Arts: Interview: Stephanie Kempson, Sharp Teeth Theatre
Sharp Teeth Theatre is run by director, writer and performer Stephanie Kempson, who works with a group of wonderful volunteers to run the monthly nights at the Wardrobe Theatre. Each night is curated so that poetry, music, theatre and storytelling share the bill, in an eclectic mix of art forms and styles.
Now, the company is raising money through Indiegogo to fund a new artist development scheme where they will commission artists across different art forms to create brand new, collaborative short works which will be performed at the Wardrobe on Sunday, July 9. Here’s Stephanie to explain more.
Tell us about Sharp Teeth Presents…
Sharp Teeth Presents… is a monthly night which I started at the Arts House almost three years ago. We swapped to the Wardrobe when it moved to Old Market because we just couldn’t fit our acts and audiences in the space we were using.
Each night is hosted by me (and sometimes Closer Each Day’s Andrew Kelly), and features four different acts: one music, one poetry, one theatre, one storytelling. The idea is to introduce audiences to different art forms, so rather than watching two hours of poetry, you can see all the art! And also just to have a great time watching the brilliant performers on offer in Bristol. The range of what we have at each of our nights, let alone over the whole year, is magical. We’ve just started doing it at Theatre503 in London too, and our London audiences loved the breadth of the work we showcased.
Which have been your favourite performances over the past three years?
So many! Composer Ellie Showering (the composer behind Insane Root’s Macbeth in Redcliffe Caves and Orpheus & Eurydice beneath the Suspension Bridge) has blown my mind and broken my heart with her music twice over the past year. She performed with two singers in March and the audience were totally enthralled.
Last November local band Jakobol (formerly Only the Skies Were Silent) wheeled their massive harp down the cycle track and played an incredible set to a sold out Sharp Teeth. Spoken-word artist and musician Gecko always brings the house down, and at the last event Philip Naylor told a powerful and incredible personal story which had everyone talking at the end. We’ve had some incredible people through the doors in the last three years including In Bed With My Brother, Malaika Kegode, Propolis Theatre, Tremolo Theatre, Rebecca Tantony, Chris White, and so many more.
Why did you start Sharp Teeth?
I started it selfishly at first. I wanted a place to present my own work in order to test it out and meet other artists and new audiences. But as the night grew in popularity and more people wanted to perform, it shifted into what it is now. I still showcase bits of work occasionally, but mainly I get the joy of hosting and making lots of inappropriate jokes, while also seeing incredible work by artists. We’ve kept it Pay What You Decide too, which means that audiences pay at the end what they think the night was worth. Our audiences at the Wardrobe are really generous, and that’s why now seemed the right time to ask them help us set up our artist development scheme.
Tell us about the scheme.
We’re raising money to commission four new short collaborations from a range of artists (read about it here). We’re currently announcing the acts over on our Facebook page as we go, but so far we’ve announced the beautifully cinematic experimental instrumental acoustic group Spindle Ensemble who will be working with AV artist PantherPanther. We’ll also be giving one of our commissions to young emerging artists.
I work a lot with young people round the city, and it’s exciting to be able to give some of them an opportunity to collaborate with professional artists and develop their work. All the money we raise will be used as match-funding for getting further funding in order to keep this scheme going.
What impact will the scheme have for artists and performers?
It’ll give them the opportunity to work with artists from another artform, to develop their craft and to develop a new idea. The ideal for me would be that these collaborations could form the basis of bigger and longer collaborations between the artists. Maybe we’ll take some of these collaborations to our London night, and maybe artists in the audience will be inspired to set up their own new collaborations, or maybe in a year from now some of these will be full shows you can see at the Wardrobe Theatre!
What will the money be spent on?
First up, it’ll be spent on the artists and the collaborations, paying our artists means that the work will take priority, that even those who can’t afford to make art can take part. Then it’ll go on documenting the night so videos, recordings and photography can be available on the internet after. After that’ll the final bits will help Sharp Teeth with the marketing costs and producing costs.
What’s in it for people who donate?
Fancy perks. We’ve got posters, a recording of an infamous bike rap about the theft of my sixth bike which has been created with the help of Jack Drewry from 4th Project, recordings of stories, postcard stories and more. Plus you can shove us a couple of quid and get the warm fuzzy feeling of having made great art happen. There’s nothing more lovely than the way audiences can directly make art happen by supporting the artists they love.
What can people do to support the show?
You can check out our Indiegogo fundraising campaign here, please donate to support the night happening because without your help it won’t! Our donations so far have ranged from £5 to £180, so whatever you can give is massively helpful. Also sharing the campaign online or just booking a ticket to come watch the performance on Sunday, July 9 helps too! It’s going to be an explosively wonderful night, I cannot wait and I really hope you’ll help us make it possible.
What do you look for in the artists you programme – and how can people get involved?
Generally all the artists I programme are people whom I’ve seen perform, or who have attended a Sharp Teeth night and introduced themselves. I like to make sure acts will compliment each other and work well together, and I’ll mix emerging acts with more established ones. You can get in contact via our Facebook page or on twitter (@tinylittlefangs) and send us some samples of your work. We love meeting new artists.
What’s next for Sharp Teeth?
Sharp Teeth is working with Milk Poetry to run a stage at Valley Fest (Aug 4-6, Chew Valley), and I’m researching our next show Troll Hunter which we did as a short play at Skint Theatre Festival in April (it’s about internet trolls and feminist Jedis called Suffra-jedis). We’re also currently pinning down the final programme for our Autumn season at the Wardrobe Theatre, which will also feature our collaboration with Milk Poetry, Milk Teeth: storytelling and poetry for kids.
Stephanie Kempson pic: Adam Fung