Feeling less alone: an interview with Erin Daley

For Decent Company October: fear, Erin Daley is performing a piece documenting a plethora of personal fears from childhood through to the present day. Erin sat down with Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman to talk about some of those fears, ghost hunting TV shows, and what makes for compelling theatre.

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JOSH BOERMAN: This is a very auspicious debut for you. After having directed a really fun show in August, you’re doing one this time around. So tell me about what you’re doin’.

ERIN DALEY: Well, when I saw June’s show, I was really drawn to what you guys were doing and how honest and open everybody was. And I feel so often you see solo performance and it’s just unbearable. And the fact that what you’ve curated and how you’ve pushed the evening is actually really engaging and entertaining and moving was really remarkable.

And then I like talking about myself a lot, so I said, “Why don’t I do that for you?”

JB: I think we all like talking about ourselves a lot, yeah. And the piece that you’re doing is a bit more vulnerable and a bit more honest.

ED: It is vulnerable and honest. But hopefully people will “like” that. I’m doing a thumbs up for you all reading at home.

JB: So tell me a little bit about, you know, what you’re doing, what made you decide to choose this particular format.

ED: So I’m doing a list of things I’ve been afraid of, and I’m 30 years old, and so that feels like a big thing. And then 30 years rhymes with fear, and so I’m like, “Well, that’s something.” And so I did 30 years of fears, and I’m tracking through one fear for each year of my life.

And it’s interesting, because there’s some things when you’re younger that totally terrify you, and you think you’ll be scared of it for the rest of your life, and literally change how you live your life. And then you don’t feel that anymore. And I thought that’s really interesting. Like, what happens do those? Which fears do you carry with you? What fears do you get over? 

JB: Right. Well, that was what I found kind of interesting about when we had the work in progress presentation a couple days ago, how there were some fears that when you talked about them it was very funny; it was very silly. It was like, “Ahaha, I was a kid.” And then there were other things that still live with you and still haunt you in a way, and they probably always will.

ED: Right. Those core fears that actually affect who you are as a person.

JB: Right. So what are the fears that still get at you, do you feel like?

ED: I’m very afraid of dying. I go through periods where I had really bad panic attacks, where I can’t fall asleep. And I had to, like, slap myself to get myself out of it. So that. And then I think there’s something about deception, like self-deception, that I’m constantly afraid of. Of, like, how people perceive me versus how I perceive myself.

JB: So you feel like in some way you are lying to yourself?

ED: I don’t know. How you live as yourself is, like, 50% of your life. And how you view other people is 50% of your life. You know, it’s kind of insane to me— I only know other people by observing them, by being from the outside. I only know myself by being from the inside. And it’s really hard to do either.

So it’s, like, I never know how I’m perceived. I never know if people are like, “Oh wait, she’s doing that? Oh, she’s being so desperate. Oh, she’s being too bossy. She’s actually stupider than she thinks she is. She’s not as good as she thinks she is.” So that feels like it’s been a continuing theme in my life, of not ever knowing. Of not ever trusting myself that I’m really good. Which is why I really respond when people give me honest, critical feedback.

JB: I think a lot of people, I think really everybody, experiences that to a degree. Because we cannot step outside of ourselves. I think everybody thinks, to a degree, oh, the way that my mind processes things—

ED: Is the only way.

JB: —is the only way. And it’s probably the way other people do it. And it’s so difficult to conceive of a different way of processing information that you receive.

ED: And also, I see people all the time who are so deluded. And maybe it’s working in the theatre, but, like, seeing people who think they’re doing a great job but aren’t. And I just don’t wanna be one of those people.

JB: Well, yeah, because there’s nothing more painful to watch and to experience than somebody thinking that they’re nailing it when in fact they are doing a completely incompetent job.

ED: Yeah.

JB: And I think that deep down that’s definitely a fear that I’ve experienced as well. “Am I just fooling myself into thinking that what I’m doing is worthwhile?”

ED: Right. But then also, there’s that whole philosophy where it’s like, “Fake it till you make it,” or like, “Have confidence in yourself, and everything else will follow,” which I think at the end of the day is kinda bullshit.

JB: Well, especially because not everybody’s competent. (laughs)

ED: Yeah. (laughs)

JB: What’s interesting too, though, is one thing I noticed in the work in progress presentation, was a lot of discussion about fear versus anxiety, and how are they similar, how are they different. Do you develop anxieties because of what you’re afraid of or vice versa? Like, are the two interlinked? Are they essentially the same thing?

ED: Well, it feels like fear is the source and anxiety’s the symptom, or something. Fear feels, the word feels more, like, metaphysical, more philosophical, more existential than anxiety. Anxiety feels more concrete, you know? It’s like, “Oh, I’m having a physical reaction to anxiety.”

JB: But I feel like sometimes you can have a physical reaction to fear as well, right?

ED: Yeah.

JB: I mean, if you have something that’s extremely fucking scary that happens to you—

ED: Do you have a physical reaction to fear?

JB: Yeah. I mean, it’s the thing of feeling like you’re about to go over a ledge, and everything in you stands up on end, and you feel your mortality in that moment.

ED: Yeah. It’s like adrenaline, right? It’s— definitely part of it’s adrenaline. Everything feels more awake. Or I get pinpricks a lot when I’m scared.

JB: And there can be something exhilarating about that, too, right?

ED: Yeah.

JB: I mean, some people seek it out actively, because they love that feeling.

ED: Which is why horror movies are so exciting. And people jumping out of planes, which I don’t get. Seems like a dumb way to spend a lot of money and maybe die.

