Then there are times when your friends refer someone to you. So when Jennafer Newberry suggested I interview Beth Newbery, I said, yes, let's do this! Beth and I talk about acting, her latest play Undone, creating her own company, infusionarts, the difference between acting here in the states and over in the UK, and so much more!
1. Who or what inspired you to be a performer/writer? I met Sidney Poitier right after I left drama school. I kept going back into the acting scene but one day realized that all I wanted to do was perform. Then writing followed when I wanted to do something that had a real personal meaning. I love theatre and films that are also a message for society.
2. Your latest play, Undone, has gotten quite a lot of attention, with the hopes of it being made into a feature film. What made you want to write a play about a former sex slave rebuilding her life? I like stories that are about a social issue or ones that make you think. Even if an audience only discusses it for a while then I have played a part in creating and spreading awareness. Woman who have suffered any type of sexual abuse, particularly for a long time can be seen as "okay" once they get married, have children or simply get a job and move on, but it's all too often a small fraction of what is really happening. So often a deeper level of despair, uncertainty, and insecurity stays in the mind. This is what I wanted to explore and have the actor portray.
3. When you found out there was talk of Undone being made into a film, what went through your head? How do you feel this story will play out on film as opposed to on stage? First of all I had a two-hour discussion with the playwright about it, thinking about the characters and those who had been involved in this girl's life. I thought about the opportunity to have such a story get seen by many more people using the media of film. It will be different in the film because you can create the external world and show the story of how she got to where she was and the aim will be to have some understanding of her love for her captor. My first reactions was, great, lets do this and was thrilled to have it suggested as a feature rather then a short film.
4. You have acted in both theatre and film. Is your approach to preparing for each medium the same or different? What do like about acting best in theatre and in film? I don’t think it is that different for me in my preparing but for theatre I do get more nervous! I always ask myself about the character and how I have a connection. No matter how different your character, you have to find some understanding of each character you play. I love the thrill of acting in theatre because of the reactions and perceptions are engaged in the moment whilst being watched. In film you are stopping and starting but there is an edge to it with your audience being able to look right in your eyes, and can give away the slightest fear or lack of being’ when portraying your thoughts as a character. This is always something that I am aware of.
5. In addition to acting, you founded your own company called infusionarts, which runs educational, social and community projects in Great Britain and Africa. infusionarts uses the arts to engage and enhance relationships and social issues awareness. How did you start infustionarts?? What do you get from this venture? I started infusionarts after attending the TED conference in Africa along with many others including singer Bono, Bill Ford, and the wonderful Jane Goodall. I had completed a documentary called My Journey’ based on the culture of the Maasai people with amazing footage of weddings, and other ceremonies studying the performative elements. I used it to achieve my Masters degree. I loved exploring theatre whilst there and noticed how quickly the children would engage in theatre based games and workshops so I decided to begin a company that would develop this connection within communities and use the arts to highlight many social issues. It really had grown for my love of Africa and the wonderful playwrights such as Wole Soyinka, Gibson Kente, and Athol Fugard. We fund children as often as possible to attend school for a year with a percentage of any profit made on each project.
6. You acted in both the UK and US. What differences do you notice between the two? What are some similarities? I think many great actors are both sides of the world and we cannot compare in terms of good and bad, better or worse. But I have read there are two major schools of thought when it comes to acting. And I agree with the different approaches such as: the classical; best known by such people as Laurence Olivier and the Method which began a new art form in America with James Dean and Marlon Brando, who brought it to the film. The classical can be seen as more of an external approach, and then you have the Constantin Stanislavski's approach, naturalistic, more inside out. In the UK we have stressed the training in voice and posture and the physical attributes, whereas in America training is deep rooted in the actors emotions. I think the culture of acting in the UK is much more rooted in traditional styles of training. The similarities: well, with many new ways of using the methods in training I think actors are beginning to grow and realize the need of both speech and physical training but the most important, which is what I begin within my coaching is being comfortable with yourself. Then you can expand and express with more ease and faith with stronger risks. Yes, I coach actors and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact www.infusionarts.org.
7. What is the best advice you've ever received? Forget you and your baggage. You have to be comfortable and centered for who you are to be an insightful and engaging actor.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being an actress/writer/business creator? I have to say that it’s only in the last couple of years that I truly have understood who I am. I mean the power, the ability and the sense of loving who I am is now within me. It’s through doing all these things and meeting wonderful people that I have grown. Many of my stories and creations are from what I have previously experienced but now I can use this life to enhance and be a part of many people’s lives. I have learned that all is possible. Being creative is who I am and I would rather never know where my next check is coming from then do a nine to five job!
9. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? To remove the fear, greed, and anger within individuals so that poor decisions can be removed and more done to help the planet and it’s people.
10. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it and what ingredients would you put in it? "Get over yourself" would be the title of my drink, with good vodka, grapefruit, splash of sec, and flavored gin. Get over yourself is a statement I use when I think of a person who is so over the top, or simply annoying!
Born in Devon, England, Beth grew up on a farm until the age of twelve. Since leaving school Beth has travelled extensively. After trying a number of various career paths, Beth followed her passion for acting. She trained for three years at an Acting School with Patron Peter Brook and worked hard to get an Equity card once she had left. Beth has worked in theatre, TV and film and has enjoyed gaining plenty of insight behind the scenes, especially in producing and directing.
Beth backpacked through Tanzania, which included living in the bush with the Maasai people. Her research here was used to gain her Masters degree after completing a documentary on her journey. Not content with that, Beth has also shark dived to get up close to the great whites in South Africa, and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Always one for a challenge, Beth set up Infusionarts to take drama to small communities in Africa, and now explores ways to develop theatre focusing on social issues. Beth has worked as a coach and director with many successful productions including her own play I Wait Till Dusk.