It’s a new decade and a new year in more ways than one: I’m writing this on my 43rd birthday, so new beginnings are everywhere.
Last year was tough, politically and personally. I, like many brilliant people around me, was under turning screws so I was glad to see the back of 2019 and I hope 2020 is a kinder, more empathetic time.
On a professional note, however, I ended the year on a couple of highs: the first was opening my first show as a director.
My collaborators were the most wonderful people and I relished steering the ship, before handing it over to the excellent actors and stage manager.
I had been terrified at the scale of the task but in reality it was a total thrill to be at the creative nexus of making a piece of theatre. I also got news that one of my plays is to be published in February, and that two new plays have been given the green light for production this year and next.
Why am I telling you this? Has 2019 turned me into a craven self-publicist? I hope not. I did, though, have a realisation during rehearsals for Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale: all the skills I was leaning on to make the show came from the 18 years I’ve spent as an actor in shows. I have worked with some of the most brilliant directors in the country (and one or two who sadly are no longer working) and I was really struck by how much I’d learned from their processes.
Similarly, as a writer, I’ve had the fortune to watch some of the finest playwrights alive – from Steve Waters to James Graham – forge new plays into life. It is an incredible privilege to be the first person to embody a character and be part of the genesis of a new play. Doing that has taught me invaluable lessons about creative openness, discipline and collaboration.
As an actor, the work I love is collaborative. I have thrived best when working with and for people who give space for everyone’s expression to flourish. I try to make that happen as a director and writer but it’s a truth that acting that taught me. And acting is my first love.
But now, as I venture into other roles within the creative process, I realise how little the profession here gives space for actors who do other creative things. We are just about wrapping our heads around actors having side hustles without them being shamed them for it, but the actor who directs or writes is assumed to have turned their back on acting.
Why? Because acting requires us to be instantly available to drop everything? Because it dilutes the purity of the actor’s intention if they seek creative engagement elsewhere?
I just know that many people have assumed that I’ve given up acting and that makes me shudder. There are many actors who, like me, turn their hands to other creative things while ‘resting’. I think it absolutely feeds their creative practice and I hope the profession can celebrate and not disregard that.
Stephanie Street is an actor, writer and co-founder of Act for Change. Read more of her columns at thestage.co.uk/author/stephanie-street/