Writer and Performer Ira Brand talks about latest show ‘Commitment Phobe’ showing as part of NOW23 at the Yard Theatre
It can often feel that we need to have a clear, decisive view of the world in order to thrive and survive, that strong opinions equate to your standing in the world. In a time where cultural wars are prevalent, not picking a side in itself could be seen as a rebellious act. Drawing on this further with current show Commitment Phobe to show at the Yard Theatre’s NOW23 Festival, writer and performer Ira Brand explores doubt in a world that values certainty. A live, physical and performative experiment, Commitment Phobe is dedicated to observing what it means to not pick a side in today’s inconsistent society. Ahead of the show, taking place from 2nd to 6th May, Ira tells us more about what to expect!
Hi Ira, you’ll be presenting your show Commitment Phobe as part of Yard Theatre’s NOW23 Festival from 2nd-6th May. How are you feeling ahead of the show?
I’m feeling good and also somewhat apprehensive, as we’re two weeks out from the premiere date (the show premieres in Amsterdam before it comes to London). There is still a lot to do, but it also now feels very real – we’re working in the theatre, images and ideas we’ve had are becoming concrete not just imagined, we can try the material we have in different configurations to really feel what it does. This is important because in the end performance, for me, is about ideas but also about feeling and timing and tone and the dynamics with an audience. And I don’t believe you can solve those things only by thinking your way through them. I have to do it and see it and feel it. This is one of my favourite parts of the process.
Commitment Phobe is an exploration of doubt in a world that values certainty. It’s a live, physical and performative experiment dedicated to what it means to not pick a side in today’s inconsistent society. What inspired you to create this work?
It comes from a personal starting point. I (only part jokingly) describe myself as a ‘person of doubt’, by which I mean I’m somebody who is often questioning, unsure, struggling to arrive at definitive positions on things. I’ve always been like that I think, and I realised that part of the reason it causes me difficulty is because there are all kinds of social and cultural values around being sure, confident, clear, decisive. My experience is that people often look at doubt or hesitation or uncertainty as a problem, even abject. And I almost always start making work in this way – from a personal tension, something that is usually in relation to how we live in and are shaped by wider social and political norms. And then I use the form and the space of theatre to explore that thing.
Produced by Frascati Producties, in co-production with wpZimmer, C-Takt, Festival Cement and The Yard Theatre. How have you all worked together to realise the show?
To work with these partners has been great for me, because it has freed me up to be much more present in the artistic making. I have been a self-producing artists most of my career, and when you are working alone and responsible for everything (production, logistics, fundraising, marketing, and on and on) it can feel virtually impossible to make the space for artistic play, for opening up rather than shutting down ideas. I’m sure this is very relatable for every independent artist! Frascati are the project producer, so they start with sitting with me and hearing what I want to make work about, how I imagine it might look and feel, what I want to explore with my practice more generally, and then help me figure out what we need to actually make it happen. And the other partners bring residency space, financial and other resources, creative conversations to push the piece forward, and – crucially – an opportunity to share the work with their audiences.
The Yard Theatre are renowned for supporting new work, having staged their NOW Festival for nearly a decade now. What does it mean to you to form part of their latest edition?
I have a long-standing relationship with The Yard, I performed a really early show of mine at – maybe even the first? – NOW festival in 2013. Since then they have been consistently supportive of and curious about the work I’m making, this will be the fourth show I’ve done at NOW over the last ten years. The programme often includes some artists I’ve sort of grown up with and who I know well, and artists whose work I don’t know at all, and I think that’s kind of a perfect context. A space where things are both familiar and unexpected, and where both ongoing and brand new dialogues can happen between different works. It also means a lot to me to be able to show my work in London, because that’s where my home and my artistic community was for many many years.
What have you learned/taken away from creating the show?
Well, we’re not at the end of the process yet. But I’m noticing many things about how I feel working in collaboration – that I like being with other people and I want to be less alone in my making in the future. And equally that I sometimes find it challenging to hold space for other people’s input and opinions and needs, whilst also trying to make sure I’m still listening to and being true to my own. I’m learning a lot about how to strike that balance.
What can audiences expect from the show?
They can expect a genuine attempt to grapple with these complex topics of doubt and certainty in a way that is funny, moving, playful and strange. And they can watch us try and construct a chain-reaction machine live on stage – a structure that relies on certainty to work, but is in the end also unpredictable and unsure.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
I’d like them to feel like they’ve been given the space to feel their own doubt or their own sureness, and to think about how it is informed by bigger social structures – and by other people. And I’d like them to feel a little more willing to stay in tricky, sometimes uncomfortable but I think also important, states of not knowing.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Commitment Phobe will show from Tuesday 2nd until Saturday 6th May 2023 at the Yard Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…
To find out more about Ira Brand, visit here…
Follow Ira on Twitter: @irabrand