Good theatre should grab your attention and shake you up a bit. The moment I scrolled across the poster for this The Definition of Charisma on Instagram, my curiosity demanded to know more. Written by up and coming talented creative and actor Nay Murphy, this piece promises to be thought-provoking and entertaining.
The play is about two best friends, Fifi (played by Ella Peattie) and Charlie (played by Nay Murphy). As they tidy up from a party, tensions from the weekend unfold. Infatuated with Fifi’s mind, Charlie makes her the unwitting subject of a psychological study. But perhaps, Fifi knows more than Charlie realises…
Nay Murphy as well as being the writer of The Definition of Charisma is the founder & artistic director of Naked Bear Theatre, a company of young writers, actors and directors who strive to explore playful vulnerability on stage whether performing giggle-inducing comedy or boundary pushing political drama.
I had the pleasure of seeing him perform some of his work in a talent showcase by The National Youth Theatre. The Sunday Sessions host a plethora of new talent and The Queer Edition II served up some incredible snippets of work created and performed by emerging, young, talented LGBTQ+ creatives.
I was absolutely delighted when Nay agreed to take a few moments to answer a few of my questions…
Can you tell us a little about what your upcoming play is about?
The play explores what it means to have a big imagination; it is about self-love and confidence, discussing religion, sexuality, philosophy and gender. I would say that above all, ‘The Definition of Charisma’ is about friendship and the intensity that that can bring.
It’s been a while since for some to be able to stretch their theatrical legs. Are you excited about getting back out there and performing?
Of course! I’ve been packed with theatrical zooms over the past year and half, and I’m so excited to actually have a live audience. With my company Naked Bear Theatre we had the opportunity to put on a production in summer 2020 open-air and had both a live and online audience. I have also just completed my A Levels, one of which was in Drama where I got to perform my devised performances (socially distanced.) I’ve been quite lucky in my theatrical activity this year compared to others. That said, what makes this that much more exciting is its only really over lockdown that I began properly writing my own theatre – while I’ve always written poetry and stories, I’ve used lockdown to focus on playwriting and after a year and a half of learning about it I’m actually putting on a play I’ve written, for the first time and to a live audience.
What are the challenges you have faced as a performer and writer in creating this kind of piece?
I think what’s been the main challenge is being the director, writer and actor all at once.
I began writing this piece in August after I’d finished our summer production ‘That Face’ by Polly Stenham. I’d had the idea for it for a while and so managed to write the whole first draft in basically three extremely concentrated days – it’s often when we’re procrastinating that we subconsciously make lots of progress. This rush to write of course meant I’d have a lot of redrafting to do and so the process began – I’m currently on draft 8 and even now while learning my lines off by heart can’t help but change the occasional sentence or word; a large challenge being the actor wanting to represent my character for who they are combined with the freedoms of being writer and director means I can’t stop myself but to continue that editing process. I think my co-star is getting a little tired of my sending her pictures of certain words or sentences crossed out and changed with my not-so-neat handwriting.
I’ve learned in the process that performing one’s own work can be quite challenging – not only for the reasons outlined above but because inevitably our writing is fed by our own experience. In this way, I’m performing a kind of version of myself who’s also not me. It becomes hard to think of the character objectively, given they are my own creation. This is a challenge, however, I’m completely willing and happy to face and intrigued to see the outcome – only by accepting challenges and having a willingness to fail can we produce our best work; this is definitely something I learned at the National Youth Theatre.
Do you have any special memories from the creative process of this piece?
I think a most poignant memory was when Ella and I did a read-through on Zoom for the ‘NYT Playwriting’ group, which is a group I founded of playwrights from the National Youth Theatre. After the read-through there was so much helpful feedback from my fellow writers. Mainly, it was incredible for me to watch them all discuss and debate on what the show was about / Charlie and Sophia’s characters and more – I had created something which allowed people to think, and that’s a special memory for me, for sure.
Is it hard to write for audiences today? Do you work creatively with them in mind?
It’s funny you ask this question; my first draft was not written with a modern audience consciously in mind whatsoever – I simply wrote a concept. After showing it to my English teacher he said that ‘this couldn’t have been written by any other generation than yours – it’s extremely modern’ (I’m paraphrasing, here). I had another look at what I’d written and realised he was completely right: an ambiguity around gender, an ambiguity around sexuality, discussion about God’s existence or lack thereof and more like this. As I continued the editing process, I kept the contemporary audience in mind on a more conscious level, but the fascinating thing is that to begin with they weren’t on my conscious mind at all and yet even an audience 50 years ago would not understand a word of this play.
What inspires you to push your art further?
People. I write and I act because I’m curious about how people’s minds work and what drives them to perform certain actions. All my plays are, at the base of it, me psycho-analysing people in my life, to be honest with you. I think this is what primarily drives me forward, as well as the idea of empathy – if I can make an audience have a little more empathy after watching a performance of mine, then I’ve achieved my goal with it. As seen very recently with increased xenophobia, people often forget others’ humanities in this world.
Anything else in the works?
On June 27th I’ll be hosting an event for the National Youth Theatre ‘We Are Human’, which will help to support Good Chance Theatre’s ‘The Walk’. The goal of the performance is to present that no matter how far apart our experiences are, we may be more connected than is first perceived – we’re all human, when it comes down to it. The performance will be available to watch online at the National Youth Theatre’s Youtube channel, or if you are 14-26 you can apply yourself!
Tell us where we can see you in this magnificent production?
The performance is at the ‘Bedales Drama Studio’ in Petersfield. If you’re unable to make it that far, there will be a streamed performance later on in the summer – around late June – mid July. Please keep an eye out on the Naked Bear website, which will update about when the online performance will be.