In Conversation with Timmy Creed, Writer and Performer of Spliced at Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Timmy Creed arrives in the St. Giles Cathedral café wearing a light blue tracksuit jacket that may or may not be the same one he wears at the beginning of his show, Spliced. It’s about 20 minutes after we arranged to meet, and, as it turns out, I’ve actually given him the wrong location – there’s a café across the street inconveniently named the St. Giles café, which is where he’s been for the last 15 minutes.
Temporal misalignment aside, he seems in good spirits: friendly and disarmingly natural in a way that’s less unguarded than genuine. Over the next half an hour we discussed the conception of Spliced, performing in front of the notorious Edinburgh Fringe crowd, and the role of the masculine identity in team sport.
James Witherspoon: This is your debut piece of writing. I was wondering how you found that process – both from a non-experienced standpoint, and also from the perspective of trying to get the show out there to something like the Traverse Festival.
Timmy Creed: The writing process was hard, because I don’t consider myself a ‘writer’. I knew I had a story that I had to tell, and having come to the Edinburgh Fringe so many times I thought that story would stand up amongst all these other creative people.
Because my language is more of a physical language – I trained as an actor but I have more of a natural physical language – to write was more of a challenge. I won’t lie to you; it was fucking tedious like *laughs*… it took two years from the start point to where it is now.
The director, Gina Moxley, who also has The Patient Gloria at the Traverse – which you really should see because it’s fucking brilliant – really helped me to cut all the bullshit. The first few drafts I was trying to be this brilliant writer, with all this flowery writer-y language, but she got me to cut it right back to the bare bones of what I was really trying to say. The script now is actually quite clear and all the bullshit I tried to write has been weeded out.
The process of writing the third act has taken me two years – to realise what that was – because it feels like that part remains open. As the show goes around, something could happen that could affect the third act. The other two are very clear, because they’re about the past, whereas act three is about where the show is now and how I’m changing in relation to it; how I’ve grown. You’re constantly opening up new conversations with people and new opportunities to tell a story. But now I’ve kind of drawn a line under act three, because I want to write something else.
This kind of thing doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but I think performing Spliced has made me feel that I can storytell, so it’s just about focusing on the circumstances and the setting for me to write.
To get into the Traverse, we did a showcase at the Dublin Theatre Festival last year. They chose five shows from the previous year in Northern Ireland to do a ten-minute pitch, and Linda Crooks at the Traverse saw it and afterwards told me I should sell hoovers, which I think was supposed to be a compliment that I could pitch the show. Their programme was based around a lot of identity, especially female identity or non-binary identity, and they felt that the show would fit into that – which is fucking cool for me.
J: You actually just touched a bit on my next question! Will the third act change in the future, or do you think it’s finished for good? I read the text last night and there’s a bit about Edinburgh in there that’s very recent.
T: Yeah, that incident happened a number of months ago. I’d like to think that there’s a line drawn under it, so I can park it, but because I’m gonna be doing fifty performances of the show in the next three and a half months I don’t fully know. It’s like a dotted line, I’d say, not a permanent line.
J: And after those fifty shows, do you think it’s gonna keep going or do you want to completely move on?
T: No, I believe in the story and the response has been strong enough for me to… I met an Irish girl; she has a show at Summerhall – I forget the name, it starts with an A (Note: If you’re interested, it’s ‘Appropriate’) – her name is Sarah-Jane Scott. What she wants to get from her one-woman show at Summerhall is a writing agent, whereas I would like to bring the show as many places as I could and maybe get an acting agent in London.
I really wanna travel the show, and it’s part of the Culture Ireland showcase at the end of the month, so I’m hoping there’s uptake. There is interest already – there is a big Irish diaspora around the world with Irish centres and Irish communities and GAA clubs, and I’d love to bring it to places like those. I’m happy enough to do it for another few years, I think.
J: You have an intended audience for this show for whom it could, you know, potentially change their lives. And then you’re performing at the Traverse in Edinburgh, which is a predominantly middle-class audience of people who are probably completely ignorant of this culture and way of life. Do you notice a difference compared to when you’re performing in Ireland?
T: Yeah, definitely. The audience is a lot more standoffish towards… ‘what is this cult? What is this thing? Why are you so fascinated by it? We have got far more important things to talk about in this country.’ And maybe they do, but this is a huge part of the culture in Ireland. I’m using the capsule of the GAA as the vehicle for the universal story of someone trying to break through a fixed identity and trying to transform.
People have said to me it’s like a trick for GAA people in Northern Ireland – you tell them it’s about the GAA and they come, then after the first act they’re like ‘I’ve never seen our story shown back to us off the pitch’, and it draws them in. Then the second act shows them another possibility, you know.