JB: Are you into horror movies?

ED: Yeah. I like horror movies. I especially like all those ghost hunting shows, because they actually help me fall asleep. Because they’re not that scary. Usually it’s a bunch of 40-year-old dudes in a dark room going, “Did you hear that? Get the cam over there. Oh yeah. Oh yeah.”

JB: But there’s something in you that wants to experience the sensation of just, like, being afraid.

ED: Being afraid in a safe way.

JB: Sure. But that’s what I’m interested in. We think of fear, I think, so often as such a negative thing. Why is it that in a safe context we like to seek fear out, we like to be thrilled? You know, we go on rollercoasters. We watch horror movies. Stuff like that.

ED: Well, it’s literally a chemical high. You get high off of it. Your body sends you a bunch of adrenaline and you feel high, and then you come down from it. Then your body sends out another set of chemicals to calm you down. So we’re just, you know—

JB: All-natural uppers and downers.

ED: Exactly. We’re just, like, doin’ lines. But I wonder if it’s something evolutionary. We need to feel— I think it’s good for us to feel scared. Like, in the same way we need to exercise.

JB: To get in touch with, like, your animal self or whatever.

ED: Yeah. The same thing, like, sometimes you’re like, “Oh, I just need a good cry.”

JB: Right. Yeah, because fear can be cathartic too. Like, if you get a really good scare, that can actually clear out a lot of anxieties.

ED: Exactly, yeah. You’re like, “Oh God. I was stressed out before, but I’m okay now.”

JB: Do you feel at all fearful or apprehensive about simply doing this?

ED: Oh yeah, totally.

JB: Because you’re not usually up on stage.

ED: Yeah, totally. Totally.

JB: Tell me more. (laughs)

ED: I hate acting. I hate acting, and I hate writing. Well, I don’t hate writing. I like (whiny voice) writing in my journal and expressing my feelings. But I did this artist residency where I wrote a play last summer, and I did it, and I got some good words, I got some good stuff out. And people liked it, it ended up being good.

But the actual process of writing something that people would see and watch was just so painful to me. I hated it. And I don’t have that kind of desire in me to continue it. Some people do. Like, great. Then you should be a playwright. You should be a writer. Whatever. I do it for fun. I don’t have that desire in me to get better at it.

JB: So why are you doing this?

ED: I dunno, I like talking about myself. (Josh laughs) Well, I’m not performing. I’m just, like, sharing. And I think— I dunno. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I think it sounds cool. I have no idea why I’m doing it.

JB: I mean, there’s a lot to be said for just putting yourself out there, being emotionally honest, and sort of having a cathartic time up on stage.

ED: Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m trying to exorcise my own self. My own emotional— exorcise myself emotionally.

JB: One thing that A.J. Ditty said that I really like, he says every show is a small exorcism.

ED: Yeah.

JB: Because you’re taking some of those things that maybe you don’t want to confront and you’re confronting them anyway. If you’re doing it right. If you’re doing it wrong, it ends up being that really horrible—

ED: Horrible play.

JB: Like, we’ve all seen bad solo shows, right?

ED: Yeah. But I think that why I do theatre and why the kinda theatre that I wanna make is theatre that makes people feel less alone. And I was talking to David Monteagudo about this, and talking about what kind of theatre, like, for people who make theatre. Like, “Oh, I wanna talk about social issues,” or “I wanna talk about love,” or “I wanna talk about psychology.”

I think I just want to do theatre to make people feel less alone. And so I think what you’ve been doing really well, and what I hope I can do in this piece, is be so honest and open that someone’s like, “Oh, God, yeah, yeah, yeah.” ‘Cause fears aren’t something you really talk about. So if I can say something embarrassing that I’m afraid of, or really be vulnerable, and someone else responds to that, I think that’s effective.

JB: And I think that is the reason that a lot of people go to the theatre as well, is to have the opportunity to have emotionally cathartic experiences that maybe society doesn’t allow, in a way, you know? Because there’s no real place in the way that our society is structured to just sit there and be like, “Okay, random people, I’m gonna talk to you about what I’m afraid of, and you have to listen to me.” There’s nowhere to do that.

ED: Yeah. And in my life as a theatre maker on the business side of theatre, they did this survey on why people go to the theatre, why people leave the house. And with people now, it’s like, yeah, we’re not really competing against Netflix or YouTube or whatever. When people leave the house, whether it’s to go to a restaurant or a museum or a theatre piece or whatever, a concert, they leave the house because they want to have a meaningful experience.

You can be entertained. We’re not in the entertainment business anymore. We’re in the business of making meaning. And so what’s great about theatre is that we kinda have the market cornered on meaningful experiences, you know? Maybe it’s because I’m biased, but we can certainly do a better job of giving meaning than a restaurant dinner, you know?

Although it’s harder to get people out of the house, it’s been that way since the ’30s. When they do get out of the house, we have a really good opportunity to give them what they’re looking for.

JB: And I think that’s a good point, too, because like you said, with Netflix now and stuff like that, the whole idea of an on-demand society, where whatever it is that you want to consume will just come to you, to make the active choice to go out and join other people?

ED: You have to work for it.

JB: Yeah. It’s an active thing.

ED: And the more you work for it, the more you value it. So that’s good, right?

JB: I think so.

ED: Like, that’s why they make everyone go through boot camp. Because the harder you work for it, the more you wanna do it.

JB: Unless you can’t sweat it. And then you crack under pressure.

ED: You’re out. You’re done.

JB: See ya, pal. (laughs)

ED: Get outta here, private.

To purchase tickets to Decent Company October: fear, click here.

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