5 minutes with...Femi Martin

20 Jan 2017

Writer and performer Femi Martin gives us the low-down on her first solo theatre show How to Die of a Broken Heart where she shares some of her most embarrassing and painful experiences, but with plenty of laughs along the way.

How and where will the show be staged?

The show will be in the Founders Room on 25th February. I'm lucky to have two shows that day, a matinee performance at 3pm and a performance at 6pm with a post show Q&A.

Where did the idea and inspiration for How to Die of a Broken Heart come from?

I wanted to write a show about breakups, and so I naturally thought about my own. I found my first serious breakup to be quite traumatic, and not long after that I fell ill. Was it the physical manifestation of emotional trauma? Have other people had similar experiences? Is there any scientific evidence on this subject? These were all the initial questions I wanted to explore in the piece. As the work developed through multiple scratch performances, it became apparent that the most effective way to explore these ideas was through the telling of my own story. My director, Yael Shavit, really pushed me to a point where I was able to share all of the embarrassing, painful, and also hilariously funny things that make the story so relatable.

Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?

I think in today's culture we are all expected to get over relationships with ease, and to do so quickly. If Chris Martin can breakup with Gwyneth Paltrow, and only a couple of weeks later be seen with Jennifer Lawrence, then what right do you have to pine for Jackie who you met down your local pub? But we all know that breakups can be very serious business, and I wanted to create a space where people can acknowledge that. By witnessing some of my worst mistakes, maybe you'll be a little easier on yourself! The show is also about the development of my chronic illness, and the message there is one of both tenacity and patience; two things you also need when looking for love.

What’s going to surprise people about this show?

How funny it is. Don't get me wrong, it is very dark in places, but it is also very funny in others. Some of those laughs come because something humorous is happening onstage, other times it is the audience responding to the sheer awkwardness of it all. Whatever it is, people always leave with a smile on their face.

Did the fact that the subject matter is autobiographical make it easier or more challenging to write?

Both. It made it easier because I didn't have to write the story as much as recount it. The challenge came from deciding what to include, as the show covers 10 years of my life. The other challenge was a personal one: how honest did I want to be, how much of myself did I want to reveal? Once I committed to telling the ugly truth, the whole process became easier.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer and performer?

Since I was very small. I've been writing since the age of 7, whether that was songs, poems, or scripts. I love being on stage because of the opportunity to connect with people. I don't view it as performing as much as having a conversation with those in the room.

What was your first public performance?

Although I've been writing and performing since I was a child, I made the decision to pursue my career as a writer and performer in 2011. At the time I was a prolific writer of flash fiction (short stories) and I wanted to break into the spoken word scene. A friend of mine put me in touch with acclaimed writer Courttia Newland, and he kindly invited me to perform at his upcoming book launch. The rest, as they say, is as they say it is.

Who has inspired you creatively?

My influences as a writer are all over the place. My brain works in this funny way whereby I'm often inspired by things outside of the genre I'm creating work in, so I read a lot of non-fiction and I'm a big fan of independent cinema. Atul Gawande's Being Mortal is a book that has really stayed with me, and is finding its way into my writing at the moment. I'm a big fan of a good two-hander, and Andrew Haigh's Weekend, and Michael Haneke's Amour are two of my absolute favourites. Whenever I'm writing dialogue I hold those films in my mind.

What are you working on now?

I am in the very early stages of two projects. One is my second solo theatre show, and the second is my first full length play. The play is called I Am Not There and it follows a young woman called Nia, who discovers she is terminally ill. I am writing the play with support from Talawa Theatre Company, Soho Theatre, and The Carne Trust.

Have you visited Brighton before? What are your impressions of the city?

I have and I love it! It's a beautiful town, but the thing I love most is the energy. Some places just have their own unique vibe, and whenever I'm in Brighton I can't help but feel carefree and excited. I'm sure that will show up in my performance.

How to Die of a Broken Heart is at Brighton Dome on 25 February.