INTERVIEW | JOE SELLMAN-LEAVA TALKS FANBOY
CW: Contains themes around mental health, including suicide ideation
Fringe First award-winner Joe Sellman-Leava (Labels; Monster) is heading out on a national tour with his hit Edinburgh Fringe show Fanboy. This love-hate letter to pop culture and nostalgia explores our past and future selves through epic storytelling, razor-sharp impressions, and theatrical magic.
Joe’s teen obsessions with Nintendo, Star Wars and A Muppets Christmas Carol have continued into his thirties. But he’s started to notice something about the way certain fans are behaving - something unsettling. Fanboy doesn’t just question our love for superheroes: it also considers the fandom of political figures and the protectionism that can build around certain icons, and the language and responses that are then generated online.
This innovative, multi-disciplinary show examines loneliness, mental health, and how men often use pop culture and fandom to form connections and process emotions. Sellman-Leava, with director Yaz Al Shaater (Dead Reckoning, Young Vic; Boris: World King, Trafalgar Studios), asks us to consider the very nature of fandom and what happens to our childhood obsessions over time, how we can sometimes feel safer in our childhood memories, hiding from the world.
I got the chance to talk to Joe to find out more about the show and what was the inspiration for it.
What is Fanboy about?
It’s a story about a 30-year-old Star Wars fan, whose love for nostalgia has him stuck in the past. When he finds an old video tape of his eighth birthday party, he ends up meeting his younger self, and revisiting three key relationships - an uncle, a best friend, and a lost-love – all of which were forged via a different Star Wars trilogy, as he tries to change the course of his future.
What was the inspiration for the show?
I’ve always been a big fan of Nintendo, superheroes, sci fi and fantasy. In particular, Star Wars has played a key role in my life when it comes to friends, family and relationships, so I became very interested in how fandom and pop-culture plays a role in our connection with others. I was also fascinated by the way nostalgia had become such a powerful force both in our media (with endless reboots, remakes and re-releases) and our politics (e.g. ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Make America Great Again’), as well as how culture wars have come to dominate public discourse. It felt like there was a lot of rich territory to mine, if I started with something that was very close to my heart!
The show is described as a “innovative, multi-disciplinary show which examines loneliness, mental health.” Can you expand on this? and how does the show tackle these themes?
We use a lot of technology which – without spoiling too much – lets us stage a solo show, with a twist: three versions of the same character (past, present and future) on stage, all at once. This in turn allows us to explore isolation, connection and mental health in a unique way, because the central character is alone, yet not alone.
What research did you do before starting to write the show?
Some of it was a lot of fun – rewatching/re-reading/replaying many of favourite films, books and games! Then there was a lot of articles and video essays examining those things, the nature of the fandoms surrounding them, and the social and political landscape in which they were made or consumed.
As the writer & performer of the show, what do you find easy and what is the most difficult part?
The most difficult part is making all our tech work! I’m lucky to have made and toured the show with some very clever people in this regard – director Yaz Al-Shaater, designer Dylan Howells, and stage manager Alice Winter, to name just a few – but it’s always a little daunting, because it needs to be very precise. Once it’s up and running, though it feels great. On the easier side, there are the ‘mini-movies’ sections: formed of quick-fire impressions which compress Star Wars or The Muppet Christmas Carol into short, snappy scenes. These took a while to learn, but now they flow nicely and feel very joyful to perform.
What is it that you want audiences to take away?
Hope, joy and love are major themes of the show – so hopefully those! I think first and foremost, I’d love audiences to feel they’ve had a great night out, and to come away with things to think and talk about too.
For anyone who wants to write a show what would be your advice and tips?
Get started with a small, achievable target, like a page of notes and ideas. Then turn that into something bigger – a monologue or short scene. Then think about how you could make a 10-minute version of the show. And keep building, bit by bit, with mini-deadlines, people who you trust to read/watch it, and/or to collaborate with you on it. And use all of that to get to whatever your end-goal might be: a scratch night, a public sharing, a small tour, and Edinburgh run – whatever’s right for you and your project.
What are your hopes for the future for the show?
I’m really pleased with the life it’s had so far. We’ve done Edinburgh, Soho Theatre, Vault Festival and a fair bit of touring. This autumn, we’ve just done Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatres, and next we have Harlow, Basingstoke, Poole, Salford, Leeds, Barnsley, Cambridge and Guildford. We’re hoping there’ll be more dates next year - watch this space!
What is your favourite part of the show?
That’s a tough one, but probably the first time Joe meets his younger self!
Describe the show in one sentence
A love-hate letter to pop-culture and nostalgia, with epic storytelling, razor-sharp impressions, and a dose of theatrical magic!
Writer and performer Joe Sellman-Leava comments: "It’s been such a joy touring Fanboy. I love taking it to new places, and chatting to audiences after the show - particularly when people share their own experiences of fandom - so I can’t wait for our autumn tour dates!"
See Below for Important show INFO.
IMPORTANT SHOW INFO
7th October to 13th December
Running Time 65 mins
Ages 12+ - contains themes around mental health, including suicide ideation
touring from - Thursday 7th October – Wednesday 13th December, 2023,