Discussing the gay dating scene and the good, the bad, and the ugly that it brings, Looking for Fun? is a solo show returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Written by Conor Ó'Cuinn, and with direction by Tazy Harrison-Moore, the production explores the world of queer online dating and hookup culture in a way that will leave you thinking about the ethics behind the darker aspects of the act.
Offering us more information about their piece, Conor and Tazy have done a great job at contributing to the following interview - keep reading to hear from them both.
How would you describe Looking for Fun?
Conor, what inspired you to write it for yourself to star in?
Conor: I remember having a coffee with a teacher from drama school who I admired greatly and she said off the cuff ‘and I’ll see you in a year or two when you’re up in Edinburgh doing a one-man play’. I never really thought about that conversation much until I was thinking about the mainstream queer media I was consuming which predominately felt concerned with the HIV/AIDS crisis specifically in the 80s/90s. I felt that I wasn’t seeing plays or tv shows or films that dealt with the contemporary position of HIV/AIDS and the availability of PrEP and PEP through our health services. I set out to write a piece that balanced an educational element of spreading awareness about PrEP by writing a piece in which the performer would take his daily PrEP pill in the duration of the performance. This was balanced with another discussion I felt was not being discussed in a mainstream context and that is the reality of interacting with people on Grindr. I was having conversations in private about the absurdity of how the app functions and how we as a community have allowed it to control our behaviour and interactions. The play intends to open up conversations about difficult questions we are perhaps not too comfortable about asking ourselves.
Tazy: Looking for Fun? is like dreaming. Bouncing between different parts of your consciousness. Your memories, words, thoughts, traumas, feelings, hopes, desires, beliefs all merge together into one experience which is simultaneously the most complex and simple part of you, and it feels more real than anything you could possibly conceive of, yet underscored by this kind of illusion which you can’t quite grasp.
Tazy, what drew you to directing the production?
Tazy: Receiving a script from your best friend can be a very dangerous game to play… I definitely wasn’t expecting to read what I did when Conor sent Looking for Fun? to me last May and I think my response to him was something along the lines of ‘no offence but I really wasn’t expecting it to be THAT good’. His language is beautiful but what really got me hooked was the nuance of this structure in which the play expands in all directions - it explores at once the external and internal experiences, taking place on planes of dream and ‘reality,’ both progressing in ‘real’ time and fixating upon the character’s imagination and memories and being swallowed up in its own internal experience. It was one of those exhilarating times when you get to see a thousand possibilities playing out in your head as you read the script. There was just no way I could refuse the opportunity to direct such a fascinating and beautifully written play.
Why do you think the topics of queer loneliness and dating struggles needs to be represented in the arts?
Conor: I think queer loneliness and the struggles of online dating need to be represented in the arts as I feel like these apps condition us to rely on them for hookups (which can be amazing experiences of sexual liberation) but I feel as though we know that the apps do not care about us and yet we have so much time for them. Loneliness is the truth of many queer people, resulting from past experiences and we turn to the apps and ‘the scene’ to find our community, and I think it’s ok for us to question whether Grindr is the best place for us to exist. Surely we deserve better.
How is your partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust continuing the conversation about PrEP and HIV/AIDS?
Conor: We are delighted that THT have been so kind to us and provided us with many resources which have been really helpful in the development of the piece. We are fundraising for THT again this Fringe after collecting for them at the King’s Head where they kindly supported our run. We hope that the play continues the work of THT to destigmatise and improve the public consciousness of how we think about HIV/AIDS, as medication such as PrEP means that you are protected from contracting HIV, and that you can be HIV+ and live a long, happy, and healthy life without passing on the virus. As a queer person, I feel compelled to honour the memories of the queer past and all of those who fought so hard (and are still fighting) for our rights today.
How have you managed to capture the depth of the themes presented and get your message across in just 55 minutes?
Tazy: Of course it’s technically a one man show but I think what’s key with gauging the scope here is that SO many characters and versions of self come to life in this hour. Parts of the story are told in voiceover, others in multi-roling duologue scenes, with main character’s internal monologue threaded throughout. This play communicates on several planes - highly stylised physical movement bounces back and forth with naturalistic dialogue, sometimes between actor and audience, sometimes between the several characters Conor effortlessly bounces between in scenes. The point is that yes - our story runs deep and it’s a lot to tell in just under an hour. But although it truly is a one man show, over the hour in which Looking for Fun? is told, Conor brings to life so many voices and stories and characters which work together to capture the depth of the play’s themes.