J: The feeling that I’d got was that, at least theoretically, theatre audiences are more liberally inclined than non-theatre audiences – so on broad-brush terms, they’re likely to agree with your politics. I wonder if the real problem is that theatre audiences don’t know how to react in an environment where they’re used to sitting down and shutting up. They’re not used to shouting out and chanting along – I know it’s the Fringe, but it’s also the Traverse. That can translate as standoffishness.
T: Yeah, definitely. A guy came up to me after the show yesterday – a white, older middle-class man – standard Traverse audience, although there’s maybe more women than men, and he said it resonated with him from when he was younger.
He stopped playing sport in his mid-twenties, he played cricket and javelin, and he played Nationally – he said that when he sees the story reflected on the stage, it allows him to go back and think about that time, and to release… and he’s still trying to work through that really really serious identity that he had for himself. Seeing my story allowed him to release and to go back into that understanding, because we’re never fully formed and never fully released from our conditioning, and that’s who we are.
J: The show is so personal and completely honest. Do you still feel nervous about putting yourself out there so wholly, or having performed it a bunch of times is that no longer much of an issue?
T: I believe that the show can stand and that it can work, but sometimes the idea that my story will fall flat on the night is kind of scary because then it’s very personal. You can see that some people in the audience are kind of like ‘we don’t care about you or this story; we’re more interested in other things’, and because it’s so intimate you really get to feel that from people. But that’s what’s going to happen anywhere anyway, so it’s about having the confidence to come back into here *points at chest* and say ‘I wrote this for a reason, and I’m still going to do it as good as I can’. But when it’s that personal, there is a risk that you’ll feel really unworthy, and afterwards, if it doesn’t go well I can take it quite personally because my story hasn’t resonated, you know?
It’s different if you’re playing a character because you can hide behind it a bit more, but I think having done six shows now, I’m having to try and distance myself from it. For the first few days, it was more like ‘we really need to get this right with this different audience’ but, actually, it’s the same show that worked in Ireland that works the same way here.
J: If you feel during a performance that the audience isn’t being as receptive as you’d like, how do you cope with that and push on?
T: It’s hard, it’s hard. I was talking about this to somebody last night – when you’re that close to the audience, there are all these trains of thought happening in your head as to how that particular person is receiving it. Like with you yesterday, I was fully aware of the fact you were tuned into it and getting more from it, you know, and as I’m delivering it that’s one of the things that’s happening the whole time.
That’s information that’s coming in, so you’re taking all that and trying to go ‘actually, I’m doing the show here’ but there are some times where somebody just clearly isn’t responding to it. So, in that case, you have to just go even harder back into the story and what it means to you, and then sometimes you end up pushing it too much and the audience fall back even more because they can see you’re kind of forced. When you’re looking for laughs, the audience can feel you forcing the laugh, and they’re like ‘sorry buddy’ and you can lose them so easily, you know.
This show, in particular, has a very fine energy and for it to be as good as I know it can be I need to be in a very particular form. If I get too ahead of myself, or a little bit too pushy – because it’s so intimate – the audience will know. You must be so light and soft with the audience and they’ll respond more.
J: It’s an incredibly physical show – almost physical theatre more than drama – do you find that to be exhausting, or is it energising?
T: At the show yesterday, I got to the point where I was like ‘I can’t wait for tomorrow for a day off’. I’ve never done that many shows in a row, but I love physical theatre; I love physical work; I love exercising my body; I’m blessed to have a body that is fit and can move. I have to showcase the physicality and the brutality of it because that’s what sport is – it really pushes the body to a place of more exertion and more capacity than it’s actually capable of. That’s what I feel I have to do in the first part of the show – to make it really physical and really visceral.
At three of the shows since I got here, at the end of act one, I started empty reaching severely and I share it with the audience. At first I used to hide it, but it’s really happening to me so I have to give it to them.
J: The thing I can’t imagine is that, obviously, you’re doing all of this physical work, but you also need to perform this monologue accurately.
T: Yeah, but you just build it into the activity. Sometimes, I’m actually doing the physicality and the words just come out. The challenge is to build those elements together, and then it’s a kind of special thing, you know.
J: At what point in the development of the show did you decide to go with the… I’m not sure what it is. It kind of looks like a squash court, but I believe it’s actually a table tennis arena?
