You’d be forgiven for thinking there were a whole cluster of Stephanie Kempsons working and creating in Bristol. Stephanie appears in various guises as if by magic at Bristol Old Vic, The Wardrobe, all over Mayfest and beyond. We met officially after a series of bumping into each other in various theatres.
For this interview we met to discuss the process of directing Score recently at The Wardrobe. The show is heading down to London on Friday get tickets while you still can. Score – written by Lucy Bell, is a bravely authentic ‘in your face’ piece of theatre, inspired by real-life accounts of parents using Bournemouth’s drug treatment service. Lucy, Stephanie and the actresses (Lara and Kathleen) were brought together by Bristol Old Vic and worked together as a team to develop the script.
Photo credit – Photo from Score by Kitty Wheeler Shaw
The team originally worked together on a project for the ‘Open Sessions’ at Bristol Old Vic. Sharon Clarke brought them together to work on Lucy’s script ‘The Full Term’ and they discovered magic in their relationship. The perfect mix of love and tension that produces real gems.
As part of the process for gathering material for Score the company went to meet women who had real life experiences of drug and alcohol addiction. They were inspired by the resilience of the amazing women they met. The women were talented, courageous and hidden in a system that was failing to meet their needs. Lucy Bell came away from the experience and wrote three plays, she went on to invite Stephanie to choose one of them to direct and the beginning of Score was born. As a director Stephanie told me, ‘The points of the play that were most exciting to work on were the transitions between time and characters. Indeed those points were skilfully handled in the stage show.
Developing Score has been an ongoing process, it kept changing right up until October and started touring in Jan 16. It was performed to social workers at conferences and for a lot of people with lived experience. There was so much amazing feedback from the early performances – the company were able to gain confidence in their decisions and know that audiences genuinely connected to the show. Throughout the early performances character development and improvisation techniques fed into back story and the script. Lucy kept a tight hold on the script overall but there was an open dialogue between director and performers about what needed to be developed and changed. Everyone felt they had shared ownership of the piece.’
Stephanie is well versed in the process of writing and devising and is ‘used to that kind of process. I would find it hard to simply work on a finished script where there was no room for play or development.’
Look out for Stephanie’s latest projects – in true spirit, reflecting her passion, drive and lust for life – she is in multiple places at once! Her writing is featured as part of the Mayfest radio programme, Sharp Teeth stories at The Wardrobe theatre and of course the truly impressive Score heading down to London this week.
It’s that time of year when the promise of light is in the air. For those of us who have been sat in the darkness for too long – this one is for you.
Hacking through bracken, words are tar and feathers – dense. I don’t see the features on anyone’s faces. Words hang in rusted barbed wire around necks of the bodies they are attached to. Dragging themselves along pavements. Day after grey day.
Sharp edged arrow words. Put things away properly. Sit up straighter. Only wear clean clothes. Don’t get too dirty. Don’t swear. Quieten down. Don’t – just don’t. Words written on my face in spit stink – invisible ink. I’m stained on the inside with congealed blood that doesn’t flow quite right.
Don’t speak up. Keep the words in.
Don’t stand out.
Speak when you’re spoken too.
Keep your mouth shut.
Keep the lid on.
Don’t let anything out.
Don’t break things.
Makes me want to do things that I shouldn’t. Makes me want to shout and scream and tip things over, pour paint on the floor – rip my clothes, feel fear on purpose as a way of gaining some kind of control. Does that make sense? And when I can’t feel anything and I find myself in the company of strangers that want me to organise myself, have the right clip board, or a different face or proper hair, or a proper thing to say, or a quieter laugh, or just be quieter and don’t laugh. That’s when things get messy. In my head. That’s when I have to shrink in order to grow fast, it’s like I have to crouch down small in a pretend game of hide and seek and then build my energy, build it and build it and build it until I can hide no longer and everything just bursts out.
