Performer: Oli Isaac

I am always trying to find new ways to frame conversations that can feel defunct. A new lens. And to be in playful dialogue with societal issues.
This is the back of an artist announcement card for Oli Isaac. The design is styled on an American baseball card. The card has a thin white border. At the top of the card, there is a thick black band with the artist name, Oli, and a description of their role in CRIPtic, as Lead Artist. Below this, there is a black and white portrait photograph of Oli. In it, Oli - a white non-binary person - has bleached hair and is dressed in a light blue jumper that reads ‘kind human.’ Oli stands in the foreground next to a microphone that is hanging from the ceiling. They have a focused expression and their mouth is slightly open. Below the photo, there is a large black and white logo which reads CRIPtic.

Oli Isaac

What made you want to be an artist / performer?

It was always lingering at the back of my head, but I could never decide whether I wanted to be a poet, or film-maker, or novelist, or theatre-maker (and I still don’t). It wasn’t until I got onto development programmes at places like the Roundhouse for poetry, or Soho Theatre for playwriting, that I started to take my work more seriously. I started to realise that there was no moment I would become an artist, or a day where I would wake up with that label. 

My initial creative path was poetry; I fell in love with the language on the page when I first developed my stutter. While it was a struggle to get the words from my head to my mouth, it was much easier and safer to do that by pen. That’s where I first found a home for my creativity. I also remember one of the speech therapy tasks I enjoyed growing up in Dublin was reciting Irish poets in the mirror, again and again and again. 

As a performer, I more or less fell into it. It was genuinely something I couldn’t see happen for the longest time, largely due to my stutter. But, it came with the territory with poetry, and in fringe theatre, well when you’re starting out, you tend to take on all the roles from producing to performing so I sort of slipped into it.

What/who inspires your craft?

Whether it’s my semi-autobiographical performance for CRIPtic, or my quasi-biographical work with Clumsy Bodies, or in writing plays of complete fiction, I am always trying to find new ways to frame conversations that can feel defunct. A new lens. And to be in playful dialogue with societal issues. 

And more than that, it’s the idea of having fun on stage that makes me return to it.

Also, The Sopranos. And Scream.

What’s your vision for the future of theatre and where do you see yourself going after CRIPtic?

CRIPtic is going to be my solo performance debut (and at the Barbican of all places??) – outside of spoken word nights or poetry festivals – so it’s a chance to really open up myself to new ways of working. 

I feel really honoured to have gotten this opportunity. It’s a really special group of people, so I want to carry forward the relationships I’ve struck so far with Jamie, and Mik, and Robert, and ones I am sure to cultivate with the rest of the performers.

After CRIPtic, I’d like to continue developing my performance, seeing the Barbican showcase as a beginning rather than an end to my idea. Developing my performance idea for CRIPtic has already allowed me to see just how so many speech therapy exercises lean into the theatrical. So far, this performance idea has been such a great way to experiment with audiovisual, clowning, and movement in ways I haven’t before, and that’s something I can see myself really building on.  

Also, whilst the showcase will focus on my speech therapy exercises, I think there’s something interesting in seeing how access to language as someone with a stutter ties into accessing language as a non-binary person – that opens up a whole new space to explore.

As for the future of theatre, it still all feels very uncertain at the moment, still coming out of the pandemic. So I’m not going to make any predictions. But I hope we can keep hold of the paradigm of flexibility, patience and access that was exhibited by theatre-makers and producers through the crisis. And more than anything, I want to be in a room with others, to feel that thrill and nervous energy that has been hard to replicate at home.

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