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Take It Away, Cheryl - Edinburgh Fringe Interview

The Edinburgh Fringe 2022 is fast approaching with performances beginning on 5th August. Amongst the myriad of productions that you can enjoy is an exciting comedy from rising US comedian Kait Warner. Her new piece Take It Away, Cheryl will run at the festival from the 5th to the 13th of August at Greenside @ Infirmary Street in their Mint Studio space. Tickets are available from the Edinburgh Fringe website.

I was fortunate to have a fascinating discussion with Kait all about the show, from the development to now being ready to hit the Edinburgh stage.

Our discussion began with Kait introducing herself and telling me a little bit more about the show. "I'm from central Pennsylvania and have been living in NYC for the past seven years. I'm an actor, writer, musician, polyglot, haunted house scare actor, Sagittarius, and clown."

"Take it Away, Cheryl is a tragicomic trip through a kissing booth at a county fair in Central Pennsylvania. Cheryl is equipped to deal with anything... a good thing since folks have stopped coming for kisses and started coming to tell her about some pretty heavy problems. When Cheryl makes an error with catastrophic consequences, she must go to hell and back in order to save those she loves once and for all. The show was originally developed and produced in 2019 at NYU Tisch School of the Arts under the mentorship of Obie Award winner Heather Christian."

I asked Kait where the inspiration for the piece came from which she explained "When I first began writing this show, it was messy, instinctual, full of strange edges (and perhaps in some ways it still is), born out of an unnameable feeling, a strange day where I sat down and played a game with myself on the page, writing what I knew to be true, but interrupting myself with an unexpected event every time I got closer to that truth. I wrote it from a pain so deep, a question, something I hadn't named. All I knew is that young men in my small, central Pennsylvanian town kept dying, often from untreated mental illness. Now, there were plenty of shows and movies about that, but I noticed something else that I didn't see addressed much: the women in my town were bending themselves in half trying to hold everyone and everything together."

"It was my hope to write a show that reflected the other side of the experience - the journey taken by the caretakers, the emotional laborers - in order to reflect one aspect of the feminine experience."

The show has been in development since 2019, I asked how time had allowed her to develop the piece. "I wrote the very first draft of this piece based on instinct alone, and much of the project since then was making sure that those images conjured up out of my subconscious brain were being used to effectively and clearly tell the story. We have done a lot of work to identify the logic and world of the show to give it a structure that would make the subconscious world shine."

"For example: playing with an exaggeration of gender, which has been an aspect of the show since its conception, felt really important to do with care and intentionality. Both with the male characters of this show, who have both naturalistic and clowning elements to them, and with Cheryl herself, who has been conditioned to become this hyper-sensitive, feminine, codependent being. We wanted to use her gender to reveal that her femininity is a power, but it also has been co-opted by people and external forces who would use that power in their own interest. So we wanted to do that carefully, while preserving moments of her genuine vulnerability and power."

The show was originally intended to be performed at the 2020 Fringe but naturally, the global pandemic put a halt to those plans, Kait explained "When the pandemic first hit the States, we were rehearsing the show with a 5-person cast with the intention of bringing it to the 2020 Fringe. The creative team, and that original cast, which included the enormously talented Ryan Sheehan, Madison Mayer, Margaret Leisenheimer, and Addie Guidry, then agreed to continue to meet and workshop the piece to help it become what it is today. Certifiable genius Danica Jensen, who I am so fortunate to call my collaborator and the director of this piece, really helped us realize that that time could be such a gift, even if it didn't necessarily feel like one at the time. The story became so much more refined and intentional thanks to that process and everyone's patient, curious guidance. And I think it meant a lot to everyone to have a reason to continue meeting and flexing our creativity. It certainly meant a lot to me to have such a wildly talented support system to help me continue to work on my writing during a really difficult time."

The show is quite a personable show to Kait, something she explained as I asked her did any of her own personal experiences come into the writing. "Very much so; as a teenager, someone I was dating developed a fairly serious anxiety disorder. At the time, I was the only person in his support system, and dealing with my own mental health challenges, and it made for a messy cocktail of codependency. It's taken time to come into a place where I could get curious about that experience, and notice that several other people had been through similar experiences, especially in my small hometown where mental health resources are scarce - I know folks on a 2 year waitlist for therapy - and start exploring that heaviness in a way that felt playful, funny, and enjoyable for myself, my team, and the audience."

