Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Matt Steinberg and Billie: Barefaced

By | Published on Friday 11 March 2022

You may well be aware of the work of Outside Edge, the theatre company and participatory arts charity focused on improving the lives of people affected by any form of addiction, including their families, carers and champions.

Along with many companies – as you’ll know, because we have been talking about it a lot – their plans to stage work at this year’s Vault Festival had to be changed following its unfortunate cancellation. 

Which means Outside Edge will be staging their latest production – ‘Barefoot’ by Jane Bodie – at the Chelsea Theatre this week.

To find out more about the play and the company, I spoke to one of the performers, Billie, and Artistic Director Matt Steinberg.  

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the content of the play? What story does it tell?
B: It’s about the unravelling of family dynamics at a funeral, messy addiction, and a dollop of lies.

MS: Yes, ‘Barefaced’ is about the fallout that occurs after Frank dies. It explores what happens when close family and friends try to piece together how much they really know about someone that is no longer there. It looks at the difference between the legacy and lies we leave behind.

CM: Who are the central characters that the play focuses on?
MS: In many respects, we never meet the central character, Frank, because he’s dead! Everyone else in this ensemble piece plays someone who was close, or maybe not so close, to Frank.

CM: What themes are explored through the play?
B: Addiction, lies, and – for me – how lies ‘keep us sick’.

MS: Yes, as with all of the plays we produce at Outside Edge, ‘Barefaced’ features elements of addiction. But its real thematic interest is much more about the construction of identity and the stories we tell about ourselves.

CM: What was the inspiration for this piece? What process did you go through in creating it?
MS: The story was inspired through a devising process, but as I wasn’t in the rehearsal room I can’t tell you what provoked these stories.

We created the piece because our community participants in recovery wanted to work with world class directors and writers, so we brought together Jane and director Hannah Hauer-King, and let them loose to co-create a show with our participants.

B: It was a wonderful celebration with both the cast and Jane.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team involved in the production?
B: Hannah, our director, is a truly wondrous woman who has nurtured us to become the best creatives we can be.

MS: Absolutely, Hannah is a brilliant director whom I’ve long admired. She created work for us during lockdown and I was so thrilled that she was available to return to make a piece for a real live audience.

Jane, meanwhile, is an exceptional writer whose work has been produced internationally. She also co-facilitates one of our writer’s groups, so she intimately understands the issues and needs of the community we work with.

All of the performers in the piece are affected by addiction in some way or another. They are the long-term participants of Outside Edge’s drama groups and our professional ensemble of actors.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about Outside Edge? When was it set up and what are its aims and ethos?
MS: Outside Edge is the UK’s only theatre company and participatory arts charity focused on addiction.

We were founded in 1999 by Phil Fox, who was an actor, director, playwright and also in recovery from heroin addiction and alcoholism. We believe that engaging in drama can transform people’s lives and that stories about issues related to addiction have universal resonance.

To this end, every year we deliver hundreds of free drama and creative activities for vulnerable people affected by addiction and we commission and produce new plays about these issues, often by artists with lived experience.

CM: What would you say are the highlights of the company’s history?
MS: As with most small arts organisations, I think our survival over the past 20-something years has to be one of our greatest achievements!

But artistically, I think one of our biggest highlights has been the different ways we have found to challenge the ’norms’ for how theatre is made and how we have managed to blur the lines between community and trained theatre makers.

CM: Billie, how long have you been involved with Outside Edge?
B: I have only been with the company for less than a year and this is my first professional performance with the company. It’s been a real milestone for me to reach with Outside Edge.

I came from a craft background and stumbled across OE and it is the best stumble I ever made. I have found a new love of my creativity. OE has nurtured and taught me so many new skills. It is now a cornerstone of my sobriety. In the future I hope to be much more involved with Outside Edge.

CM: And Matt, how did you end up working in the arts? Was it always what you wanted to do?
MS: I’ve known that I wanted to work in theatre for as long as I can remember. I was an actor for many years before turning my hand to directing. Now I’m incredibly privileged to be an Artistic Director too.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
MS: ‘Barefaced’ was one of two productions we had programmed at this year’s cancelled Vault Festival. My most pressing and urgent ambition is for us to produce the other show, ‘Drift’, so we can finally share that piece about a mental health and addiction crisis in small-town Wales with an audience.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
MS: We’re just in the process of finalising our plans for the next year, so I suppose the only answer I can offer at this point is ‘watch this space’.

‘Barefaced’ is on at Chelsea Theatre from 18-19 Mar, see this page here for information and to book tickets.

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