As BLUE prepares for its premiere at London’s Camden Fringe, we talk to writer and performer Kim Scopes. Created with director Holli Dillon by their new theatre company the Sycorax Collective, the one-woman abstract fairy tale runs 15 to 19 August 2018 at Etcetera Theatre. Read our interview below to find out why there’s a woman stuck on the moon and what Jim Broadbent once gave her for Christmas… and then get booking!
BLUE is an abstract fairy tale for adults about a woman who lives on the moon. Using poetry, clowning, cardboard and a lobster called Spock, this one-woman show, written and performed by Kim Scopes, explores experiences with mental health and the importance of reaching out when you’re not okay.
Brought to you by the Sycorax Collective, a brand-new theatre company creating imaginative and compelling work, unafraid to delve into the grotesque and taboo to tell enthralling stories and explore social issues.
Talking to… Kim Scopes
A writer, actor and puppeteer, Kim Scopes‘ other stage credits to date include PenguinPig, A Christmas Carol, Twice Shy Peep Show, The Little Girl Who Wasn’t There, The Curiosity Cabaret, Boris & Sergey’s Preposterous Improvisation Experiment, Innocence Lost, How to Catch a Star, The Owl Who Is Afraid of the Dark and The Storybook Adventure.
What made you want to perform?
When I was very young, I wanted to be an astronaut, and then after that, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. However, growing up in Sheffield in the early nineties, there didn’t seem much chance of getting onto the Space Program or running off into the rainforest. It did mean growing up near to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, though, and when I was in my teens, we were taken on a school trip to see The Crucible, starring Douglas Henshaw and Amelia Bulmore. Seeing Arthur Miller‘s play brought to life on stage, witnessing, feeling and living what the characters went through, being shocked and brought to tears by an ending I had already read and studied… it just blew my mind. It was then I realised just what the theatre could do. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do since.
What have you learned during your career to date?
That too much ego is never a good thing in this industry, and being an open, decent and reliable person to work with can get you a very long way.
I’m also a puppeteer as well as an actress and highlights of the job were playing a man (I was even given facial hair), pushing Amelia Bulmore around the stage on a trolley (I was completely starstruck and convinced I was going to kill her) and getting a bizarre, bright blue, bug-eyed plush toy from Jim Broadbent as a Secret Santa present on Christmas Eve. When I unwrapped it in front of everyone, he walked up to me and said ‘Oh, who got you that? That’s not very good,’ and then he just walked away. I didn’t find out until later that it was actually from him, he’s got such a great sense of humour. I still have it and I’m never going to part with it.
How did you first get into writing?
Completely by accident. I’ve always kept diaries and journals, on and off, and have always found writing stuff down cathartic. Eventually, I discovered that what I was writing would sometimes turn into a poem or a short story or a monologue, based on an event in my life or even an odd encounter in my day or even something I’d read or seen. As I’ve pursued my career, writing has become a bigger and bigger part of my life. I may not have full control of what roles I do and don’t get, but I have complete control over what I write.
Where did BLUE come from?
I was going through a particularly tough time a few years ago. I had withdrawn from the people around me, and I was too humiliated and ashamed to open up and tell people what was going on. I’d also had a couple of really negative experiences with people, including GPs, who told me to me ‘just cheer up’ or belittled my concerns. So, I was terrified that trying to open up again would just end up the same way.
One day, I decided to reach out to some of my closest friends and just sent a quick text, thinking it would be ignored. I got a response from everyone I contacted almost immediately and was overwhelmed with the offers of support, wonderfully kind comments and thoughts that flooded in. I’m lucky to have such amazing friends, but that experience highlighted to me how important it is to try and reach out when you’re struggling.
I started to write about how I’d been feeling, what it had been like to suffer in silence and withdraw, what it had been like to be afraid to speak out after having been knocked back in the past. I ended up writing a poem as a response to the many times I had been told to ‘just cheer up’, that likened the idea of ‘just being happy’ to just being on the Moon and how ridiculous that rhetoric seemed.
I’m quite a visual person, and the image of a person stuck on the Moon kept popping into my mind whenever I started to write again. Before I knew it, another poem, about a woman who lived on the Moon, became a short play about a woman who lived on the Moon and didn’t know how to get home.
I was lucky enough to have a lot of brilliantly talented creatives volunteer their time, ideas and expertise. Without them, BLUE would never have gotten to the Camden Fringe.
You and director Holli Dillon also hosted workshops on mental health. How did that affect the show’s development?
Part of our bid to the Arts Council England was to host four free Creative Workshops on Mental Health with the local community in Slough (where I live). We wanted these to not only inform the content and development of BLUE but, knowing the importance of the role that the arts can have in maintaining a person’s wellbeing, we felt it would be hugely beneficial to give our workshop participants the chance to try some artistic activities they may not have done since they were kids. We also wanted to create a safe and encouraging space, where people could discuss the subject of mental health if they so wished, but we made it perfectly clear that there was no obligation for anyone to do so.
I didn’t want BLUE to be based around just my own experiences or perceptions of mental health; that would have been far too self-indulgent and missing the point entirely. Holli and I knew we wanted to engage with the local community, get different perspectives on the issue and hopefully start a conversation. We led the groups in painting, poetry and sculpting exercises and we’ve used these artworks at visual stimuli in the creation process.
Their input and opinions have all been taken in and have informed the making of BLUE in at least some way.
You’ll also be running some workshops at UNBROKEN, a mental health awareness gestival. What drew you to this?
UNBROKEN Festival is working with many different art forms to help end the stigma around mental health by opening up the conversation. I think it’s brilliant and it completely matches the ethos behind BLUE! The team behind it, Shadow Road Productions, seem genuinely passionate about engaging as many people as possible (both artists and audiences alike) and bringing them together to get involved. We’re honoured to be have been invited to be a part of that.
Why did you want to stage BLUE as part of Camden Fringe?
Anything and everything is welcome and celebrated, it’s a place to share, test new ideas and experiment, to forge new friendships and working partnerships. I wanted to bring BLUE to Camden Fringe for its first proper outing because it’s still a relatively young festival, so it still has that fresh energy yet is still accessible and welcoming. I also love the Etcetera Theatre where I’ll be performing, I think it’s a great space and perfect for the show.
Blue is Lottery and Arts Council funded. How important is arts subsidy?
Without the support of the Arts Council, BLUE would never have got as far as it has. We would never have been able to hold the free Creative Workshops in Slough without funding, and it also means I’ve been able to pay the artists I’m working with fairly (something I feel very strongly about) and bring the production to the Camden Fringe. Not only that, but the encouragement and constructive feedback that the Arts Council has provided has been so helpful. It was heartening to see how much they want artists to succeed.
It’s vital that there is support for the arts. All art; be it theatre, music, sculpture, poetry, whatever it is, is there to engage the society, it has a social function, it brings people together, it communicates something. Even working on this one project alone, I’ve met so many artists who are trying to make something new, to engage with the community around them, yet who are struggling because there’s just not that much support out there right now. The Arts Council are brilliant, they do all they can, but of course, every sector is struggling right now, they can only do so much. More is needed.
Why should people see BLUE?
BLUE taps into a hugely important social issue in an imaginative and accessible way. It’s going to fun, a bit bonkers and completely out of this world!