The Edinburgh University Footlights are bringing their adaptation of the stage musical American Idiot to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, following their sell-out run in 2017. The Student caught up with one of the musical’s stars, Elliott, who was more than happy to lay down his skateboard for a bit to answer our questions about a musical that was first performed back in December 2009.
Tell us more about your character. On a scale of Ed Sheeran (lowest) to S Club 7 (highest), how early-2000s is he?
I play Declan, your classic 2000s stoner skateboarder. Think Tony Hawk with no chance of success. He is the kind of guy who uses an exterior of showmanship and a (mostly forced) air of relaxation to try and fit in with the crowd he identifies with. However, the crowd Declan identifies with, in this sense, is one defined by punk ideology, a movement all about independence of person and expression. Trying to fit in is sort of paradoxical in this environment so, alongside the rest of the characters in the musical, Declan becomes more and more disenfranchised and hopeless. So in summary, I’d rate him a Blink-182.
How long have you been working on this?
The production has been worked on by […] the cast since mid-April, and at least a month before that by our production team as they decided on the creative vision, assigned parts, did auditions and so on.
What made you want to get involved?
I wanted to get involved initially because of the style of the musical. Simply put, it’s unlike any other. First off, its primary influence, both aesthetically and musically, is punk, which immediately sets it apart from most musicals. This influence completely shakes up the conventions and story-telling techniques most musicals employ, such as when characters break out into song, or how they sing. Also, punk offers very powerful ways to demonstrate and examine different forms of anger, energy, suffering, and adolescence. These are themes that are touched upon in theatre by the swelling of the brass section, but I liked the idea of being in a musical which conveys these feelings in the way the modern music industry has provided, through pounding drums and guitar, and so examining anger and frustration with an altogether different energy.
Had you seen the show on stage anywhere beforehand?
I’ve never seen the show before, unfortunately it’s not that commonly performed. The major thing I took away from the script the first time I read [it was] the minimalism of the script. The musical has little dialogue, is sung through almost completely and, even during dialogue, is never without a beat in the background. Furthermore, there are no blackouts in the entire play. This gives the musical a sense of drive, energy, and stress I’ve never seen before in a musical and really works thematically.
I understand you had a very interesting way of getting into character? Tell us more about that.
Our director, Maddie [Madeline Flint], has had us doing a lot of weird exercises throughout the production to try and ground the characters we’re playing. Throughout June there was a break from rehearsing, but as a replacement we had to do a lot of exercise and a short film about each of our characters. The prompt was a vlog from the character you were playing about one or two minutes long, but with a lot of flexibility. We had some really fantastic and interesting submissions; one which turned the whole thing into something like an interview, and one which followed the apathy of a character as he burns time in his room. I decided to do a short film chronicling Declan’s para. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without someone to play an unnerving corporate man (thanks James).
How different is it from productions that Footlights has done in the past?
Very. This is wholly unlike any theatrical productions we’ve done in my memory. In addition to the Showchoir group which curates a collection of theatrical covers of songs, before this the society has produced Fame, Urinetown, and Sister Act. All of these other musicals are unique from one another, but to illustrate my earlier points, it’s helpful to say each of them are more alike in tone, structure, and technique than any compared to American Idiot. American Idiot is much more metaphorical and abstract in its storytelling.
What has your experience with Footlights been like? What have you got out of it?
I joined Footlights at the beginning of my second year of university, and have now spent about two and a half years with the society. I’ve found that the society is, simply put, competent. Everyone in the society is committed to putting on the productions and there’s a really impressive amount of collective knowledge particularly in the production teams of how to put on a great show. Personally, I’ve got a lot out of it. Aside from many of my good friends, I’ve found the opportunity for performance really helps you to become more open and confident as a person. Furthermore, huge collaborative exercises such as the ones Footlights produce create this nice connection between you and the thing you are performing, so you can’t help but love it. I liked Green Day before this production. I love Green Day now.
What was your reaction when you found out that another theatre company is also performing American Idiot at the Fringe?
I was pretty surprised given I didn’t think the musical is all that often performed, but I’m interested. A lot of the story in the musical is told through staging and movement, which can vary wildly between productions, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the production is very different from our own.
What is it like returning to the Fringe after Footlights’ show in 2017 sold out? Did you feel like the pressure was on?
It’s been a bit of a dream to perform at the Fringe throughout my university experience in Edinburgh, so the fact that I’m able to perform in a group which managed not only a show but a sell-out show in past Fringe years is amazing. I actually don’t feel too pressured at this point, [because] the society clearly knows what it is doing. Rehearsals have been intensive, but as a result I feel excited – not anxious – about performing.
Without giving too much away, what can the audience expect from your show?
Insane and relentless amounts of energy. As I’ve said already, this musical does not stop at all during its hour and a half runtime. It’s a fully formed ride which has its emotional ups and downs, but never loses intensity. Also, completely different storytelling and musical technique to what you’ve seen before. The punk flavour doesn’t stop at the top layers of what song we sing. It seeps down all through the musical.
In three words, how would you NOT describe your show?
Camp. Wholesome. Relaxing.
C Venues – C (Venue 34)
Image: Edinburgh University Footlights