In #couchersation with Sophie Besse – Theatre Director

GIULIANO: Hello my darlings, welcome to People of
Theatre! Today I’m really happy to get a chance to talk to Sophie Besse!
Hello Sophie! Thank you very much for inviting me over to film. Well
actually we were planning to go to Finsbury Park in Northern London!
SOPHIE: yeah. GIULIANO: but not today because
SOPHIE: of London weather GIULIANO: it’s pouring water outside and yeah we wanted to
actually take this man here… SOPHIE: yeah, who’s very disappointed!
GIULIANO: who’s very disappointed, you can see. And actually, when I came in, he was so happy
to finally see me and say: let’s go out! But not today…! When
did this love happen? SOPHIE: he’s nearly five years yeah four and a half years.
GIULIANO: you always tour with your company, how do you take care of him
when you’re away?Do you take him with you? SOPHIE: no no and even in rehearsal
spaces usually dogs are not allowed so… but my partner works from home
quite a lot so we take turns really. GIULIANO: So “Bordenline”, that was the first
show, I think, that you produced and directed for the refugee issue when was
the time that you thought this is the time to do this show. I need to do it now!
SOPHIE: I think it was after a year or so doing some volunteer
workshops in in Calais. I used to go there maybe once a month for like three
four days, and you know, doing volunteer work: cleaning staff, cutting food,
chopping vegetables and stuff, but also I run some workshops, different kind
of art workshops and I realised that each time I was mentioning Calais
to my friends, my family, or people, people were usually quite scared for me and
worried so I realised that there was a very strong negative
narrative around refugee, not necessarily in a mean way. It could have just been a bit fearful
or pitiful but definitely nothing positive. I witnessed a fashion show in
the Calais Jungle, a genuine one. They did a fashion show with all the silly
donations they had received, like wedding dress and all of that, and that
was absolutely hilarious! And I thought oh my God people don’t know about that,
like the resilience, you know. So, there was really a thirst for life. And you know, all what they created. Even just that the Jungle in
itself was an amazing space in a way, you know. There was like a
hairdresser, Turkish bath restaurants and I was like WOW all this
without money without any kind of support and you still want to go to the
hairdresser. GIULIANO: it was a strong community. SOPHIE: exactly! So, I wanted to
show this side of it. So I thought, okay I’d like to try and create
something with the people involved, because that’s how we work with my
theatre company, psycheDELIGHT. Our aim is really to give a platform for people
to express themselves and be heard. GIULIANO: how about the cast? You mentioned before a
little bit about it. How did you get all the actors involved? Because it’s not just
about professional actors…SOPHIE: So I first met I’d say three-quarters of the cast for
“Borderline”, the first show, the satire of Calais Jungle. For me it was very
important that this show was not only about acting skills, but very much
about the commitment and the human adventure behind it. I think that’s
the whole point: “Borderline” is not a show only, definitely not. That’s the top of the
iceberg. And then for “Welcome to the UK”, we had some women coming thanks to
“Women for Refugee Women”. So, for me it was a really strong and important
experience to mix these people together. It was the first time
that this women were working in a mixed gender group. So that was quite a
big step, I guess. GIULIANO: So, how did you coped with all these challenges: the language, a
mixed gender group, different countries, I guess also different difficulties?
