StammerMouth is a company set up by Island theatre star Nye Russell-Thompson. He has performed his show ‘Just A Few Words‘ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 where he was nominated for a Total Theatre award, and in a number of venues, including Lyric Theatre Belfast, The Southbank Centre and The Ventnor Exchange. He has just completed two successful nights at Theatre N16 in Balham and will be returning to The Isle of Wight for a performance at the Quay Arts Centre in Newport.
I was lucky enough to join Nye in Balham and had an exclusive chat with him.
What made you interested in acting?
I wanted to express myself as much as anyone else. I had a severe stammer growing up, from primary school and well into high school, and drama helped me. That was the starting point, now I love playing different people for the buzz, the exploration.
Where did you study?
The University of Chichester.
What is your opinion on the theatre scene on the Isle of Wight?
It’s dominated by am-dram, which is a good way to have fun in a role, but there have been growing interests in professional theatre for years now. I am of course talking about the work of Ventnor Exchange, who are one of the few venues on the Isle of Wight who seek to provide professional, paid opportunities for actors in original productions, and who bring in contemporary theatre and performances from around the Island, and the continent.
Would you say that being from the Isle of Wight limits how far an aspiring acting islander can go in the industry?
Being from the Isle of Wight is not a hindrance by any means. Only if you’re determined to stay on the Isle of Wight, never to seek opportunities off of it will you find you have no career. There are too few opportunities there, you need to explore the wider world of the industry.
What is ‘Just A Few Words’?
Just a Few Words (JAFW) follows a young man with a horrible stammer trying to work up the courage, and the fluency, to tell someone he loves them. It’s an awkward, cheeky, hilarious and honest, poignant show, with minimal set and props.
How did the show come about?
20 minutes of it were made at the University of Chichester, for my 3rd year Solo module. I was encouraged to make it about my stammer, by my lecturer who also had experience with her stammer. After a month of work, the final performance was fantastic, I had never had such a positive response to a piece of work in my life. But it ran over, at 26 minutes, because I didn’t accommodate time for prolonged audience laughter at the jokes. I was marked down for it, which I thought was relevant – people with stammers always get called out for taking longer to say things! I later developed it to an hour, included some audience participation, and more crass stammer-related jokes.
Why did you choose to cover a subject so close to home and what risks were there, if any, about doing so?
I was forced into it all! Next question.
Honestly, I had to be persuaded to base it upon my experiences of stammering, I didn’t want to seem self-indulgent. I decided the intent behind it would reflect that, and so I decided to see it as an opportunity to explore with people what having a speech impediment is like. Because people don’t often think about it. And that’s what bothered me. In terms of risks, I suppose I was putting my experiences on the line by exposing it to audiences. But as the character was only based off of some of my experiences, that risk was no real concern. The aim to raise awareness took precedent over ego.
Would you say that differences, or what some would call weaknesses, can really show as strengths when it comes to theatre and performance?
I love this question. Theatre contextualises a subject such as a difference, a disability, an issue, as performance. When this happens, any difference, disability, issue covered by the performance, which many people have struggled with, is now seen as a representation of the issue. It all comes down to what makes people unique, and that anyone with differences, “weaknesses”, and so on, can make theatre just as much as anyone else.
I’ve noticed the term Disability Theatre popping up recently, would you say you class JAFW as Disability Theatre?
I would say, tentatively, yes. It’s personal. I only recently classed my stammer as a disability, so how I class Just a Few Words reflects that. It’s also disability-related theatre. It’s also just ‘theatre’. There’s a Venn Diagram for it somewhere.
With the fantastic rise of Para-sport that we are witnessing at the moment and since 2012, do you think that Disability Theatre is getting to be more mainstream?
This is so interesting to me. The rise of Para-sport and Disability Theatre in the UK was thanks to a massive injection of money as part of Spirit of 2012. It was set up to invest in disability arts as much as disability sport. This is why the coverage of Para-sport has been so good. There is absolutely more awareness of both in the UK. I don’t think that Disability Theatre is a separate art form, and I don’t think that mainstream audiences really get on with theatre as much as they do with cinema or streaming TV. But interestingly, the UK is world-renowned for it disability arts and inclusivity. So, I would say that theatre about disability and mental health is being exposed more through the hard work of the people behind it, and it’s getting there, especially with the Edinburgh Fringe. And with the help of the people working to keep up the fantastic coverage of Para-sport.
How do you feel about the genre of Disability Theatre, and do you think it’s more or less helpful for the disabled community when it comes to getting involved with theatre?
I think it’s hard to class Disability Theatre as a genre. I’m certainly aware of artists who identify as disabled who don’t want their work to be defined as disability theatre, and I have a dual-opinion of my own work of where it sits, categorically. For anyone getting involved with theatre, I will always say that it’s vital for self-help. It focuses the mind, increases self-esteem, you make new friends… For people who have disabilities, it’s exactly the same. Art is amazing therapy.
What’s your opinion on non-disabled actors portraying a disability on stage or screen?
Get the actor who has the disability to play the character who has the disability! There needs to be more consideration for them, and more representation for them.
Going back to JAFW, how long have you been performing this show now and how does that equate into performance numbers?
Since 2013… Four years… and thirty-six times now.
From doing the show so much, do you ever worry that you might get your stammer back, and possibly more severely than before?
I disproved this fear myself, back in 2015 at the Edinburgh Fringe. I had a run of 18 shows (the last 6 of which you excellently provided tech support for, Mitch. Thanks.) and I thought that if I stammered so much, it would come back. It didn’t, and it hasn’t.
Do you ever change anything in the show, if so, why and if not, with that in mind, do you not get bored of repeating the same thing every time?
I ad-lib a bit. On the spot I’ll think of a gesture, or a line that might work, and do it. It keeps it fresh for me.
Are you currently planning anything new?
I am hard at work on a new show, which will be completely different in style to Just a Few Words… This time focusing on epilepsy. I will say no more just now!
What advice do you have for islanders that are interested in acting, both young and old?
Get off the island once in a while if you want a career in acting! Seek out paid opportunities, join a supporting artist agency and be an extra in a major film! Make your hobby your job!
And do you have any advice for those wanting to act that feel like they can’t because of a disability?
Acting is about being true to the role, and true to yourself. You have strengths! Ignore your worries, and push yourself!
Thank you So much for answering these questions Nye
They were great questions!
Nye, as StammerMouth, will be bringing Just A Few Words back to the Island and will be performing at The Quay Arts Centre on International Stammering Awareness Day, the 22nd October and we’ll of course let you know when tickets become available.