Writer and Director’s Note: Sightline Theatre Company’s ‘Bi Panic’ by Ben Willows

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Writer’s Note:

By — Writer and Cast: playing ‘Bobby’

First thing’s first — Bobby is not me. (Most of) the things that happen to him in this play have never happened to me.

When writing this play, I never wanted it to be autobiographical. Instead, I wanted to articulate the various idiosyncrasies and anxieties of the bisexual man. Rather than retelling anecdotes from my own life, I wanted to use Bobby’s voice to interrogate concepts of sexuality and gender roles. Bobby is not me — but he is a vehicle to voice the trappings of the bisexual life. There are so few truthful portrayals of bisexual people in fiction, and even fewer bisexual men. This play aims to correct that.

Bi Panic had to be a one-person play. As the play discusses in more detail, there is a fascinating gender divide within one-person plays, and I wanted to write one where the main character wasn’t an awful person. Another challenge of one-person plays is that, by and large, they are temporally distanced from their subject; because there are no other characters to interact with, these plays often become recounting of past events, one character telling you a story that has already happened. In writing this play, I wanted to set myself the challenge of engaging with the present, the here and now.

Most of all, I wanted to write something fun! Don’t let the gender discussion put you off. The play is really funny, and there’s one visual gag in particular that I can’t wait for audiences to see. We deal with serious topics, but I wanted to display the light as well. Life is never all darkness or all light, but an odd little mix of both.

When I wrote the script, I was unsure if I should play the role, but I am grateful to all who pushed me to take on the challenge. It has been a terrifying process, but the process of building a character up from nothing has never been more engaging than this project, and I am indebted to my incredible production team. Thanks also to those who gave feedback on drafts, especially Em Oliver.

Stay bisexual. Stay panicky.

Director’s Note:

By – Director

As you can imagine, directing in a play written by Ben Willows, in Ben Willows’ last ever DST production, was a little daunting. Also, accepting my first-ever director position for a play I hadn’t read yet was equally nail-biting. To my relief, however, Bi Panic is incredible… and Ben is alright. All jokes aside, my vision for this play was raw naturalism. Bi Panic delves into the struggles of individualisation and sexual identity; gender, growing older, relationships, making mistakes, and holding yourself accountable. These themes require organic authenticity to truly impact the audience and I have attempted to achieve this through implementing decontextualization strategies, which Ben has taken on wonderfully. 

Throughout the production process, what has been important to me is that ‘Bobby’ is not Ben, yet he is still human with impulses, reactions, and imperfections. The approach of ‘less is more’ was critical to achieving this naturalistic journey and making Bobby’s self-discovery and reflection hit home for the audience. My fundamental ‘want’ for this play has simply been for the audience to resonate with Bobby. I want you to feel something when you are sitting watching the peaks and troughs of Bobby’s story, even if it’s just agreeing that David Bowie is hot.

The script itself is brilliant. It’s real, it’s funny and has just enough flair. There are a couple of rather extravagant moments I should say that I hope you’re ready for. Ultimately, the script has made my job incredibly easy. Most moments speak for themselves, and all that is to be done is let the words land.

My assistant directors, and have been crucial components of this play. Both of them beautifully thrive in areas where I struggle as a director. They have been enthusiastic blocking and movement specialists, enabling me to truly deep dive into Bobby’s emotional journey. Both them and Ben have just been super.

Thank you to Sightline and, of course, Ben for this delightfully terrifying opportunity. 

Try not to panic xx

Image credit: Sightline Theatre Company

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