It was great to meet Phil and Harri Mardlin early last year at our first SputnikDay, and ever since we’ve been chatting about how to connect with and serve actors more effectively. We thought it was about time to bring you in on the conversation, particularly because we’ve got some schemes fast approaching that we’d love all of you script writers and actors to get involved with. So, to that end, we caught up with Phil…
So, Phil, introduce yourself.
Hi. My name is Phil Mardlin. I started LifeBox Theatre Company with my lovely wife, Harriet. So many theatre companies just don’t make it in today’s competitive market place so we wanted to make sure we ran a company that made us money and allowed us to work artistically. So, we have two strands to our company; we specialize in forum theatre, delivering training around communication issues in healthcare, education and business and we also provide actors for other training companies that deliver communication based training to businesses across the region. Artistically, we run an annual new writing festival in Bedford called StageWrite, which has just run for the 4th year. We take unsolicited scripts for much of the year (this year we had a record 67 scripts submitted) and then we select 8 and put them on, script-in-hand over 4 nights in front of an audience. After each performance we have a question and answer with the writer, director, actors and the audience to help them develop the piece further. We tend to select one of the strongest pieces and, working with the writer, help them take the piece to full production with a short tour.
How did you get into acting and who are your main inspirations?
Well, after a career as a children’s cancer nurse, followed by 8 years as a lecturer in children’s nursing, I had a very early mid-life crisis and gave it all up to become an actor! Madness, I hear you cry… and you’re probably right but, it’s the best decision I ever made. I was too old and with too many responsibilities to be able to go to drama school so I did a degree in English and Theatre and managed to bag a first class honours! Since then, largely through our company, I’ve discovered directing and writing and love being able to switch between the two of them, plus being a performer, depending on the project.
As for inspirations… gosh, that’s hard because I have so many! I remember going to see Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellan and Simon Callow and just watching it thinking, if I can’t be that good, is it worth bothering? Of course it is, and whilst I will never be in that league, I know I’ve always got something to aim for. As a writer, I am heavily influenced by Alan Bennett. He’s so incredibly observant about life and, having performed in The History Boys, I find that he writes in such a way that every word seems to logically follow on from the next. I know that sounds strange but it meant that it was just one of the most joyous and easy scripts I’ve ever learned.
How do you see your faith and your creativity coming together?
I don’t really see creativity as an extension of faith because the two things are inextricably linked and, for me, one can’t exist without the other. For me, being a child of God is at the very core of who I am. When I live out of that place, anything I do, creative or not, should come from a place of desiring to please Him and serve Him. I would also add that doesn’t mean everything I do creatively is ‘about’ God but it is ‘for’ Him. Much of what I do either as an actor, director or writer, I do because I believe in the message of the story or the impact and questions it might raise in those who engage with it. Sometimes, that means engaging in a world that might, on the face of it, seem quite dark. I believe that sometimes, to reach the people in those dark places, you have to reflect back their world to them, and theatre and film can do that very well; what you then do with what you are shown is the responsibility of the observer.
How will you be involved at the Catalyst festival this year?
I am so excited to be involved with Catalyst this year and, along with a few others, we are going to be creating a space for emerging writers to see their work up on its feet with the help of professional actors. We will be working with selected scripts over the Sunday and Monday afternoons of the festival and this will culminate in a performance of the scripts on the Monday evening.
How can people get involved with this project?
If you are a writer, then we would love to read your script. We are looking for scripts of around 20 minutes in length, so it could be the opener to a bigger idea you have or it could stand alone as a short piece of theatre. It needs to require no more than 4 actors to put on. Depending on volume of scripts we can’t guarantee that we will be able to put them all on but we will give you some brief feedback if you would like it.
If you are an actor working professionally or with some relevant experience, then we would love you to get involved with us to work on the scripts and perform them on the Monday evening. If you are interested in either of these, please contact Jonny at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Better be quick though as the deadline for scripts is 15th May)
How do you think churches can support actors more effectively?
Good question. I could probably write for hours on this but ultimately it’s about communicating. I think the biggest thing you can do as a church to support actors is to simply engage with them. Invite them for lunch (we’re generally poor so free food is always a bonus) and talk to them. Too often, actors and creatives generally are seen as mavericks and people don’t often have a box to put them in. So talk to them, listen to them, hear them and seek to understand them.