Interview with actor and producer David Shears
“Everybody feels, everybody breathes, everybody loves, everybody, at some point or another, has a problem with their mental health.”
Why did you get involved in this project?
I think that a lot of theatre at the moment has been bogged down in style over substance I think a lot of things are packaged to deal with the ‘issues’ and are very surface; paying lip service to what it is to be human without really engaging in it. What I liked about this play was primarily that it was about people first, people who yes have their mental health issues, so to speak, but primarily engaged with the complexities of just being alive in this age and this time. That s what interested me because it looked at something which is real and we deal with every day but in a way that’s quite incisive clever funny and tragic and just… interesting.
Why did you want to produce this as well as act?
When I was initially contacted about acting in the play I had only seen the first scene as it stands now which had got me excited because as a standalone piece it was well written and structured and looked like it would be fun to play which is primarily what you want in any job – to get some satisfaction out of it. So we did a new writing night and a bit of R&D at The Southwark Playhouse as part of Anonymous is a Woman’s 50/50 show, which was an opportunity to start playing with the characters, putting it into a space and getting it up on its feet. From that, some months went by and Felicity contacted me to ask if I would be interested in acting in the full length version of the play, which I read and loved and said I’d be very happy to.
I’d started Quantum Frolic, my own company, the previous year and was looking for shows that met our ethos but also shows I believed in to invest time and energy into and thought this would be a good opportunity to put my money where my mouth was, literally and figuratively. I haven’t regretted that decision at all because whatever comes from it it’s been a lot of fun, a lot of learning experiences and I think I’ve got better as a theatre maker and as a performer as a result of doing this. Overall, it seemed like a really worthwhile challenge and thus far that’s exactly what it proved to be.
Why did this particular story resonate with you?
Two reasons. On the one hand the relationship that Rob and Ellie find themselves in parallels some of my own direct life experience. I thought I’d be able to bring an authenticity to the character and an understanding of the story so I’d be able to put my own stamp on it whilst engaging with the demands of the character.
Also, I've been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder for about five years now and that’s something that I'm very open about and very willing to talk to people about. So I thought this is a well written play with good characters and a good story but it’s also the opportunity to be able to enhance the dialogue around mental health.
It raises awareness of mental health in such a way that you know a diagnosis or issue that we have is not something that should necessarily be labelled and categorised because the reality is everybody feels, everybody breathes, everybody loves, everybody, at some point or another, has a problem with their mental health. Otherwise you might as well say somebody goes through their whole life without ever getting a cold: it doesn’t happen. The difference is physical ailments are much more manifest.
If you can also do it in a way that makes people think, makes them feel, makes them laugh, makes them cry, makes them smile, makes them think about what it is to be human, to be themselves and how they would react in these situations, anything that makes people feel genuine things has to be an advancement for theatre. It has to be a good thing for the arts. As long as people don’t come away from this shrugging their shoulders and on some level it provokes a reaction, then I’ll be very happy.
What’s next for you as an artist and the company?
For myself as an individual in the immediate future I'm still working as an actor, voice actor, writing myself, keeping busy. Felicity is going off to Edinburgh this summer so this gives me an opportunity to pick up the pen and start working on a musical I’ve spent the last year and a half working on with a very good friend of mine, Jono Sharples, which has been a lot of fun. I’ve also got a few other projects in the works, story wise so it’s back to the grindstone.
With Quantum Frolic, I'm looking at trialing a writer-in-residency programme, finding new writers we find exciting and giving them a platform. Ideally I think a lot of these projects and a lot of future stuff would also be working in conjunction with Felicity and Instinct Theatre because I’ve really enjoyed the experience so far and found it very valuable and I think we have a great working dynamic which is a good platform for success. So the future is, as yet, unwritten but there is something of a plan taking shape but I am very excited about the next 12 – 18 months and more news on that soon…
What goes into putting on a night of new writing?
We sat down and spoke to our friends over at The Open Door about our latest in the series of Scratch The Surface Nights: The Female Playwright.
WHAT MAKES SCRATCH THE SURFACE DIFFERENT?
Scratch the surface is about bringing new people together. This is our third scratch event and we always receive an incredible response when we call out for short plays and extracts. We then pick the pieces, pair the writer with a director, give them a cast then they go away and rehearse the piece ready for the night.
There’s so much brilliant, bold work out there and a new writing
night is a great way to see a variety of things that you may not go
and see ordinarily.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS ON FEMALE PLAYWRIGHTS?
It happened by chance actually. We always get less submissions from female playwrights than men and there has been a lot of talk recently about 50/50 programming and gender parity within the arts. As a female-led company these are massively important issues to us and we want to reflect this within our work.The issue of gender equality is being talked about a lot more, which is great, but there is still a massive amount to do to actually redress the balance. This night was about taking a small practical step in actually doing something about it.
I was aware of some female theatre-makers doing some great work and asked if they wanted to come together in a scratch night. There was such a great response that I thought I should open up the night to anyone who might want to take part and the best idea seemed to be to celebrate female playwrights.
Read the full interview here: https://theopendoorsite/2017/10/15/interview-instinct-theatre
All our call outs and productions have to have bold, interesting female roles in them. This is not a feminist evening, nor an event just about women. The only stipulation was that the pieces must have been written by a woman, so we have pieces about mental health, our society today, the fear of parenthood and many
more topics which everyone relates to.