Conor: The play runs just under an hour and plays at a snappy pace, following Looking4fun as he has many encounters and intimacies with strangers. Even though it is a one-man play, it is not all monologue as we have voiceovers (recorded and operated by our wonderful sound designer Martha Barrow) as well as multi-roling. There are never more than two characters onstage as the play focuses on Looking4fun interacting with sexual health nurses, a barber, a Kiwi guy who he has hooked up with, a boy in a club, men online, and at the end Looking4fun searches for authentic connection within himself.
What research has gone into creating the piece, and are there elements that specifically reflect your own personal experiences?
Conor: The play is deeply personal, not only through relating similar experiences I have had, but personal because I feel compelled to tell this story which ultimately is about connection. Research has taken the shape of reading some psychological studies around dating apps and substance abuse, namely the CAGE test, which is a feature of the play. From a historical perspective, I wanted the play to feel fresh but also not disconnected from the history of queerness and queer theatre. In the play script, a Larry Kramer quote prefaces the opening pages - I feel him with me and feel it is our responsibility as queer theatre makers to honour the loss our community has faced throughout recent history.
Suggesting that audiences question their own thoughts on gay hookup culture, what is particularly memorable about the performance, and what would you like them to take away from the show?
Conor: We have had some amazing conversations about hookups and online dating with audience members who have had quite an emotional response to the piece. It has been cathartic to share these conversations with people and we were inspired to keep going with the play because of our wonderful audiences who have been so supportive of this story. A few people have messaged us thanking us for the play and that they have deleted the app. This really reminds me of the power of theatre and blows my mind a little bit. The play isn’t a straightforward lecture of ‘Grindr is bad. Must delete.’ But rather, I hope Looking for Fun? prompts audiences to question how we use these apps, and are we looking after ourselves in the process - are we looking for fun for the right reasons. We have been generously given some brilliant resources from Galop, the LGBT Anti/violence group who are a great charity to support anyone who has had experiences similar to the events of Looking for Fun?
Tazy: Conor quotes this in the front of the script and I think it says it all really: ‘The only way we'll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn't just sexual’ (Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart). That’s the key thing for me, that’s the place we’re trying to get to through the messages of the play.
How are you feeling about heading up to Edinburgh Fringe with the production?
Conor: I am so so excited about Fringe. Slightly, slightly nervous but just completely and utterly grateful we get to do this play again! We had our premiere at the Fringe last year and it feels great to be returning with a developed script, video projection, fresh sound design, a beautiful lighting design and with the same team we started with. To work with such driven and talented creatives on this project is just the dream. Fringe is going to be the celebration of them for me. Big love to Martha, Freya, Lara, Iz, Amelia, Izzy, Fiona, Clare, and this one (Tazy).
Tazy: It’s amazing. The fact we premiered the show here last August has really given us a chance to reflect on how much the show has changed - it’s crazy to think how different the show looked this time a year ago. But with that being said, we’ve also been able to focus on what’s stayed the same. The parts of this play which have remained, been carried through from the very first rehearsal days. It’s so exciting that we always give this play new life every time we do it (there really is no such thing as a finished script for us), but I’m also really looking forward to seeing those early day elements carried forward as we keep reaching more audiences. And I’m really excited to be performing at Bedlam! It’s a pretty special place to us, as it’s where we rehearsed the show for the first time. Full circle moment.
Who would be the perfect audience member to enjoy this, and if you could choose anyone specific to see the show, who would it be and why?
Conor: Gosh that’s a great question. I hope this isn’t a cop out but I think the perfect audience member for me would be someone whose mind has been opened to a new world perspective, or have had their idea of Grindr put into question.
Tazy: There’s the person who watches the show and it comforts them, they feel seen, heard, not alone. Then there’s the person who watches the show and is shocked, shaken, their perspectives challenged. Those are both such important audience members to me. But also there’s something to be said for remembering that though, yes, this is a play charged with the mission of spreading messages, educating, implementing real change, it is also a story, beautifully told and in that sense I hope that it reaches anyone and everyone who just loves going to the theatre and getting lost in someone else’s world.
How would you describe Looking for Fun? in 5 words each?
Tazy: Passion, Glitter, Shadow, Fight, Fun.
Conor: Fun. Glitter. Stanley. Barbers. Connection.
Big thanks to Conor and Tazy for their brilliant answers, and wishing you all the best for this run of the show and beyond!
Get your tickets to Looking for Fun? at the Edinburgh Fringe here:
Additional thanks to Lara Searle for coordinating this interview.