DJ: Stephen can you please explain what you are doing here at
SS: I’m assisting the acting students in the devising of a
new show from scratch, I’m not writing but I’m encouraging and assisting and
trying to help people through what is essentially an exercise in writing aimed
specifically at actors.
DJ: You’ve done experimental exercises like having them write
down a single line of dialogue and then swap it for one someone else wrote and
then deliver it seeking to create meaning – what was the result of that
SS: What my philosophy is, is that one of the hardest things
to do is to begin an associated phrase with that is ‘that it actually doesn’t
matter where you begin’ so we began this process by me simply saying write
something down and each of them wrote a sentence and then we threw it into the
pool (onto the floor) and then we picked those sentences up randomly and then
read them out and that was our beginning. And in that, one of the sentences
that was used was, “So we find ourselves in a place of no place and a time of
no time,” and that for me was a very kind of resonant phrase that reflected
both on the nature of theatre and the nature of the kind of theatre that I like,
and more generally a philosophical position. And a poetic position – a poetic
beginning. So we then began to develop and listened to those things. I broke the
team of twelve or thirteen actors into groups, they used those sentences as the
kernel to a drama that they started to improvise. The third element of ‘it is
important to begin’ (and ‘it doesn’t matter where you begin’), the next part of
that is – by constantly polishing and working and worrying at where you begin –
you achieve two results. One result is that you begin to enter an imaginative
space that perhaps you didn’t know it existed, so it’s an anti-rational kind of
process, and the second part of it in this situation where we’ve found
ourselves where there’s a whole bunch of people, it allows the development, or encourages the development of a kind of group
mind. That’s what a big part of the two weeks of the process that we’ve been
working on has been about. It’s the development of a group mind or a group
identity out which can arise a set of wishes and desires and dreams that is
then the real work, the real material for a theatrical product. If I had one
writer. Say I was doing it with you I’d just say “Write something, and let’s
start working on that,” and over a period of time, you know, two three days,
four days, five days, eventually we’d start getting into the things that
fascinate you and the things that fascinate me and between those two things and
the rubbing of the stones as it were of those impenetrable stones that we begin
with, we can rub them away and shape them and begin to find what ultimately, is
a reveal about our own characters.
DJ: You’ve said recently that sculpting is something you find
interesting. Clearly you have an interest in structure and the way things can,
maybe can, possibly can fit together, or maybe they can not. Does that
fascination come from the sage playwright wanting to build his skill set and
understand how things come together?
DJ: That’s a very clear simile for a playwright to use, so
tell me a little more about that constructive impulse and creativity.
SS: I suppose there are two major parts to it or two
different sides to it. The first is for me the most difficult part of writing
or of creating anything is an entrance into the unconscious. I firmly believe
that the energy the psychic energy that we need or the energy that an act of
creation needs is an unconscious energy so that a big part of my process has to
do and has always been to do with kind of deranging as it were, myself, and
stopping other people when they’re attempting to do something like this (to
create something) to prevent them from thinking too much about what they’re
doing before they do it. For me it’s a mystery. We don’t know where we’re
going. The only thing that’s guiding us is the desire to be there. That’s the
only thing to guide us and that unconscious guide – you know if I was going to
step back and ask what’s that guide doing? – that guide can be all sorts of
things including evil things but I think principally you know what it is, once
people have set themselves on the path of wanting to be a creative artist think that
guide is attempting to heal something hurt and wounded inside us.
DJ: So are you subscribing to the idea that writers for
example are ‘making an attempt to heal their own psychoses’?
SS: Yes I do and I think that psychosis is a very good word
for it. James Joyce for example you know was very likely to have been
absolutely psychotic except for the fact that he filled the void with words.
DJ: In this process everyone’s a creative individual headed
towards this outcome. This place that we’re going to be. This play that we’re
going to be in.
DJ: Observing the process I can see that you are placing
things out there and situating them into the domain of the group. You are
putting out little ideas that reticulate and come back in other ways, and they
become formal elements in a matter of days. I can see you doing that quite
consciously in the process. You are doing that consciously aren’t you?
SS: Yes. I suppose I’m, what I’m like, what I just described
as the creative process or half of the creative process or maybe a little more
than half but anyhow.. that’s a strong element but also it takes a long time.
If I was doing that myself it could be months of that sort of process of
derangement and struggle and as you know yourself just that kind of flopping
around and not being, the uncertainty and the dead ends and you know, the
frustration, that’s ultimately a vocation or something but what we have here is
a process that’s only going to last six weeks and that will result in a
presentation in front of an audience so to some extent it has to be prodded
along and perhaps not done as in depth as you’d like to. I mean really this is
a kind of a crash course IU suppose. At the end of the process what these
students will have will be I hope a number of tools with which they can in the
future if they want to do it – to throw themselves into a more complete
creative process for themselves.