T: It’s generally used for table tennis, but it was built as a squash court. I’d usually do it in a hurling alley – they’re outdoor, concrete structures that were built hundreds of years ago and they’re all over the country in Ireland. I wanted to bring the show outdoors, because sport happens outdoors, and also because outdoor theatre can be magic – when it doesn’t rain – and also because I wanted to bring life to these old structures. The GAA is an old structure, and these masculine stereotypes are old structures, and I wanted to bring this new contemporary piece of thinking to an old structure and to let that be a kind of metaphor. And they’re used all over the country for people to practice hurling, because of the walls.
One time, we did it in County Clare, in Ireland, and we couldn’t get an outdoor handball alley so we did it in a squash court. And it actually works in a squash court, but it’s really intimate because they’re small spaces. The hurling alleys are bigger – they can be quite big, or like twice the size.
J: That’s really interesting because of the fantastic projections and lighting design running in your production at the Traverse. When you do it during the day, do you get rid of all of that?
T: We have a few versions of it. We’ve done one with no lights and projections, but I always do it with the sound. We’ve done it with lights and no projections if there’s something on the back wall. Spliced Unplugged is just me and the sound. The story is the same, but the visuals and the lights really add to what’s happening and the transformation.
J: Yeah, that scene at the end of the first act with the strobes and your rapid-fire monologue was an absolutely dynamite moment. How did you go about finding your creative team on the show to find that synthesis?
T: The visuals and the sound come from my 30th birthday. We were all on magic mushrooms, and we had this idea that we should do something together. And they (Chris Somers and David Mathúna) also have an electronic duo together called KENL, and do techno music, and they’re both very talented but never worked in theatre, so I thought it would be interesting to bring them into it.
My idea was that we’d start a company, with these two young fucking talented visual artists and myself, except it hasn’t totally gone like that. David moved to Berlin and I’d love – if we had another idea – for us to come together again. So that went from there, and we met loads of times, and the writing process had them involved quite a lot, because I’d never written anything and I was giving them things and asking ‘what do you think?’ Having the lads in this kind of support triangle really helped me to get it out. It was a support, and it can be quite lonely when you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.
The first time we did the show we didn’t have the money for lighting and I didn’t think lighting designers were important, stupidly, because there was just so much pressure to get the story up with the visuals and the sound. Eoin (Winning) came in last year, and he’s done a fucking amazing job. And then Gina Moxley (the director of Spliced) was a friend from a few years back and I asked her to be on the team.
J: Onto the themes of the show. What do you feel, if there is one, is the root of the problem you’re trying to tackle?
T: It’s a good question, and I could answer it in a number of ways. The root is this fixed masculine identity that can serve men in some ways, but there’s this whole other side to us that I find very interesting.
The difference between men and women, for me, is actually quite slight. We have a physical difference, but in terms of our minds it’s very similar actually – but when you really stick to this really rigid way of ‘being a man’ then there’s a whole side to you that doesn’t get nurtured and doesn’t grow, and sometimes that ends up coming back to bite you, or you end up doing things that are violent or aggressive, or it turns into depression.
By exercising our emotional body and this other physical body, there are things that can happen emotionally that can lead to more openness and more understanding between men and women and men and men.
J: Do you think that rigid identity is more a feature of sport or more a feature of small communities?
T: I think it’s a feature of sport. I come at it from a masculine perspective because I don’t have as much awareness of the female perspective, but in big cities as well you have these big companies where the fixed identity of the man is the powerful, strong archetypal leading figure.
It’s really prevalent in sport all over the world. In some countries, though, it’s the woman – the matriarch is the powerhouse of the community and of the family, so maybe it’s just Western society that is led by this patriarchal male stereotype across loads of different fields.
J: Would you say, then, that the emotional sterility and closed-up-ness you talk about in your show is only a feature of men’s sport, or is it a prevalent feature in women’s sport as well?
T: I think it’s prevalent in women’s sport as well, yeah, because there’s this whole idea that strength is the most important thing. When there’s any straying from that, then you’re jeopardising how your teammates see you and potentially how you play the game. But actually, I think the more emotionally connected you could be to the team, the more energy there is in that. The strength of the body has a particular amount of energy that burns off, whereas the emotional body I think has depths and depths of emotional energy.
When we’re in a situation that’s fight or flight, and the body has given up, still this adrenaline comes from somewhere and it just keeps you going and going even though your body is wrecked. I think you can play sport from an emotionally connected way to the self and to the reason you’re playing it.
You see some people who play sport, and you can’t quite place where their energy is coming from, but it’s coming from this…. In hurling especially, the game is becoming more technology-based, and players are becoming really jacked. In the 60’s and 70’s, guys would drink pints and they were slender, but now it’s a really physical thing. But some players sometimes have this other quality, as if they’re connected to something else as they’re playing, and it really stands out, and that’s what draws the eye of the audience to them.