SOPHIE: probably, I think, at the beginning I’ve been over precocious and I had a
good thought about it. I was like, well, actually they’re extremely strong to
be here and to be willing to do this. That’s very brave! Baraa says that and
I think it’s very very true: helping someone is not about coming with
your solutions and with what you think you should do and it should be done but
it’s about listening to what they need, and they know what they need, and they
know what they want. So, if if this woman for example was going to come in this
group knowing she had seen “Borderline”, she knew exactly the type of things we
were doing in a mixed gender. It meant she was ready to do it and
she wanted me to welcome her in that place and to help her achieve the best
she could to convey her message. She was not there for me to to look at her like..GIULIANO: to cuddle her SOPHIE:
exactly! So I had a talk with Debbie one day. I remember I said: “Debbie, you
know what?!” We were looking at the song; she wanted to write a song to
convey her story and I said: “Debbie, I need to ask you that, how much do you
want people to know? Do we stay quite vague?” She said: “No! I want to people
to know everything!” I was like okay fair enough. Let’s go for it then! GIULIANO: how was the
rehearsal process? SOPHIE: So I’d say more the the creation process, because there was no
script originally. So, we created the script together. We started by thinking
about what were the important things we wanted to talk about. So, we had even more
people involved actually in that face, in the first week we had
maybe 20 or 25 people involved. I brought some pictures, you know, they chose
pictures they liked, they said why they liked it. You know, themes started to come
up of what was important for them. They talked about their experience of the UK,
the asylum process. We created images, I love to do that, to help people who struggle with English, you know. So, you
you create visual images, how do you feel how was it at the Home Office, can you show
me a picture and you create a tableau like
that and so we had different techniques to do to help with that. And then we had
a long time trying to figure out where this would happen, so little by little
the idea of a fanfare came up. It completely clicked with putting together
the women and the men story because they very different
stories, the the asylum process and women trafficking. So, I was like oh
that’s going to be tricky to put that together but then as soon as fanfare
came up, I thought okay yeah of course! Haunting house! That can work.
So, that’s how it it came up really. GIULIANO: the use of comedy was a little bit of a
challenge to address this quite delicate and dramatic issue. How
did you come up with the idea of using this genre for this story and why? SOPHIE: well the
comedy for me is magic. First, it was very important to convey a positive
image. I didn’t want to trigger pity. I didn’t want to trigger sadness. I wanted
people to leave the show wanting to go for a drink with the guys. So, comedy is really good for that.
Besides, I think it’s a really nice little protection filter for the
performers to address their stories. I guess in in a different angle,
with a different twist. That’s quite magic for me, because it allows it to
be really violent, very violent where you would probably not address it directly
like that. If you take the story of women trafficking, you know the song “one man in
one man out”, you know, it’s quite terrible. I’m not sure she would
have been able or wanting or I would have been wanting to address it so
directly without humor. I think humor helps addressing very violent
issues. And, I think it’s very hard to address these violent issues directly
because it’s not digestible for an audience and it’s very violent for a
performer, especially when it’s about your life. GIULIANO: “that’s what a refugee smells
like”. What was behind that line? SOPHIE: the scene is about a policeman very happy and he’s taking
his dog to go and look for some refugees, you know, so we had this idea of the dog
because,, you know, as me, a lot of people pet their dogs and obviously dogs
are a horrible experience for people in Calais because they find the
refugees on the train, they run after them, they bite them, you know, it’s
horrible horrible experience. And, policemen as well, of course, you know! So,
we thought, okay let’s take it to the complete opposite, we take the horrible
policeman but when he’s at home, he’s like aww with his dog, we’re gonna
look for some refugees, you know, like it’s the little treat thing. So, we
thought okay let’s push it to the really horrible, and then the dog gets really
excited. So Peter is amazing doing the dog and then we thought okay it’d
be fun if he runs into the audience and so the audience has a bit of uhhh
why is s this dog coming to me and then we needed a way to take him back to the
refugees and yeah I guess we addressed racism yeah so you take a
Palestinian scarf, you know: “Ah, that’s what a refugee smells like!” GIULIANO: was that the sequel for
“Borderline”? How did you come up with idea? SOPHIE: That was actually very easy. So, we did “Borderline” and
we always had a Q&A after all shows and we kept on having the same
question in each Q&A: “how is it for you now guys that you’re in the UK?” So, we
just thought okay people don’t know! So, we kept explaining in the Q&A, you
know, it’s actually not easy and sorted, the 28 days and all of that. And, we
thought, you know what… we should just make a show about it. So, it just came
very naturally. GIULIANO: what was the feeling about having, you know, European actors
processing the feelings of the Brexit issue and refugees having
their feelings about their refugee status? How was that kind of level
of understanding? SOPHIE: I think that that was the big difference, because for
“Borderline” the European performers were there mainly to support the work and the
stories of the refugee performers. In “Welcome to the UK”. GIULIANO: it was their story as well. SOPHIE:
exactly! But it was not originally! It was not going to be about Brexit at
all. It was really about how is it for refugees in the UK blah blah…
but then when we started working with women refugees obviously the story of
trafficking came in the room and then it happens that in our cast I’m French,
there’s another French actress, and an Italian actor and when we started to say
what’s the UK for us… everything…so then I felt very uncomfortable and I said
okay guys but you know this show’s not about us yeah and then Baraa
interrupted me: “no no sorry. I completely disagree. In this show, we’re
all in the shit and I love that! GIULIANO: Q&A Spritz with Sophie Besse!
