All three members of the Descent Company are involved artistically in Now We Are Three – Steph is acting in Blind Date, Faye is directing Penpals and Keziah wrote Thornaby. So in the run up to the show, we’ll each be writing about what it’s like returning to these plays and working as Descent, three years on.
Steph on relating to your character and audience reaction
Although I am firstly an actor, I generally tend not to act in Descent pieces anymore and focus more on the producing side. But when I first read Blind Date by Ziella Bryars, I just knew that I wanted to perform it. It is a fantastic piece of writing, and although I was terrified at the thought of performing a 10-15 minute monologue, I was definitely up for the challenge. I had not long since watched Cillian Murphy in Misterman and one man show of 90 minutes, which helped me to realise that 15 minutes is really not that long.
I can actually relate to the character, Emma, in some way; that might sound concerning to those who see the performance and discover the twist, without giving too much away. But I do think I can understand where she is coming from. As an actor you have to have empathy with your character, you have to ‘get’ them, otherwise there isn’t any truth. This does sometimes mean allowing yourself to go to a place that you wouldn’t dream of in real life.
Georgia, the director, and I had a great many chats about Emma, and what her life might have been like before that date; it was a really great process, and such an interesting journey. I really enjoyed working on the piece, and one performance just didn’t seem enough. It was actually Blind Date, which inspired me to put forward the ‘Best of Descent’ idea to the others in the company. I really wanted to do it again; it’s always a shame that during our Descent Shorts nights, some really great pieces only get one chance to be seen, so it just seemed natural at this point, to revisit and reflect upon the journey Descent have had over the past 3 years.
I was really happy Georgia was available to direct me again. Around the same time that we started rehearsing, I was also in a one off piece of new writing for Rapid, Write, Response at Theatre 503, that Georgia was directing, and on the day of the performance I was quite upset after a not very nice break up with someone I was dating. I remember bursting into tears in front of Georgia at the theatre bar in the middle of the day, which was pretty embarrassing. But we then were able to talk about the situation, and why it related to Emma, and how I could use it.
In our first rehearsal last week, I had decided I wanted to think about Emma as a person, and really consider once again, why she did what she did (again without giving too much of the plot away). After performing it at Rich Mix last year, the feedback I got about the character stayed with me, and I wanted to explore the reactions that the piece initiated in audience members. It is quite a comic piece, and the feedback was very positive, but it was the comments about Emma that interested me.
The word ‘crazy’ was thrown around quite a lot, and is probably a word I have used myself when describing what type of character I played. I don’t actually think she is crazy at all though, she makes some pretty bad choices and obviously has a lot of issues, but she has been through a tough time and is feeling pretty lonely. Unfortunately, challenging life experiences can bring out irrational behaviour in some people, and this of course can have severe consequences. So in the case of Emma, it is absolutely essential to understand what she has gone through. I want her to be human, and not a caricature; the comedy has to come from the sincerity and her desperation. It is easy to play up on a comic script, but in this piece the truth and honesty is what will, hopefully, keep the audience engaged. As hilarious as the piece is, it is also very tragic; Emma is a bit of a lost soul.
With this in mind, Georgia and I have had a couple of really great rehearsals rediscovering, and also trying out a few new things. It is a lot easier to relearn a piece that was previously known, so the exciting thing now is to keep exploring. Even over the 6 performances, I am sure it will change and develop. When I performed it at Rich Mix, we had quite a reactive audience, but I am aware in a week-long run, there’s likely to be one or two where they are quiet. How this will change the piece, I have no idea, but I think it could add to the awkwardness in a positive way; I just have to remember not to let it throw me.
Now We Are Three is at Southwark Playhouse, 20-24 August More info