Spotlight On: Interview with Carn's Theatre Passion
CarnsTheatrePassion.com (CTP) first became aware of Tea and Good Intentions by Felicity Huxley-Miners in
November 2016, when a scene was presented at the Highbury Corner, Hen & Chickens scratch night.
The character of Margaret, stole the night; a beautifully observed widowed housewife, trying to solve the ills of the world by charity fundraising, her duet with a neighbour Mary a hilarious study in casual racism and competitive niceness. Into this comfortable provincial bubble, comes a refugee from the war in Syria, the cultured and mysterious Adar. The effect is superb political satire, a bit like Hyacinth Bucket presenting Newsnight.
CTP were pleased to hear that full-length work has been completed, and public previews will take place at the Kings Head on the afternoons of 11th and 24th February, tickets on sale now. We were lucky enough to catch up with the writer over coffee and biscuits one rainy afternoon in Holborn last week.
Read the full interview here: https://www.carnstheatrepassion.com/interview-felicity-huxley-miners/
Would you house a Syrian refugee?
'Oh yes, I'm a tough old bat!'
Karen, aged 60, lives alone in Plymouth. She sold her spacious house in Twickenham, London a few years ago and bought a three storey house in Plymouth. After major renovations, the house now has a self-contained flat on the bottom floor which plays host to plenty of lodgers throughout the year of varying nationalities.
But this time she’s considering quite a different house guest. Syrian refugees are desperately needed to be rehoused as they are flooding into the UK. Plymouth is currently one of the 86 towns/cities that acts as a dispersal centre for asylum seekers, local authorities and public services are feeling the pressure of Plymouth being a main dispersal centre without the extra government funds needed.
Karen says that some of the locals are “afraid of the unknown. It’s human nature to be wary of outsiders, especially when it’s a lot of people, and they look different. It’s easy to think that it will change what we have and know. If they want to go round wearing a burka, there may not be a good reaction.”
I asked Karen if this made her nervous to take in a refugee, as a lot of people are apprehensive that they may be shunned from the community, but Karen’s thoughts were that her immediate neighbours would be “fine, but the area I live in is very middle class. I expect it would differ in other parts of Plymouth. But most people’s reaction when meeting them, I think, would be one of kindness. Particularly women, because women talk and gossip and would spread the word. For instance the best thing would be to give a talk at the W.I” (Women’s Institute).
On the application process to house a refugee potential hosts are asked
"Are there any groups you would not be happy to have to stay?"
A) Single male
B) Single female
G) A Couple
“‘I don’t have a gender preference, but I would want a young person” Karen says “late teens to twenties”. This surprises me; teenagers are hard work at the best of times. “They’re in a totally desperate situation. I think they would be motivated to survive, and they would be very different to your average teenager. But I would want to know what support I would get from the authorities. They may be suffering with post-traumatic stress, we don’t even spend any money on our own suffering with mental health issues.”
I comment on the fact that some people may be nervous to take in a single man when living alone as woman, but perhaps because Karen has always had lodgers stay with her that this is not a strange idea to her, she responds that’s she’s “a tough old bat.”
There's method in the madness
It’s a freezing winter morning and we're huddled outside a primary school in deepest, darkest Surrey with two cars rammed full of just about every Christmas decoration you would possibly attempt to make at home. How exactly did running a theatre company land us up here? A dense fog is refusing to lift and so with numbing feet and with a Christmas spirit that seems to diminish in direct proportion to the dropping temperature we flog our fare.
Now we aren’t arty. We aren’t particularly skilled at making the miscellaneous crafts we’re selling but we’ve spent a hell of a lot of time and effort in making them the best they can be to raise some money. Juggling day jobs, acting careers and running a company has mean that the vast majority of Friday and Saturday nights in ‘the party season’ has been dedicated to sitting at home making crafts with Del Boy and Rodney on in the background for inspiration . We are truly living the 20-something dream.
We have several projects in the pipeline for next year, all the cast and production team need to be paid a fair wage, as well as production costs, marketing, research, rehearsal space etc. On top of the money already mustered up, we have £5,000 to raise. And we are going to do that any way we can. Competition for funding is so fierce and investors in the arts have to be choosy about who they back. Understandably. It’s hardly a risk free investment. So while we appeal to the theatre gods and higher powers that dictate where this money is spent, we must assume that we won’t be successful and plan to raise every penny of it ourselves.
Christmas is a time for giving and we are hoping our little theatre company will appeal to the warm hearts of the average Surrey parent traipsing round their child’s school fair in an effort to show willing. In fact people’s generosity with their time and advice has really ridden this one through – it’s not the Bank of Mum and Dad but the unskilled labour of the workforce of Mum and Dad that should never be underestimated. We definitely owe a few people a drink.
We may sell out in minutes. We may barely make a dent in our total. Whatever happens we’ll dust ourselves off and come up with the next scheme. (Although we now have four fairs, three all day events and twelve evenings of door to door sales planned and have spent close to 100 man hours in the production line - so this may be faintly devastating).
If we sell nothing we’ll be left with three geometric tonnes of handmade, all natural Christmas wreaths, adorned with wintry foliage of the Surrey countryside. So the next event would have to be a bonfire. We’ll let you know the date.