Thanks a lot! Here we are! Oh I forgot my drink! She wasn’t sure if she liked it, but she loves it now! SOPHIE: it’s amazing! Delicious!
11 a.m. I have to say that, no?! GIULIANO: That’s important, very relevant.
SOPHIE: it’s very relevant! GIULIANO: with a very intense work day ahead! SOPHIE: yes! Thank you very much!
GIULIANO: it’s a good start! Actually, when’s the last time you got drunk? SOPHIE: well, that’s a good
question, I don’t know! I think long time GIULIANO: Too much work! SOPHIE: yeah! I know, I’ve got a
boring life. Oh you know, it’s true when you live in this country,
you feel like people are getting drunk every other day but no… I mean for me
like drunk drunk is something yeah my teenage, you know. Otherwise tipsy, I hate being drunk. I don’t I don’t get it. GIULIANO: Me too. I like to be tipsy but not drunk. SOPHIE: yeah me too. So, the people getting out of the pub
at 8 p.m. already vomiting on their shoes. I don’t see the pleasure! GIULIANO: So,
you mentioned before that you were trained in psychotherapy. how did that come
about? SOPHIE: So, I first wanted to be an actress. I started theatre and drama when I was 10 and I did eight years of that, and I did
drama school in France, very good drama school, but then realised that I hated
the industry. I saw a film at that time where a woman was giving drama
workshops in prison and I completely fell in love with that. So I trained as a
psychotherapist, criminology and I worked in prison. GIULIANO: So,
how do you make them work together: psychotherapy and theatre-making. what
are the elements from psychotherapy that you bring in your creative process? SOPHIE: So, I wouldn’t say
that I used psychotherapy in “Borderline” at all. It’s not
psychotherapy but there’s definitely some element of it that are very
fundamental in the way that I try to always take a step back and look at making
sure that this is this is a place, it’s respectful, where people are committed,
it’s safe and so people can express themselves and will always be
supported and not judged. For example Abdulrahman, you know, he doesn’t talk much. First, there’s a language barrier and second it’s not
necessarily his main way of expression but I know that he struggles with sleeping
sometimes, and quite often at the beginning of the process and, you
know, so I said “Abdulrahman, would you show your nightmares? Would you like that? And, he said yeah and so it was really really interesting because he
doesn’t talk much but if he’s in charge of something, he’s brilliant at it! He’s really really committed. GIULIANO: he owns it. SOPHIE: oh yeah, he owns it massively! Big
time. So, I said Abdulrahman: “how many people do you need for your nightmare?”, he
said: ” Yeah I need someone to do my wife and I need like four people…” I said: “Ok brilliant. So, you choose them yeah?! You go in the group, you choose who you want to do your
wife, who you want, you know, so he chose everyone and he directed the scene
completely and it was really interesting because at some point somebody said: “no but it’s not
like that that you hold a knife, you know” not you know ” No, it’s like that in my nightmare!” Yeah yeah
fair enough. That’s your nightmare. So, it’s not only theatre.