They’re doing it in a different way that’s not the fixed rigidity, and that’s the spirit that jumps out. I’d love for more practicing in the team dynamic of allowing those emotional connections to each other come out, to see how that affects the way you play together as a unit.
J: When you were younger and playing in your team at around sixteen or seventeen, did you feel like you were in an oppressive environment or did you feel like it was just normal?
T: I didn’t know any better. We lived out in the countryside when I was younger and…. when I was eleven and twelve and thirteen and fourteen, I was kind of a lonely boy – I don’t know if I’ve ever said that to anyone ever. I used to spend a lot of time on my own and I used to pretend in school that I was playing with these two guys who lived next door to us, but we didn’t have any sort of friendship.
I had a big family, but we all kind of did our own things, and we all had different friends, except I used to spend a lot of time on my own, and it fucking bothered me because I had to lie to guys in school that I was doing other things. So being on the team gave me this opportunity to connect, and it’s what I had and it’s what I spent the number of years up to that doing, so I said ‘this is my thing, and this is what I need to pursue to find a tribe’. And I did, and then I had to get better at it because I had to be seen by them as not just the fucking skinny guy who just comes every day and doesn’t say anything and he’s part of it but not really fucking part of it.
Then, when you get on the team, people treat you differently. You’re not just some fuckin guy that keeps turning up, and then it just subtly starts to work on you. From this innocent boy, to a teenager, it becomes the norm, and to survive in the norm you have to be part of the culture, and that’s where the distortion starts you know? When you stay in it, it’s much harder to see what’s actually happening as if from outside.
It’s support, and it’s emotion, and it’s male to male connection, which is a beautiful thing but there’s other stuff happening, subconsciously probably, that’s making you behave in a particular way. Out of fear, as well, from not being accepted or being seen as weak. And as somebody who did feel weak, and who did feel outside the tribe, I felt I needed to keep up. Now I don’t care what they think of me, because I’ve come to terms with myself enough to realise that it doesn’t make a difference, but it takes time to be ok with that.
Still, when you’re back in that masculine setting, because they’re still friends, you sense sometimes that, even though I’m ok with it now, that they are these more alpha males. And it’s like, ok as long as they understand that’s not the kind of person I am as well. But, again, you don’t understand that sort of dynamic at a younger age, which would’ve been helpful to know – that I didn’t have to be like that, and could’ve been any way I wanted.
J: Do you feel the current openness around mental health issues, and the current awareness of masculine stereotypes, is having an effect on team sport?
T: It’s hard to talk about it from our point of view – coming from the arts. We’re all open-minded, and we’re all liberal, and we do exist in one bubble of society. We see it all, because we want change, we want to provoke and we want things to be different, but you wonder sometimes whether the message is trickling down, and whether the way it’s trickling down is affecting people.
It’s much easier to be like ‘nah, fuck that, we’re fucking men’ and still speak in a way that’s derogatory but, like, enjoying that and then pretending you’re progressive and open minded. There’s a whole contradiction there. I’d like to think that there is change, with all the movements – the feminist movement and the MeToo movement in the last number of years. Men do need to be more aware of it, but it takes a lot of time to change and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work for you to change the mentality, and for people like us… for me, I thrive off of that – the possibility of change or moving away from something – but if you’re not part of the struggle for it then it’s very easy to just remain the way you were.
J: Lastly, on a slightly different note, you mentioned earlier that you were developing something new. Can you tell us anything more about that?
T: I’m working on a new show with my younger sister, who’s a healer and a musician. We want to make a show about mad people – it’ll be autobiographical and about our relationship, and about the people in our family who are affected, and our friends who are seriously affected in some cases. It feels like another show about mental health which is… it’s important but….
J: There are worse things to talk about.
T: There are worse things to talk about, but it’s just such a heavy topic. I started out with Spliced with just feeling this weight on me to talk, and when Gina got involved, she was like ‘you need to lighten up, like’. Even in rehearsals, I’d be getting into such worry about the script: was it good? would I be able to perform it with lightness? and she was like ‘it’s supposed to be funny, lighten up a little’.
So we’re working on that, and I am working on a show – another one-man show – about the Irish language and how connecting to that connects you to something far bigger than…. In Ireland, your native tongue connects you something bigger than yourself, and it’s an exploration of that.
J: Great! Thanks so much for talking to us, and the best of luck with Splice at the Fringe.
After the interview is done, we go to see Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of with Mags Keohane, the producer of Spliced, and Patrick Lehane, who’s on the production crew. The show’s audience are almost emotionless throughout Bissett’s impassioned performance and songs – returning her emotional gaze with dead-eyed awkwardness. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Timmy tapping his feet and nodding along to the beat.