The school gate is as curious a place as a grown up as it is for a child I have observed since becoming a Mother, the success of TV show Motherland indicates that unspoken truth of rife political cliques that simmer on the pavement. I have always been a soul apart, a day dreamer and never one to conform so these political playground worlds once again greeting me as a grown up seemed rather amusing from afar… I have been lucky enough to meet a similar mother soul, we have found closeness through our day dreamy apartness.
Stephanie Moore is an actor, an avid fan of orange and a voracious reader. She has a hunger for reading like no one I have ever met but it is a hunger of joy.. she was a true inspiration and wonder to interview.
F: I wanted the purpose of these conversations to allow an understanding of colour in the context of other people’s lives. I know you love Orange.. you have brought some items today… a notebook, your bracelet, your cardigan, your nails!
You see they’re all different coloured oranges. Colour is so subjective, so emotional and it shifts. Orange is a beautiful fruit, it is sunsets, it’s a warm fire but it’s also, if you like, a warning. So, amber, traffic lights, hazard warning… so are you warning me?! Or are you sending me energy when I see you?!
S: To be honest, I don’t think of it as a warning, although obviously I think it is one of those colours you either love or you’re not a fan of.
F: You also have to be very confident to carry it off, which you are and you know it suits you, I think.
S: Yes, and I think actually that’s come with age. I’ve always been attracted to orange but I think before I would’ve used a subtle hint- like I always have orange nails or maybe a bit of an orange lipstick- whereas now I think it’s slowly pervading every area of my wardrobe and accessories so I suppose I’m getting braver and bolder in my own choices as well.
F: And do you understand why you’re drawn to orange? You’re an actor and you read prolifically and I do feel that the actors that I’ve met have a great insight. They are observers as well as showing the world a different way; a different way to think.
What I would like to understand is…as you’ve got older has your understanding of that relationship with colour become clearer through your reading and through your acting? Or is it just an intuitive love of it?
S: I was going to touch on that…I think for me it’s just the visceral effect it has on me. It’s like a pull and I haven’t ever tried to analyse what it is about that colour that I love. It’s just that I’m immediately drawn to things that have this particular bright, reddy-orange shade to them, including book covers which I know goes against the whole premise of never judge a book by its cover but a lot of books that I’ve read, that I love, have had orange covers! Often, it just is what resonates with me.
F: And is it energising?
S: Yeah! And it makes me happy. My children often say to me ‘Why do you get your nails painted that exact same colour?’ and it just uplifts me whenever it catches my eye.
F: Tell me about your acting. Obviously, I know you’re an actor but I don’t know much about where that came from and did you study acting?
S: Yes, I did. And my desire to become an actor came from seeing Joseph and his amazing technicoloured dream coat! So, from 7, I knew I wanted to be an actress and I never wanted to do anything else. It’s just been my driving force.
F: And was drama school everything that you imagined it…? There’s that cultural vision of drama school that you’re all doing crazy things in a room, being slightly weird…!
S: Yeah! It’s all that and more. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day who was telling me there’s actually a care home specifically for ageing actors and I was like ‘Oh! We’ve got drama school round two to look forward to!’ Because for me, for three years, it was just all day every day doing the thing that I loved more than anything else. And I did have friends who didn’t enjoy the intensity of the experience, I mean it was hardcore at times but the practical element of being able to study characters all day, doing movement all the time and being surrounded by other people who- not everyone, but a lot of them, are thinking and feeling the same way as you and I think we’re a group of people that just feel things so intensely. It felt like it passed in the blink of an eye.
F: So, I wonder if when you read you feel more intensely? I read in a rather passive way that’s kind of soothing and it’s a disconnect from everything that’s gone on in the day.
I wonder if you have a very different relationship with reading?
S: I tried to explain this to another friend who asked ‘What is your process of choosing a book’? and I thought ‘Oh, how do I even begin?!’I can’t really even articulate it. I read the first few pages of a book. It’s to do with the rhythm and whether I feel an immediate connection with the text. I never really go by the blurb of a book or whether something is going to be an incredible story. It’s about whether, when my eyes land on the page, I feel a physical response. It could be to do with it feeling lyrical or poetical or just the format of the writing.
F: And if you don’t have that connection do you continue to read?
S: No! I used to because I had it instilled in me as a child ‘Oh you should always finish a book!’ and ‘don’t give up!’ but actually I realise there are so many books I want to read and I know the level of enjoyment I can have when I hit on that sweet spot with a book that now I just don’t want to waste my time. So, if I feel like I’m not connecting with something, I’ll give it a try, but I don’t push myself to make it to the end. Especially if I’ve got my eye on a book on my shelf!
F: That’s really fascinating because it is a kind of scholastic treatment of our brains that says ‘you must finish this book’.
F: The texture of your early life in Scotland versus Henley on Thames- is that greatly different? And I also know that you’re happiest in a café in London working and reading - with that kind of buzz of life… so you have your childhood, your current life and your work life in London… where resonates with you or is there a kind of a bond with them all within you?
S: This is the thing! I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, weighing up the dilemma of where to really put down roots and visualise the future. I moved around a lot as a child- moved to different locations in Scotland- but also down to Norwich and then back to Scotland- and then down to London when I was 18 so I suppose London feels like home because I had part of my ‘childhood’ there and grew into a grown up -I hope!- but I think that sense of home is something I’m only beginning to acquire within myself in very recent times and maybe for me reading is a place where I feel so grounded in myself that it doesn’t matter where I am if I’m reading! But, when I’m in a busy atmosphere in a café in London, there’s something about the noise and the energy in my peripheral vision and hearing that I just find so relaxing and helps me to switch off and just immerse myself in the pages which I know for some people is a distraction!
F: Do you take anything in? I have to go into London as well for work and I like to observe. I like to see the different characters and the way people interact with each other and sometimes I find it quite overwhelming.
When you’re sat reading is there a little owly eye looking around you, because you’re an observer and taking things in, or are you so zoned in on your own activity that you find you can shut out that peripheral noise?
S: Depends on the book! If I’m devouring it and obsessed then I’m completely in the book but if it’s one that I’m not that taken by then I can get lost watching another couple have a little tiff at a table...It is harder when you’re in London and it’s busier now, I think recently because of lockdown when I have been going into London for work it’s been so much quieter and so any bit of noise or any bit of hustle and bustle is actually soothing rather than being a distraction so I haven’t been doing so much observing…
F: I know that you love a bookshop and bookshops are fascinating places. … and I think many people find them quite enveloping spaces… and I feel like the experience in a bookshop is quite unique compared to any other store. The colours are generally quite muted, and often bookstores are piled high so even the sound is muted. Do you feel calm or energised when you’re in that kind of space?
S: I am drawn to the energy and the visceral experience but actually in a book shop I do feel really calm and you have that slightly muffled quality because of all the shelves and the reams of books and everyone’s speaking in a hushed voice- which is nice- and I also love the smell. I find that really soothing and so although I walk in and I’m excited I also feel grounded and something happens with my sense of time in a bookshop where, honestly, I could lose a whole day.
F: It’s funny that everyone speaks in hushed tones in a bookshop because we absolutely don’t need to because you’re not in a library…
S: It’s almost like a reverence. All these people’s work and words. It’s a special place.
F: I just wanted to go back to your acting; you have a clear path in your head of what your career would look like?
S: I mean, obviously I was going to be an A list super star in Hollywood!! I think every young actress has this idea that she’s going to be famous but actually I didn’t ever want to do films. For me, it’s always been theatre. Always. I always wanted to be on the stage and I think again that comes down to the full 360 degree experience and the connection. Because for me, what drives my work, whether it’s acting, voice over work, writing, poetry it’s about the connection of the words on the page and who they’re reaching and what I’m getting back from them. It’s that cliché you hear of no two performances being the same. Every audience is different and what might land and work on one night doesn’t the next and nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare to that feeling of anticipation just before you begin where you have that silence, everyone’s focused, present- the atmosphere is electric – and you just have to be so in that moment. You know in real life, day to day, when you have that real, clear connection with somebody and you are fully in that moment… and we’re so busy and always rushing now… that it’s very rare that I feel those moments of being completely streamlined, in my body not thinking about anything else. But that moment just before you say your first line, nothing compares to that…nothing!
