Stephie writes things, over thinks things and drinks too much tea. Sometimes, the three collide and she makes a show. Other times, she blogs. She started her own theatre company and currently works as a programmer, working hard to follow her dream.
I asked Stephie to be the guest for this month's interview and share her career journey so far. I hope it will make you feel as appreciative and inspired as it made me.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO GO INTO YOUR CHOSEN CAREER?
I think deep down yes, I’ve always wanted to work in theatre, it’s my passion. Of course there were times when I thought that passion was unrealistic and listened to the non-believers who said that the arts weren't a viable option, but that was more because of lack of knowledge than determination. A lot of people hear you work in theatre and presume you act or write or direct, and while I do do that, there are so many other roles out there too. Roles that for a long time I didn't know existed - something I think arts courses should make a point of teaching you when you’re still in education.
WHEN DID YOU START TO DEVELOP A PASSION FOR WHAT YOU CURRENTLY DO?
Well I’ve been acting since I was about 9 (you can read that story here) but my main passion now is making sure theatre is accessible to as many people as possible. A lot of people think that theatre or the arts aren’t for them, and I just don’t think that's true. I really became passionate about that after university when I left an environment where I’d been surrounded by other people who loved theatre, and came home and realised the majority of people I knew just didn't get it. I started writing and performing theatre that my dad could understand, and now I work with venues and community groups to make sure that the theatre we put on interests the people who live nearby.
WHAT WERE YOU LIKE AT SCHOOL? DID YOU ENJOY IT? WHAT WERE YOUR FAVOURITE SUBJECTS?
Erm, I was pretty bubbly at school, and didn't take it too seriously because I was clever enough not to have to put in too much work. I guess I was a bit lazy in that respect, something which changed when I took my A Levels! I was bullied for the first couple of years of secondary school and I didn't enjoy that so much, but in our GCSEs when all the cliques began to fall apart, that all stopped and I enjoyed it much more. I didn't take Drama at school. It wasn't really seen as a proper subject, and it was only ever taught by whichever English teacher was free, so my favourite subjects were actually English Literature, History and Languages. I was also weirdly good at Science, and I’m pretty sure my parents have wished several times I took them up instead!
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT? DID YOU GO TO UNIVERSITY OR STRAIGHT INTO WORK?
I went to Lancaster University after college and loved every minute of it! I studied English Literature and Theatre Studies combined. I was really lucky to have had a tutor at college who took me aside during the application process and gave me a list of where to apply and what to do. I guess sometimes people can see what you want before you do, because at 17 I was still confused and technically my best A Level was Modern History!
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE WITHIN YOUR CHOSEN FIELD?
I did quite a bit of work experience at university. I didn't join the drama society because I realised I didn't want to act so much anymore, so got involved with the the arts centre that was on campus instead. I became a student ambassador, which involved trying to encourage other students to come and see what was on, ushering events, and social media marketing. As well as helping out when professional companies needed extra hands setting up. I once spent a whole weekend hoovering the outsides of sacks that were covered in and full of soil! It was never ending!
WHAT PATH DID YOU TAKE TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW?
A really really windy one that felt like it was going in circles for a long LONG time! Short answer? I took an internship marketing at a venue in Manchester, which sort of became a proper job for a year or two. Alongside this I started writing and performing my own shows which I toured to different cities to perform. And I managed a bar and waitressed a lot too! There were a good couple of years where I felt very very lost, and I stopped valuing my own skills for a while.
It came to a bit of a head in 2013 when I finally quit the venue in Manchester and moved home. For a few months I just waitressed and spent my time figuring out what I wanted to do. Those months were a god send. That's when a professional theatre invited me to perform with them. I was commissioned to write a children’s show by a festival, and I also worked as a community artist helping people with Alzheimer's and their families.
Once I built up my confidence again and had really honed in on what I was passionate about, I looked for a full-time job. The one I have now is the first one I found and applied for and the rest is history! Sorry that wasn't all that short an answer after all!
WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU GOT A BREAKTHROUGH WITH YOUR CAREER?
Hmmm, I don’t think there is one breakthrough moment. There were lots of small breakthrough moments that got me to where I am now, and if I removed any one of them, or any one of the stumbling blocks I fell on along the way, I’d never have got to this place.
But some moments that stand out to me are the first time I performed my solo show. That was a big moment, because for so long it had been just me, a script and an empty room, and I remember thinking the afternoon before the show, OH MY GOD I HAVE TO SHOW PEOPLE THIS. Once I’d done it, that was a huge confidence boost.
I’d say the other obvious big one was actually getting a full-time job, but since then there has been so much learning and confidence building, that especially at the beginning it felt like I was having a breakthrough every month!
WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN YOUR CAREER SO FAR?
Having the confidence, determination, and faith to just see it through. Even now, my job is on the line because of funding, and I have to keep the faith that all my hard work will pay off. Sometimes it feels like it would be so much easier to just go and do something that isn't the arts, but I know I’d find it harder because I wouldn't love it, and that no one's path is easy.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT?
I have two, as a performer and a writer. My biggest achievement has been making shows that people liked. My two favourite memories are performing at Buxton Fringe to a sold out audience and getting a standing ovation (they even asked for my autograph) and the other would be going back to Lancaster to perform at The Duke.
On the other side of it, in my current job (where I organise other people and companies performing), I would definitely say my biggest achievement was Back of the Bus last year, which was a dance show that happened on a moving double decker bus. I had to organise the dance company coming over from New Zealand, convince the local bus company to give me a bus and a driver for ten days for free, organise 6 different routes the bus and the show would travel on, secure 18 venues that the bus stopped at, and then sell out the show 13 times! I don’t think I slept for a month in the run up, but afterwards I knew I was so much more confident and capable. Another breakthrough moment I guess!
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AND YOUR CAREER GOING IN THE FUTURE?
I can’t imagine it will be a straightforward path! There are still new things I want to try and I’m not tied down to any one job role in the theatre. I’d like to work more with people with Alzheimer's and Care Homes in some way. I’m currently writing a piece for young people to perform, and one day I’d love to be the artistic director of my own venue or company (the person that chooses what direction a theatre goes in and what message they want to give out).
IF YOU COULD SHARE THREE OF YOUR BIGGEST LIFE LESSONS WITH ABOH READERS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
1. Trust your gut and listen to it. If something doesn’t feel right for some reason, spend some time working out what it is and take action.
2. Stick to your guns and passions, and believe in yourself. People’s passions and interests change over time, and it’s OK to change directions, or take a step back, as long as it’s your direction and not what somebody else has told you should do, or something that just seems easier!
3. Things happen for a reason, and as long as you work out what that reason is and also take responsibility for it, even if it is seemingly out of your control, you’ll be OK.
Let's chat in the comments - did you enjoy this interview with Stephie? What other questions do you have for her?