Coffee Break: Stephanie Rutherford  

Stephanie Rutherford, actor musician currently touring in The Sign of Four with Blackeyed Theatre, chats to Susan Elkin


Did you always want to be an actor? No! It was music, music, music for me when I was growing up in Leeds. I was going to be the best tenor horn player in the world. I was caught up in the competitive “Brassed Off” world of brass bands as well as playing in orchestras. I was out playing almost every night of the week.

So how did that fit in with your school work? Well I am dyslexic and absolutely not academic. Even reading was a problem, so I did GCSEs and then left at 16 to do a BTec in classical music at Leeds College of Music but it was a struggle. I needed help with essays but was too scared to ask for it. So I gave it up.

But I bet you’d decided there were things you really didn’t want to do? Indeed. I’d been working in Burger King and I certainly didn’t want to get stuck with a job like that especially as I’m a vegetarian. And I knew I needed some A levels or equivalents and I thought – oh dear! – that acting sounded easy, so I went to Wakefield to do a BTec.

So what about those essays? Well I read two books from cover to cover – quite an achievement for me at the time – and they were life changers: True and False by David Mamet and An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski. Suddenly things fell into place. I could ask for, and, get the help I needed. And I learned the trombone.

Does the music inform the acting? It does for me. When I eventually got into the actor musician course at Rose Bruford, I was terrified of Shakespeare, so I went to see the voice teacher who told me to see it as piece of music with rhythm, melody and musical shape; suddenly it all clicked. Music has always been my entrée into everything else. And on the Bruford course they stress the musicality of texts all the time.

Did it make you more versatile? In some ways. I took up the violin at Bruford because one day we were working on something which needed a violin and I said “Ok. I’ll do that.”  Not that I’m great at it – my skills are quite basic – but it’s useful. I do a bit with it in The Sign of Four for example.

Tell me about your special needs work I worked as a support worker for adults with autism and complex learning difficulties for a while when I was doing my post-16 courses back in Yorkshire. Then, several years later when Jeremy Harrison, programme director at Rose Bruford, showed us videos of Oily Cart’s work for very young children and for young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties, I was really moved. It came at the right moment, an assertion that theatre is for, and can reach, anyone, so I wrote my dissertation, “Making Theatre Possible for “Impossible” Audiences” and I got a First! Considering the difficulty I’d had with writing in the past that was amazing.

Did you do a lot of research? Yes I did and that meant that by the time I graduated from Rose Bruford in 2015 I had a lot of contacts and a year later I was cast in Oily Cart’s show In A Pickle (lots of singing, mostly as a sheep!). Then I did Kubla Khan with them. And I did some work with Bamboozle which works with similar audiences but does it differently.

But now you’re doing something rather different with Blackeyed Theatre?

I am. I did two years of specialist theatre but I’m still a newish graduate and I wanted to branch out a bit and broaden my experience. So I read The Sign of Four, encouraged by my partner – he’s an actor too – who is very keen on Conan Doyle. I like the way Nick Lane’s adaptation respects the novel but also subtly introduces and explores issues such as feminism and colonialism. We play to a lot of school audiences and find they know nothing at all about colonialism.

It’s a big tour isn’t it? Yes, and it’s just got even bigger. It was scheduled through to March 2019 but now it’s been extended to July including a month in China which should be quite an adventure. I hope I don’t have to learn Mandarin! It’s lovely too that we get a block of time off over Christmas, so I’ll be able to get home to spend time with my parents who have retired to the Yorkshire Dales and now keep gorgeous rescue chickens. It’s also great of course to have work scheduled half way into the new year. It will mean a lot less bar work.

Do you have plans for the future? Lots of ambitions, yes, but I’m young so I’ve also got plenty of time. I’ve been in London since 2011 and I’d like to move back to Leeds or Manchester. I want to work in the famous northern venues such as Northern Broadsides. And I need more camera work experience. There’s so much incredible work going on up there. And I don’t like feeling too settled for too long. I also have an outline idea for starting a baby café when babies can come and play. And I might train as a counsellor. I’d also like to set up sensory workshops.

See Stephanie in Blackeyed Theatre’s The Sign of Four on tour: