I love the fact that one city becomes a melting pot for all different types of work. However, I feel it’ll carry more significance for me once I’ve had my show performed at the Fringe and after I’ve experienced putting my work out there. I’m excited about doing the same show every day for 12 days because it’ll give me the opportunity to really refine it and get into a routine and build a rhythm with it, so I can get to know the show more intimately and have a real relationship with it that I don’t have at the moment.”
Chewing the Fat at Edinburgh will mark the beginning of a nationwide tour for the show before Thompson and her crew move on to the next project. “We wanted to showcase it here in Edinburgh as a launch for our national tour and it also felt like this was the right year to take it up because we’re working on a big project next which will require a whole lot of R&D in the year ahead… it was the perfect time to stick a flag in Edinburgh and let people know this is my show and this is what I do…”
With so many young people making moves in the fringe and theatre industry, it’s no wonder Thompson has made a huge impact with her outside-the-box approach to her shows. “I was always hanging around the drama department at school and got involved…. I like things to be a bit unwieldy and because I have a short attention span, I really have to push myself as much as possible. I don’t really think of my work as out of the box because in my head there’s even more boundary pushing stuff out there.”
With that in mind, I was keen to ask about her attitude towards controversial topics in the arts: “I think they should be covered more. But it’s difficult… I think controversy is bought up and is definitely getting more attention.” As with most young artists, Thompson bought up that she was more into mainstream theatre such as Shakespeare, musicals and more popular shows beforehand “as a result, I don’t really know what was going on before I got involved in the scene.”
To conclude, I ask what advice she would give to others who wish to achieve similar success. “Remember that all advice is autobiographical,” she chuckles. “When you’re a young artist, you get lots of advice. Some of it is golden and some can be terrible and not for you, despite the intent behind it. So be selective about the advice you take. Surround yourself with good people and if you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, who cares about your art, let them support you! Surround yourself with people who are making work that you love and get involved in that community, make yourself known and put yourself out there… and make sure your cost of living is as low as possible too and expect to work hard! It’s also important that you have a good work/life balance. For the first six months of this year I was all like ‘work work work work work!’ and eventually had to stop and just enjoy things… learn as much as you can but have fun at the same time.”
How much of that advice you take is up to you.
Chewing the Fat is at Venue 73 (The Northern Stage, Kings Hall) from 2 to 13 August at 12.55. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.