F: I can see your body language has changed now talking about it!
S: Yeah, I’ve got goose-bumps now just talking about it! It’s that inexplicable, magical language of life and I feel like colour is that, too. Words are that. Music is that. When it’s the right combination of energy and art and everything is aligned…it’s perfection.
F: So, with your voiceover work, what work have you done, which bits do you enjoy and does it vary? What’s the detail of that?
S: Yes, it’s very varied! So, I’ve done adverts and video games and audiobooks and radio dramas… and I suppose my love, really, is for more of the character-based work like the audiobooks and now branching more into poetry… but what’s interesting about this point in my career and in my development as a woman and as a mother is that I’ve gone from having a period of time where I’ve been very, kind of, invisible behind the microphone – no stage, no screen, and now with my children being 8 and 6 I’ve suddenly almost opened the doors and become more visible. So, I’m doing more live readings and poetry events and moving back more into performing.
F: And would you like to go back to doing more theatre work?
S: I would love to. That’s probably the next step. What’s interesting is, I loved acting because I loved embodying other people’s stories and words whereas now, at 36, the performances and readings I’m doing are often of my own work. So, it’s like I trained to be an actor but the process of my life has been getting comfortable in my own voice and my own stories…
F You need to write a play!
S: Well, yes! I’ll start with the poetry and then maybe a play will come through.
Crayons. Stephanie Moore
F: Thank you, Stephanie!
Paint your Bicycle. Clive James
The Australian writer, poet, and critic Clive James has a perfect story about how once, during a particularly awful creative dry spell, he got tricked back to work.
After an enormous failure (a play that he wrote for the London stage, which not only bombed critically, but also ruined his family financially and cost him several dear friends), James fell into a dark morass of depression and shame. After the play closed, he did nothing but sit on the couch and stare at the wall, mortified and humiliated, while his wife somehow held the family together. He couldn’t imagine how he would get up the courage to write anything else ever again.
After a long spell of this funk, however, James’s young daughters finally interrupted his grieving process with a request for a mundane favour. They asked him if he would please do something to make their shabby old secondhand bicycles look a bit nicer. Dutifully (but not joyfully), James obeyed. He hauled himself up off the couch and took on the project.
First, he carefully painted the girls’ bikes in vivid shades of red. Then he frosted the wheel spokes with silver and striped the seat posts to look like barbers’ poles. But he didn’t stop there. When the paint dried, he began to add hundreds of tiny silver and gold stars- a field of exquisitely detailed constellations- all over the bicycles. The girls grew impatient for him to finish, but James found that he simply could not stop painting stars (“four pointed stars, six-pointed stars, and the very rare eight-pointed stars with peripheral dots”). It was incredibly satisfying work. When at last he was done, his daughters pedalled off on their magical new biked, thrilled with the effect, while the great man sat there, wondering what on earth he was going to do with himself next.
The next day, his daughters brought home another little girl from the neighbourhood, who asked if Mr James might please paint stars on her bicycle, too. He did it. He trusted in the request. He followed the clue. When he was done, another child showed up, and another, and another. Soon there was a line of children, all waiting for their humble bicycles to be transformed into stellar objets d’art.
And so it came to pass that one of the most important writers of his generation spent several weeks sitting in his driveway, painting thousands and thousands of tiny stars on the bicycles of every child in the area. As he did so, he came to a slow discovery. He realised that “failure has a function. It asks you whether you really want to go on making things.” To his surprise, James realised that the answer was yes. He really did want to go on making things. For the moment, all he wanted to make were beautiful stars on children’s bicycles. But as he did so, something was healing within him. Something was coming back to life. Because when the last bike had been decorated, and every star in his personal cosmos had been diligently painted back into place, Clive James at last had this thought; I will write about this one day.
And in that moment, he was free.
The failure had departed; the creator had returned.
By doing something else- and by doing it with all his heart- he had tricked his way out of the hell of inertia and straight back into the Big Magic.