There’s an element of releasing some kind of pain maybe. GIULIANO: tell me a little bit
about the “Together Workshop”. I haven’t been there yet. But I’m really
planning to. SOPHIE: it’s basically a place for people from all backgrounds to meet and
have fun together. GIULIANO: so, it’s not about actors or
aspiring actors. SOPHIE: no, no. It’s not about about aspiring actors at all. It’s more about
the vibe of “Borderline” which is different people with different
languages coming together and have fun, and meet. I think we’re in a state now
where it’s absolutely, I mean, racism and all of that is at its peak. GIULIANO: all of Europe, I guess. SOPHIE: exactly! and it’s a place to bring communities together. We did games,
things that are not non-verbal but don’t involve language so much or if
they involve language we explore all the different languages and it’s really, I
guess, to fight the fear, to give an opportunity to meet as well because, you
know, people might be keen to meet but they don’t have the opportunity. GIULIANO: they don’t know where to go. SOPHIE: exactly!
Both European people and asylum seekers or whatever. So, now they have a place. We promote it in the show. We say: “if you like this show, if
you like this vibe, just come to our workshop.” GIULIANO: let’s go! Good. Time to throw my
first card SOPHIE: WOW! GIULIANO: So, what is theatre great at? SOPHIE: for
me, it’s the connection with the audience. To be onstage and feel the audience,
I mean, you hear them breathe, you hear their silence. It’s something completely
unique. GIULIANO: and also because you have such a very diverse audiences. Some nights you have
more people from one country and then another country. So, the reactions are
different, the connection is different. SOPHIE: I remember there’s a bit in “Welcome to
the UK” where Mohand and Wasig, they hold banners and they are going to the
Sudanese embassy to demonstrate and this was not in the show at all at the
beginning, but then things in Sudan started to get really really bad and I
could see that they were both on social media all the time and going to the
embassies every Saturday to demonstrate. And so, it was like one week
before we opened the show and I said: “Guys, do you want to put it in the show? You know,
because that’s part of your life here, and how painful it is to be far away
from your country. Well this is happening”. And they said: “oh yes yes please!” “That’s
okay. We can’t change the whole show but we can definitely find a moment
where you’re going to the Sudanese embassy to demonstrate.” I remember
one night they did it and then people started clapping and standing like they
had standing ovations because like half of the room was
Sudanese. And then, each time there were Sudanese people, after each
show, they came to see us and they said “Thank you, thank you. That was so
important for me that it was said.” GIULIANO: are you a Londoner? SOPHIE: am I a Londoner? So, we’re
heading towards the delicate question… So, I’m very much a Londoner. I fell
in love with London 15 years ago. Absolutely, absolutely.
I fell in love with the buzz, with the diversity. I was like yeah
completely fell in love. Of course now it’s more tricky and I don’t know. I’m
still in love because I can see the support we still get and that feels very
very nice but as a European, you know, I don’t know where things are
gonna go. GIULIANO: if you had the chance to take me on a date, where would you take me? GIULIANO: if you had a chance, love! SOPHIE: if I had a chance?! SOPHIE: does it mean I don’t have a chance? GIULIANO: Oh I don’t know. I’ll think about it!
SOPHIE: oh that’s terrible! Well, I went to this restaurant which was really really fun.
I’m not sure it would be the best place for a date, I just thought about that.
It’s called “Restaurant dans le noir”. It’s near … I think it’s near Angel. Well, or Islington. And, it’s all in the dark but like in the dark dark, like if you were blind. You have no phones, nothing that could generate any
kind of light, It’s actually led by blind people who take you into the space,
you don’t know what you eat; it’s a surprise so it’s
really fun. It’s a bit noisy, as people tend to talk quite loud but it’s
really really fun. GIULIANO: good! Why not?! Now let’s get get more political! You anticipated before. You’re French, I’m Italian. You’ve been living here much longer than myself. We can’t ignore it: Breaxit! SOPHIE: I know, I know! GIULIANO: actually, have you applied for the
EU settlement? I haven’t done it ye. SOPHIE: so I’ve got the residence card but I haven’t applied for the nationality yet. I have struggled with
that. GIULIANO: it’s a lot of money as well SOPHIE: it’s lot of money. Part of me wants to do it to be able to vote and try to save this country. GIULIANO: imagine that the camera yes it’s a
brexiter… SOPHIE: oh my God! GIULIANO: what would you tell them? That’s it. It’s all yours. SOPHIE: oh, well, first I
think it’s tricky. You’re several persons probably, which is a bit awkward
because I’m not sure there’s a brexiter. I’d say that if you voted for brexit
because you’re scared, you’re scared about the refugees coming in, the fact
that you can’t share, you know, you can’t welcome the misery of the world, I
completely understand that. And I think it’s fair enough.
I don’t think it’s true though. I think, you know, if you don’t have the
money you need for your life, unfortunately it’s not asylum seekers
who are taking it. They have five pounds a day when they arrive, so that’s
definitely not where the money is going away. We can do great things together, and
we can learn from each other, and support each other, and support you as well.
I think it’s not only about the others. So yeah that’s my message
to the brexiter that I understand at least because there are some brexiters
that I don’t understand and I’m not completely ready to talk to them
right now. But these ones yes. GIULIANO: very happy now to throw this away.
Why can’t I do it?! SOPHIE: it’s too much alcohol. GIULIANO: oh good!
The Proust Questionnaire! Let’s find out who Sophie really is! SOPHIE: oh no, let’s not! GIULIANO: So, what is
your idea of perfect happiness? SOPHIE: Oh perfect happiness… oh yes perfect
happiness, I know! My friends and people I live with playing cards like we do
regularly, with them cheating and I get terribly upset about that because I
can’t trust any of them which is terrible and usually one of them has
cooked amazing food and my dog is sleeping on my feet that’s perfect happiness for me. With my
kids involved of course! GIULIANO: sweet. What is your current state of mind? SOPHIE: my current state
of mind? Very driven to try to continue what I believe in.
So, working hard and at the same time completely unsettled by the ground
moving under my feet with what’s happening in the world. So, not completely
sure. So, basically working really hard at the same time as being on a
surfboard or something thinking oh my god okay I’ll have to be adaptable
because I might just have to change my gear completely. GIULIANO: on what occasion
do you lie? SOPHIE: on what occasion do I lie? I’d like to say when I don’t want to
hurt people but that sounds too nice as an excuse. It’s quite true though.
Like, if I can’t do something, I can’t go somewhere because, I don’t know, like there’s too much going on or
there’s a problem I don’t want to talk about or I might invent a little bit of
a lie too yeah because yeah I guess I lie when I don’t dare telling the truth.
That’s really shit and I’m so sorry! Yeah when I don’t want to talk
about personal stuff and I want to give an excuse that’s it.
GIULIANO: if you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be? SOPHIE: for the first
18 years of my life, it’s been my nose but that was an obsession. Now one thing
about myself I would change?! I don’t know. That’s the good thing when you
take care of other stuff and other people, you don’t really have
time to look at yourself anymore so yeah okay let’s let’s stick with my nose then.
GIULIANO: who are your favorite writers? My favorite writers? Oh I guess I’ll
stick to the old ones that I used to love when I was… I love her Stefan Sweig.
He’s Austrian and he writes beautifully. He’s very very good at
depicting feelings and complicated feelings and yeah I love his writing.
GIULIANO: which talent would you most like to have? SOPHIE: can I choose two? GIULIANO: yes, just for today! SOPHIE: thank you! SOPHIE: so, I’d love to know how to draw. I
come from a family where my dad is an artist, my son is an artist and I can’t
do anything with my finger! It’s terribly terribly frustrating. Especially as I
think I’ve got a good eye. GIULIANO: but your son can! SOPHIE: I know!!! Very frustrating. And music. I’m really crap and my partner’s
musician and so yeah I’d love that! GIULIANO: what is your motto? SOPHIE: my motto? Together we can make it happen!!! GIULIANO: And you’re doing it!
Ops, sorry! Sophie Besse, thanks a lot! SOPHIE: thank you! You’ve been really crap at your cards. I’m sorry. I just have to say it! GIULIANO: very bad performance. SOPHIE: That’s because I’ve given you half of my drink! GIULIANO: that’s true! Thank you very much! SOPHIE: thank you! GIULIANO: And you guys, thanks a lot for watching me and please do visit my
website Follow me on Twitter. Like me on Facebook, and love me on
Instagram and I’ll see you next time!!!

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