Loose Canons: Sophie Roberts

Sophie Roberts, Artistic Director at Silo Theatre and director of the upcoming glitter-pop extravaganza Here Lies Love, talks to Pantograph Punch about the people and ideas that have inspired her powerhouse career.

Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.

Award-winning director Sophie Roberts graduated from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in 2007. From 2008 to 2014 she freelanced as a director and theatre-maker, creating work for many of Auckland and Wellington’s major theatre companies and venues.

Sophie was founder, and Co-Artistic Director alongside Willem Wassenaar, of Wellington’s acclaimed Almost a Bird Theatre Collective, and was appointed as Artistic Director of Silo Theatre in 2014. Her directing credits include Hir, Peter And The Wolf, The Events, Boys Will Be Boys, Perplex, The Book Of Everything, Midsummer, The Pride, I Love You Bro and Sunday Roast for Silo, and the independent productions The Pitchfork Disney, Dog Sees God, Vernon God Little, 13, One Day Moko, Daughters Of Heaven, Chopstick, Blinkers, Toys and Christ Almighty.

As a teacher Sophie led the third-year actors at Toi Whakaari in the Go Solo season for five years. During this time she directed over 100 solo works, and developed her skills and focus in the cultivation of new work. She has also taught in and directed for The Actors’ Program in Auckland, and Wellington's Long Cloud Youth Theatre.

Sophie is the director of Here Lies Love, which opens at Q Theatre later this month.

Willem Wassenaar

Willem was a tall, bald, loud, exciting Dutch guy I met when I was 21, when we were both studying at Toi Whakaari. We quickly fell into a creative love affair with each other. We started a theatre company with our friends Colleen Davis, Dan Musgrove and Matt Whelan, started making work outside of drama school in the evenings and weekends, and continued making theatre together in the years after we graduated.

The way he saw me totally transformed how I saw myself. I think, like a lot of young women, the world had given me the general impression that rage was an unattractive quality in a woman, which was proving to be a problem for me as it’s something I have quite a lot of. Willem was the first person I had met professionally who actually liked and encouraged that part of my personality, which allowed me to see its usefulness as a source of energy in my practice.

Willem died four years ago and his absence in my life now is as big and loud as his presence was. A picture of him hangs above my desk at Silo; I often zone out to it and have little conversations with him in my head when I’m trying to work through ideas.

Bette Davis

I adore Bette Davis and can pretty much recite All About Eve in its entirety. Discovering her as a kid was a total revelation to me: the force of her personality on screen, the way she made conventionally unappealing choices as an actor, her intensity, the fact that she was often way out on a ledge on her own, performance-wise. She’s very much my kind of woman.

Watching her taught me that an actor is someone who can work with really complex tensions in order to expose the pain and joy of being alive in a way that can be massive and kind of ridiculous but still full of meaning. I found that theatricality much more compelling than a naturalistic performance style where you are just watching someone exist.

It feels like there is always some aspect of the film and the system she sits within that she’s fighting against, so her performances radiate a kind of defiance that I’m very into. All those qualities I first loved so much in her are the same qualities I’m attracted to in the actors I like to work with now.

My female artist friends

I met a lot of amazing creative women in my 20s. They were friendships forged in the fire of our collective creative ambitions, often fuelled by the cheapest red wine available while huddled around heaters in a variety of terrible, damp flats. Over the last decade or so they have become a very powerful source of strength in my life and work.

We’ve all been on quite different journeys to find our lane as artists. There are times where those pathways have intersected and times where we have all been pursuing quite different things. The way they work and the way they think continues to energise and inspire me a lot. They are wildly different women who share some similarities, they are all really funny, they all have strong opinions and are very smart, they are all kind of witchy and tend to descend in a pack armed with crystals when life gets tough.

They inspire my life and my artistic practice through the books, music, artists, articles, experiences and ideas they share, but also through the quality of fierce unwavering female friendship they offer me.

Jill Soloway on The Female Gaze

The first time I saw this keynote Jill Soloway gave at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival I watched it three times in a row. It made my heart beat faster, and I cried when she talked about feeling like too much and not enough as a female artist. It articulated so many things I had felt my whole career but didn’t really understand so I had just walked around for years with an anxious knot in my chest and the uneasy feeling that I didn’t belong in my job.

This talk gave me a framework to start to address what it means to lead an artistic project in way that isn’t patriarchal or hierarchical. It made me realise I had never actually looked at what my values around an ideal artistic process really were, and how I could apply them to my work. Now the rehearsal room is a place where I feel at ease and happy, as opposed to feeling fraudulent and like I’m fighting little internal battles with myself all day.

Dumpster diving with Daniel Williams

This is both an actual thing my longtime design collaborator Dan and I have done for years, and a metaphor for my theatre-making happy place. Dan and I have climbed into many a skip in the pursuit of free junk to put on stage. I have a tragic memory of being in rubbish up to my waist in a skip out the back of Q Theatre, on my birthday, in the rain, crying pathetically while Dan wore a mask he’d found, to lighten the mood.

Throwing aside all dignity to clamber into a giant rubbish bin in search of the perfect lamp for a show sums up so much of what I love about my job. I like it when it feels like an adventure. I like it when it feels like it did when you were a kid, mucking around with your friends, creating for your own pleasure and delight. I like it when it’s a little bit hard and you have to be resourceful, I find not having quite enough of anything makes everything far more interesting.

Here Lies Love runs from 22 November to 8 December at Q Theatre. Tickets available here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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