Today we’re joined for a pixelated pilsner by Writer-Performer Daniel Hird and Director Zoey Barns of Third Pier Theatre. They’re bringing their show My Esteemed Friend to Prague Fringe at the end of this month, and we wanted to glean a little more about the exciting and mysterious themes of the piece – ambition, fatherhood, stories and the truth. The show has been co-produced by Third Pier Theatre and Sweet Venues. We sat down with the pair behind the show to peel back some of the layers, as they invite us to become their esteemed friend.
You can catch My Esteemed Friend at the Museum of Alchemists between the 25th and 27th May as part of Prague Fringe (times vary by day). Tickets are available through the Prague Fringe Box Office.
Jake: Hi Daniel! ‘My Esteemed Friend’ is a semi-autobiographical show about ambition and fatherhood – tell us about the process of inspiring a story from some elements of your own life, and then how the piece has come to take on a life of its’ own.
Daniel: It’s strange. Somehow the story has always felt like it’s had a life of its own. The events that form the bulk of My Esteemed Friend happened to me when I was in my early twenties, but it’s always felt like only half of the story. Back then I wrote everything down in a notebook and tried to forget about it, thinking “one day I’ll be able to make something out of all this madness”. I think that was the ambition talking. The single minded pursuit of meaning and purpose that made me think that what happened to me is a tool I can use to reach for greater things. It’s ridiculous to think that back then I imagined the show as almost a documentary, obsessing over the details of how everything happened
But, as so often happens, life comes along and proves you wrong. I met my partner Zoey Barnes, a theatre director in her own right, and suddenly the links between my own life and the story became clearer and clearer. Before I knew what was happening, the process of making the show has become as much a part of the show as the story I started with. The core of the show is still very much there, but we use it to explore the themes you mentioned, ambition, fatherhood, responsibility, masculinity etc, in imaginative and expressive ways. Not only is it a better show because of it, but it’s so much more real than I could have ever hoped for.
Jake: The piece is described as a blend of “ornate storytelling” and “abstract sound design”, how has it been bringing those two production elements together and what are you hoping the audience will take away from it?
Daniel: Generally, I’ve brought the fancy writing and Zoey the shiny production elements. This show has been the result of two very different artists melting together harmoniously, and both of us have had to push ourselves out of our comfort zones to offer a show which boasts a total lack of lulls. We wanted to make sure each scene had a strong flavour- whether that be with funny direct address, poetry, striking lighting or eerie music. Every one of these elements should turn up the contrast or create links between the two storylines (Also, we thought if we throw everything and the kitchen sink at it, at least no one is getting bored!).
Jake: The show’s central character finds themselves longing for the stage and stuck in a public-facing job, which I’m sure many will relate to, what is the piece’s philosophy about ambition and how we come to terms with the different stages in our lives?
Daniel: The character in the show, much like myself, has struggled with these questions a great deal and to say that either me, or the show, has any concrete answer to these questions would be dishonest. I think what’s interesting about exploring these topics through the lens of a true story is that we don’t actually need to tell you how we feel about the events we lived through, we can show the audience and allow them to make up their own mind. Whatever conclusions you draw, I think the show emphasises the importance of clear and honest communication, particularly with loved ones, and using that to help us make decisions for the right reasons.
One of the topics that kept coming up again and again is this idea of masculine duty, which can so easily become harmful for young men. Going to any lengths to avoid honest conversations with loved ones, burying our feelings because we’re scared of how they’ll be received, anything to avoid the perception that they’re not good enough, or that they can’t live up to that sense of duty. It was very important for us to show a side of that experience that finds healing through trust and honesty, instead of brash hard headedness.
Jake: Now that we’re gearing up for Prague Fringe, what are you most excited for?
Daniel: I’ve been desperate to come back to Prague ever since I performed Old Bones there four years ago, and to be coming back with a show I’ve worked on with Zoey for her first time is a real treat. Every time I talk about Fringe theatre, and how festivals should be run, I hold up Prague as a model example. The commitment to new work, the artist-led community atmosphere, even something as simple as not flyering on the street, allows work to shine on its own merits and gives creatives the much-needed opportunity to actually get out there and see each other’s work, which simply isn’t possible in other festivals.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
Zoey: I think it would be some kind of mad cocktail made with absinthe and candy floss.
Daniel: I don’t really know drinks. One of those ones that you set on fire before you drink.