In the first of a series of interviews with the Descent company, our producer Stephanie talks about the best parts of her job, getting into theatre and why new writing is important.
Tell us about your role in Descent.
I am one of the founding members and as I’m an actor I started off performing in a number of the nights, and then I just kind of fell in to the producer role, which has been an interesting experience to have more responsibility.
What does Descent mean to you?
It is a chance to feel creative, and to be creative. I love acting and although that is my main focus, as an actor you are normally the last piece in the puzzle of a creative team. But as a producer of theatre, you feel a different kind of responsibility, as you are the one putting all the pieces together which is a pretty amazing thing to do. I have always been an organised, creative person, and I love being involved in theatre whether performing or producing.
Descent creates opportunities for lots of people old and new to the industry; actors, writers, directors. Experiences like this are a great way of meeting similar minded people, with the potential of future collaboration, also as commitment is minimal in terms of time, it is easy to be involved without it affecting the day jobs that us theatre types have to do to pay the bills.
Why is new writing important in theatre today?
New writing often causes more discussion and debate whether or not the writing is good, because the issues will usually be more current. The successful writers of today are going to be the Shakespeares, Chekhovs, Shaws, Brechts, of the future. Generations of people after us will talk about these writers and what influenced them in our society, politically and socially. So I think it is really important that aspiring writers are given a platform to explore and discover, and are encouraged to write, watch and assess their own writing, enabling them to draw out the best of their ability. Descent is the perfect opportunity to do that and it’s nice to think we may have a small part in nurturing the skills of these writers.
What has been your Descent highlight so far?
Probably when we did the Vault Festival in February, it was hard work and very stressful, but we produced 2 amazing events in one weekend, and it was really exciting to organise our first promenade Descent. My acting highlight was playing a quirky character Emma (pictured) who, on a blind date, reveals that she accidentally poisoned and killed her last date. She was a little crazy, which was definitely fun to play.
What have you been up to outside of Descent recently?
I recently got back from New York having spent the summer studying Chekhov at the Stella Adler. I jumped straight into a piece of new writing called Airport at the Broadway Theatre in Barking. Now I’m auditioning like mad trying to put my refreshed skills to use, and I am taking part in a showcase with Reduced Circumstances Theatre Company at the end of November.
How did you get into theatre?
I used to take dancing classes when younger, so I was always used to performing from a young age. At my dance school there was a weekly drama class that I joined, and it was during one of these classes I realised I really enjoyed acting too; I knew from that point I wanted to be on stage. I still enjoy singing and dancing, but my focus is now on straight acting.
What is your favourite new play you’ve seen?
When in New York I saw a production of Nina Raine’s play Tribes at the Barrow Street Theatre. It is a hugely successful play that was originally staged at the Royal Court in 2010. Tribes is about a family who have a child who is deaf from birth, but they choose to not use sign language to communicate as they don’t want him to feel ‘different’ to his fully hearing brother and sister. As he gets older he meets a girl who has a condition that will leave her deaf; she already uses sign language as both of her parents from whom she inherited the condition, are also deaf. The plays explores their growing relationship and the tensions it causes between the boy and his family. It’s a subject that isn’t explored much, so was very interesting to see; a really engaging and moving piece, that questions the choices that parents make, even if they have their children’s best interests at heart.
Who are your theatre role models?
Definitely Mark Rylance, who is consistently inspiring in everything he does, and like me is not just an actor, he too is a creator of theatre. Recently I am a big fan of Mike Bartlett; his work is exciting and relevant, and and his writing just seems to translate so well onto the stage. He’s a playwright that seems to envisage the play as a whole, rather than focusing solely on the characters and their words. Actors I have enjoyed watching onstage over the past few years have been Anne-Marie Duff, her performance in Saint Joan a few years ago at the National was amazing. I also really like Fiona Shaw, Zoe Wanamaker and most recently I loved Sheridan Smith’s performance in Hedda Gabler. She is an inspiration with her varied career, definitely someone I admire.
If you could play any character who would it be and why?
Hmmm, that is a tricky one. Most recently after doing my Chekhov course, I most enjoyed working on Natasha from Three Sisters, a very interesting role, so right now probably her.
What’s your favourite line from a play?
I would probably have to re-read all the plays I have seen to find my favourite, but the one that has stayed with me from recent productions is from 13 (Mike Bartlett) “When it comes to politics, there is no right decision, only the best decision” So true, we give politicians a tough time, and sometimes rightly so, but it is a tough job. I don’t envy them one bit.