Nineteen-year-old Shaun Nolan is taking the plunge and making his debut at Edinburgh Fringe this year, written, directed and performed by himself.
Paper Dolls is about a young man named Billy and his campaign to become an independent Member of Parliament. He starts his campaign by introducing a unisex changing room into the huge London department store he works at, but finding success doesn’t seem to be easy.
Billy, along with 15 other characters, are all performed by Shaun Nolan. As well as Paper Dolls, Shaun Nolan is also the creator, star and writer of the comedy web series Pickle which in December 2017 was selected as a semi-finalist for the Best Web Series prize at the Los Angeles Cinefest. Alongside his podcast, directing, writing and everything else Shaun’s latest challenge is certainly his biggest yet.
I spoke to Shaun Nolan about his inspiration behind the show and what it’s like to take your debut to Edinburgh. “It was actually a couple of real-life stories that lit the initial spark for my idea,” Shaun said. “. Last year, John Lewis decided to take the bold move of removing “boy” and “girl” labels off of their kid’s clothes and mixing them all together in a bid to encourage children to not let their gender define their identity. This was controversial, but I thought it was a brilliant idea. In my world, I started wearing a mix of male and female clothing in my early teens and loved the amount of expression it gave me, but I was regularly told that I wasn’t allowed to try clothes on in places like Topshop because the changing rooms were for women only.”
Originally Shaun’s piece was about the commentary of all the people who’d visit the changing room and what they had to say about it, but he felt like it wasn’t working. “It took me a while to recognise that this was because it needed another layer to it, so I started to think about why this was happening and giving context to some characters’ outlandish and rude responses,” he said. “I wanted the backdrop to be something a bit scary because humour in weird places has always been fun for me. When I thought about all of that, I realised that the world of politics was the only answer.”
Asking Shaun what his biggest challenge so far has been, he exclaimed: “Definitely learning the lines. It’s one thing learning your lines for a normal play or screenplay because you have other people to bounce off of, but for Paper Dolls, it’s essentially a 60-minute monologue. Learning all of those words is stressing me out to even think about.”
After visiting Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, Shaun fell completely in love. “I just adore the environment and the people it attracts,” he said. “The friendliness is what struck me immediately, but also how accessible and easy it was to mount a show there and give it a try. This is my debut outside of local community theatre, so the Edinburgh Fringe seemed like the best way on Earth to start my professional journey.”
Deciding not to go to university, Shaun has been focusing his energy on his creative talents and pursue his career in theatre. Feeling immensely passionate about his show, through the humour, he really wants it to spark important conversation. “When I did a radio interview about the show recently, it left my Grandma and I discussing the unisex changing room concept the entire ride home: it’s an idea that has endless facets to it. And that’s not the only point of discussion raised in the play,” he said.
“Besides that, I also hope that it leaves the audience with a feeling of empowerment, knowing that they can do anything if they put their mind to it. In the play, Billy starts an entire social movement from scratch because he puts his mind to it. In turn, I staged a production of my own play from nothing after putting my mind to it, too.”
On at Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29) at Edinburgh Festival Fringe from the 4thto 11thof August at 11am, tickets and information for Paper Dolls can be found online here.