Though a very personable show to Kait she explained that it was always written as a character "Always, always in the character. I think with subjects that feel closer to home, having a character in place is important to protect the mental health and encourage (not always successfully) a tiny degree of whatever objectivity is possible in the writer/performer. Although Cheryl lives inside me, it felt imperative to keep her as a part of me I could pop into during rehearsal and out of when the day was done."

Cheryl in the piece is a somewhat agony-aunt figure, a confidant for strangers. I asked Kait if helping those around her is something she thrives in and if she is herself reflected in the character."Cheryl is an aspect of myself that I dissected, personified, and blew up to epic proportions. She's feminine, flitty, flirtatious, enmeshed, and deeply wounded. That part of me came out of the pressure I felt inside of my relationships with others, oftentimes men, who expected me to act as a therapist figure for them. I think during the time in my life where I thought that I had to perform this kind of work, I felt I was thriving, because I thought I was helping. I now see that wasn't the case; it was hurting me, and it was also hurting others. Through creating this show I believe I have developed a healthier relationship to helping others, which is something I no longer do out of obligation, but out of abundance, when I have the capacity to give and others have the capacity to receive. I hope the show gives space to others to engage with their own relationships to giving and receiving help."

Our talk turned to mental health and the choices and mistakes that Cheryl may make along the way and how important it was to have an open conversation about mental wellbeing. "Cheryl's mistakes are made in part because there is no external support structure in place for those suffering from mental health struggles, or any sort of education surrounding mental health issues. In the States, there is still a fairly prominent attitude that mental health struggles point to a deficiency inside the individual, that they just can't hack it or something. To identify the intersectional and complicated web of ingredients that can exacerbate mental health struggles is to open up the basic systems we live under to some much-needed criticism, and that can be quite a revolutionary act. The more we peel back a mindset of judgment and begin to educate and converse with one another, the more we see that systems that maintain a status quo of poverty, discrimination, unemployment, a lack of access to healthcare, growing inequality, and so many other factors are major contributors to this particular issue. It is so much bigger and so much more structural than I think we have collectively realized at this point. The more we can have those conversations with people in positions of power the more we can enact tangible, structural change.

In the context of the show, it's been incredibly healing to converse and connect more intimately and openly with people about their experiences with mental health. One thing Cheryl talks about in the show is a concept called the Great Ache - the idea that sometimes something can be so painful that it stays with you over a long period of time. Her solution to the ache is not to try to make it go away, but to accept it, and to see and be seen in that aching. So many of the conversations I have had after the show with people I know very well and with strangers alike have, in some small way, allowed us to see and be seen by each other, and heal that ache just a little bit. I think that is what we have the capacity to do for and with each other by speaking more openly about mental health.

The show sees Kait making her Edinburgh Fringe debut something that hugely excites her "Jesus. I don't even know how to answer this without sounding like a cliche, but in addition to waiting two years to bring this show, I've also been dreaming of returning to the Fringe ever since I first came here when I was seventeen, nearly eight years ago. A lot. A LOT. A lot."

I posed to Kait what advice she'd go back and give her younger self. "I'd tell her that it is okay to not know how to help. I'd let her know that others' feelings are not her responsibility, and that she is worth more than her ability to emotionally support people. I'd ask her, "What do you need?" And I'd tell her to buckle up for a really exciting Fringe Festival!"

I asked Kait a question I ask in all my interviews, what does theatre mean to you. I adored her response "Theatre - to me! And I strongly hope it means something different to every individual - is an exercise in empathy, imagination, and community. It is a collective meditation externalized and communally experienced, and hopefully, it's f*cking fun... because if not, what's the point of a play, hmm?

Our chat ended on why should someone come and see Take It Away, Cheryl? "When I first mounted the show in its early stages of development, women of all ages came up to me to express that they saw themselves in Cheryl. Whether they were matriarchs who had been caring for their families for years and years, sex workers who had had so many secrets whispered to them late at night, or young women facing the confusing and daunting reality of the emotional labor expected of them by their partners, they all had a similar gut feeling of recognition, both during her moments of hilarity and moments of pain. Through this process, I have realized that everyone can recognize this character and has their own story about her. So, come to hear the story, and come to tell me yours."

Take It Away, Cheryl plays at Greenside @ Infirmary Street in their Mint Studio space from the 5th to the 13th of August 2022. Tickets are available from You can follow the show on both Instagram and Twitter or through the official website where you can purchase merchandise. 

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