Interview with Steph Rutherford: Taking IN A PICKLE to America!
20 April 2017
After visiting venues across the UK earlier this year, our sheep-filled show IN A PICKLE has embarked on a US tour. Audiences in America will be wearing fluffy sheep ears and joining the Shepherdess’s flock for an immersive, multi-sensory theatrical experience inspired by Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. We talked to one of the performers, Steph Rutherford, just before she jetted off…
Which characters do you play in IN A PICKLE?
I play a few parts - Bell Sheep, the mariner, and King Leontes.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m from Leeds, in Yorkshire. I moved down to London in 2011 for drama school, and I’ve stayed in London since. I went to Rose Bruford College and trained on the Actor Musicianship course, under the course director Jeremy Harrison. Jeremy did a presentation one day on Oily Cart, and I thought “that looks cool!”, and started researching the company. I decided to write my dissertation on making theatre possible for impossible audiences - which is an Oily Cart saying – particularly looking at sensory theatre and accessibility. After that, I graduated and went into work as an actor-musician, and now I’m with Oily Cart!
Which instruments do you play?
I play the bass trombone, amongst other loud brassy things. Though I don’t play any instruments in IN A PICKLE, there might be a bit of brassy input into a future show…
Intriguing! What’s a fun fact about you?
Appropriately, I am a big fan of sheep! In fact, I told Tim when I got offered the part that it was my dream role, which still stands because I love being a sheep every day. Maybe it’s because my parents live in the Yorkshire Dales, and there’s lots of sheep there. I was visiting them last year and having a walk through the fields and I saw a sheep give birth! I watched this new-born lamb take its first steps, which was beautiful. The sheep started licking the lamb clean right after it was born, which also puts the scent of the mother on the lamb. That’s how she can always tell which are her lambs: when all the lambs play together and get mixed up, the mum smells them to tell them apart. Sheep have a really good sense of smell. That’s a fun fact – it’s not about me, but it is a fun fact!
Have you been to America before?
I have been to LA before to visit family there, but it was when I was a lot younger. I’ve never been to New York or Denver.
What are you most looking forward to?
When we see our set there – it will be fun remembering all the places it’s been to in the UK, and then it will be there, on another continent. It will be a special moment, unpacking it all.
What’s your favourite thing about touring?
I love a get-in, moving all of the set and props and costume into the theatre and making them ready for the performances. Get-ins are especially fun at Oily Cart, everyone really mucks in and you get to do all sorts of cool stuff - we were getting in at Warwick Arts Centre during the UK tour this year, and I got to paint things as well as put them together! I’ve bought a tool belt for the next show, because there’s so much to get ready and lots to do – it’s pink!
The other great thing about touring is seeing lots of different places, and getting to pretend you live there. I like driving in the van, when you’re sat in the front and really high up!
Do you think it will be different touring in the US than in the UK?
It will be different just because every performance of an Oily Cart show is different – as performers you respond to whatever vibe the audience is giving, and the show will adapt.
Do you have a favourite bit of IN A PICKLE?
There are so many bits! I love it when the audience first come in. Sometimes the children’s faces are stunned, wondering what’s going on - the adults are being silly, and baa-ing, and wearing big fluffy suits! And then you see them start to relax and go with the flow, and to start playing with you, and that’s a really special moment – when that barrier is broken right at the beginning and the audience start to realise that it’s okay for them to do whatever they want and express whatever they feel like expressing. It’s fun when they realise that permission.
Do you have any lucky items that you bring or rituals that you do before a show?
Yes, I have a lot of things, like this sheep-covered scarf [in first picture], given to me by my parents when I got offered the role in IN A PICKLE. I like to have a yoga mat, to chill out and do a bit of stretching before a show. I’ve also got a tennis ball I like to throw up and down and catch, or against a wall, because I think it gets me focused. It’s nice to brush my teeth, too!