“‘Science’, cats, Rick Astley and wank jokes,” is Sophia Del Pizzo’s concise and intriguing summary of her one-woman show, Assmonkey: In Conversation, which has its first full preview at the Rosemary Branch on 31st March.
Expanding a little, she continues, “The show is about anxiety and mental health, and what I and a lot of other people do to self help. I wanted to do this show to encourage people to talk about it more. I perform methods of coping strategies I’ve learnt over the years, which I think other people could hopefully use with their own problems. I wanted to pass on things I’ve learnt. Share the knowledge and confidence in speaking out.
“What I’d like audiences to take away is that we need to start talking more and to encourage people, especially men, to open up more. But also to take away the core message of the show, which has really helped me. Mysterious I know, but come and see the show. Smooth…”
But surely performing for an audience – especially solo – must be one of the most nerve-wracking things you can do. How does Sophia overcome her anxiety about going on stage? “I don’t,” she answers simply. “I really don’t; I’m terrified, as it’ll be its first full public showing. People might hate it, but at least I would have tried. Anxiety is fear and this is something I need to overcome. The good thing is I am able to use my nerves and fears, as some of the characters in the piece require it. I’ve never done anything like this before, but the nerves are all part of the show and I just have to allow that. For better or worse.”
Sophia had the idea for Assmonkey: In Conversation about a year ago. “I’ve been writing it for about six months and only this year started to preview it. I’ve never written a show before, so this preview will be the first time it’s been performed in full. Scary, but I guess everyone has to have their first show, right? I started by noting conversations I had in therapy and really looking at what I do to manage anxiety and how I’ve gone wrong in the past. I’ve thought of ways to bring character work and humour into it because I still want people to be entertained, even though it’s a difficult subject. I improvise a lot of the characters and write from there.”
Though she’s never performed the full show before, Sophia did preview an excerpt at last month’s HerStory festival at Theatre N16, and received some great feedback. “It’s been useful to realise different audiences get it and some don’t, which really has amped up the fear factor,” she explains. “My first preview at the HerStory festival was glorious. I was touched by the comments and people seemed to laugh a lot – I hope all shows are like that, it was great to know the tone of the show can work. I’m performing a snippet at the awesome Hatch night too, so I will be loaded with useful feedback. What is really nice is that people who’ve seen bits have thanked me for being so honest, which is reassuring because at times it can feel very self-indulgent making people sit down and listen to your story. Typical actor.”
Sophia’s a member of the Soho Theatre Writers Lab, a course that offers writers the chance to develop and refine their voice, with support, motivation and guidance from the course leaders and members of Soho Theatre’s Artistic Team. “Shout out to the Soho massive,” says Sophia. “I applied online with some short comedy sketches I’d written and I’m loving the course, I’d say it’s definitely been one of the reasons I’m doing this show. The support and encouragement from the staff and from peers is so inspiring, and it’s meant I’ve gone to see a lot more theatre and talked ideas with my peers, to a point where my confidence as a writer and performer has grown enough to prompt me to do this show. But it’s also changed how I look at forming a journey and a story. I have nothing but good things to say about Writers Lab and the resources to new writers. The Soho Theatre also do amazing talks and workshops that are open to everyone.”
For anyone who’s suffering with anxiety, Sophia has a little (spoiler-free) advice: “Without giving my show away, I’d say everything I explain, in roundabout ways relates back to meditation and asking for help. Charities like SANE have great resources and of course organisations like this have websites packed with information. But I think the most important thing is to make sure you surround yourself with supportive people if possible. Try therapy, if you haven’t. Also try looking at anxiety not as something bad, but maybe as something you just need to understand.”
Assmonkey: In Conversation previews at the Rosemary Branch Theatre on 31st March.