Rip and pour and create in a whirlwind of not knowing what comes next because there is no actual order. There is no supposed to and right and wrong in this crazy fucked up world that we live in. It just is. It just is. And without starting from a place of mess I don’t know how anything could actually begin. Rip up all instructions and burn them, stand in the glow of the fire and wait until I know what to do next. If nothing comes, I’ll draw with the ash from the embers and spit into the dirt on the ground and that will be my fresh start. Because anything else is a lie. And if nothing else on this else earth holds true, I know I can tell the truth and start at the beginning.
What will you do when the words you bear on your back begin to squash you flat?
What do you do?
Put the children in bed and cry? Drink until you forget?
What do you do?
Burn things, make fires, read yourself into another world, change your hair, your clothes, your food. Or does everything stay the same? Roll in soft cotton duvets and drink tea until you cannot contain any more liquid. Stare at screens until the scene in front of you sleeps.
All these things and more.
Put away sharp objects and dance in spilt ink, tracing your footsteps to the next place.
All these things and more.
These words will go and days will pass.
You just are. You will find your truth and begin. Begin again.
Home is a place where I navigate un-chartered territory, hiding from my darkest dusty corners and celebrating my sparkliest eye catching glitters. It’s the place where I can safely go into my chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly, before sharing that self with the rest of the world. My home is an ocean that creates its own storms, and provides me with the calmest waters, from which to drink deep. All this is contained between my four walls, a seemingly ordinary place, in an unremarkable street. If you zoomed out on Google earth, my home is lost on the second click, gobbled up by bigger spaces or taller buildings. Just gone.
I’d rather poke my own eyes out, than look around another secondary school for my daughter. I’d prefer to get her frozen in time and keep her just how she is. I’d freeze her in a beautiful bedroom, that has been decorated by artists. Stars on the ceiling that emulate the universe in light, movement and colour, ever-changing. I’ll open the door occasionally and look at her wrapped up in imagination and innocence.
This year everything has changed, I am seeking a renewal of faith, the people I once turned to are now gone. I have an urge to hold onto what was, when I know that I cannot. My hands open and close, reaching out for a tangible fact to hold onto. I simply end up grasping faded light and playing with shadows, I’m left sat in the dark, wishing I could get up and turn the lights on, but I can’t. I’ve forgotten where the switch is. At these times I reach out my hands and see who wants to hold them. I’ve been asking friends, fellow students, neighbours, work colleagues, what is a personal hero? My husband wrote:-
‘A hero, as a concept it’s very compelling – the individual that will endure hardships and terror to save others from oppression or some other manner of adversity. The hero that possesses skills and/ or resources that are rare amongst the hero’s peers. For me my heroes are the ones that can articulate big ideas, noble ideals, those that communicate in such an effective way as to bring positive change to their communities, to inspire and shine light of truth and clarity in places where others are happy to scrabble in the dark. For me the heroes are of the pen and not the sword, from Gandhi to Noam Chomsky.’ Tom MacCallum
I asked, writer Stuart Wakefield who is your personal hero?
James Dean and Marlon Brando might have been heralded as the faces of the new wave of acting, but, for me, it was Montgomery Clift. Witness any close-up shot of Clift and you’ll see a lot going on in his eyes. You can see what he’s thinking without him saying a word. That was ground-breaking at the time. Clift was a hugely popular actor, sizzling on screen with Elizabeth Taylor in several movies. But there was an ongoing struggle with illness and sexuality that I think informed his style, too. Clift knew what physical and emotional suffering felt like and was able to project that through the camera and onto film. – Stuart.
Too many of my personal heroes have left this world in the last few months, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Robin Williams and Rick Mayall to name a few. I still see them in their books and films around me. I feel blessed I’ve lived a life where I have witnessed their creations. I’ve spoken with my friends, family and colleagues about this, it’s a shared conversation. I’m seeing community projects popping up all over the place, ‘what super hero are you’, ‘who are your heroes’, we are a community searching for guidance. I’m reminded once more that it’s too easy to dine at the media table and worship the rough diamonds that have been polished too brightly, by the cameras that created them. Is that to cynical? There are times when all I can do is rest on the truth of other people’s creativity, in those times my life path is held safe in those hands that dared to be bold. I lean on old quotes and trust.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats