An Interview with Helen Potter
Hello Helen, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I grew up in Essex in an area so rural and unpopulated it doesn’t actually have a name, but I went to school in Chelmsford, so let’s say there. I live in London now having just graduated from East 15. It’s expensive.
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
They held auditions when 10 for the big play that year in Primary School and I landed the lead role, Susan the evacuee. It was probably the biggest ego-boost I’ve ever had.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Taste is so individual it’s not worth pinning it down to style, but big selling points for me are always commitment, discipline and energy. If the actors are working hard and have gone for something ambitious it’s probably worth watching. At the fringe in particular I’d always rather see something that’s risky enough to divide opinion rather than plateau at ‘it’s good.’
When did you first realise you could write for the stage?
So much of writing seems to be just allowing yourself to try ideas out on paper and not judging yourself for them. The best writing I do is what comes out naturally, the worst is the material I write because I think it’s what people want to see, or what’s currently deemed as ‘in vogue.’ So probably at the point where I felt confident enough to write the really wacky stuff that I love as opposed to attempting something profound.
Which playwrights have inspired you?
I was mentored by East 15 CT alumni Charlotte Josephine when I was initially writing ‘Leaf’. Her emphasis was always on finding my own style and I’ll always respect her for that. Jesse Briton was also a mentor when ‘Leaf’ was part of East 15’s Debut Festival and he’s such a wickedly astute person his opinion is invaluable. I’m also always inspired by improv groups, it’s that kind of quick, sharp thinking that I like to try put in my writing – Racing Minds are a great example (although a little more family-friendly.)
What does Helen Potter like to do when she’s not being theatrical?
I play the violin, and I love making vocal arrangements of things and creating new music. I’m also a big fan of the outdoors (leaf..?), reading (currently working back through the Harry Potters), running, and cooking.
You are in the middle of bringing Leaf to Edinburgh this August, can you tell us about the play?
Leaf is a larger than life comedy that is both entirely based on the truth, and an absolute load of fictitious nonsense. As quintessentially British as the queen eating her roast dinner off a Boris bike seat (perish the thought!). Originally developed at East 15, Leaf is a show that combines the emotional rollercoaster of a socially awkward chemical engineer, with the wild chaos of a sketch-show.
What emotive responses have you been getting from your audiences?
Laughter (as we’d hoped.) Often mad guffaws when people are astounded by the sheer absurdity of what’s happening on stage. My favourite moments are when the true sadness of the characters is exposed – people often don’t know whether to laugh or let it sink in, the confusion is delicious. There’s a fantastic sense of guilt in what you’re laughing at sometimes, honestly we’re all just revelling in someone else’s troubles.
How do you find performing in your own play?
Difficult and fantastic. Honestly I wrote something that I would enjoy as an actor. I love mad, fast comedy, and I love the challenge of finding emotional truth in there as well. On the other hand, being a writer always makes you hyper-aware of the work, and you have to work hard to treat the two as separate identities in a rehearsal room. I’ve had the best team behind Leaf at the fringe, and their respect and encouragement has really helped me to develop the play without damaging its integrity – that in itself is indispensable.
Can you describe in a single sentence the experience of putting on a play at the Fringe?
Bloody hard work, incredible experience.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Helen Potter?
A life for Leaf! We’re taking it back to London and on to other cities to spread the delirium. For me personally, I’d like to keep writing, and I’m working with my lovely agent Kate Borde as an actor, so I’m very fortunate in still being able to maintain two strides for now. Probably more violining in things, more puzzling in the living room, more Fleetwood Mac. Anything and everything that comes!
Aug 21-26 : Greenside @ Infirmary Street (23:10)