Soul Searching: Athena Stevens.
We ask five of the playwrights undertaking a feminine Faustian interpretation for the Globe’s Dark Night of the Soul, a series of questions about the project and their approaches.
Athena Stevens is an associate artist at Shakespeare’s Globe; an actor, writer, and director. Her most recent play is Schism at the Finborough Theatre which garnered several five-star reviews and earned her an Offie Nomination for best female performer.
by Athena Stevens
Twenty-five years ago the course of Sophie’s life was changed by a single human error. A settlement was given, and justice was paid out, at least on paper. But Sophie disagrees. Now she is determined to take justice into her own hands.
What made you say yes to Dark Night of the Soul?
This is my first commission so it’s pretty exciting to have it come from Shakespeare’s Globe.
What interests you about the Faustus myth or Marlowe’s Faustus?
I think the arrogance of Faust is pretty impressive frankly. Given the terms of the bargain, we know it’s not going to end well and yet Faust has the gall to say “I bet I can beat these terms and come up better off”. I think deep down many of us have that arrogance; we don’t think we’ll become addicts if we start using, or we won’t get caught in an affair. Sooner or later though, our actions catch up with us and take their toll.
What are you hoping to explore with your piece?
Is it worth it to remain complicit in the world’s problems and stay comfortable? Or should one risk burying one’s soul to fall out of favour?
How do you start to write something?
I’m a plotter by nature, I need to know where I’m going and the plot steps that it’s going to take to end up where I want to go. That means I usually spend a lot of time staring at post-it notes on my wall trying to figure out what it’ll take to get from point A to point B. If while I’m writing something unexpected comes along, I know that it’s true and I have to include it, but sometimes that means unpicking what I’ve already sewn together.
What made you want to be a writer?
Looking back I don’t think I had much of a choice. It was always a given and something innate in me that wanted to write and explore ideas.
How important is storytelling?
Storytelling is essentially a way for us to name our problems and what has happened in our life. It’s a form of therapy as a society, where we can examine our actions fearlessly and begin to recover from the trauma that seems inevitable if you live long enough.
Would you say that there are any themes you are particularly interested in across your work?
My work completely deals with autonomy and free will. Given my own physical condition [Athena has athetoid cerebral palsy], this shouldn’t be surprising, since I am so dependant on other people. And yet maintaining that freedom of spirit becomes very difficult when you need someone else to help you eat.
Do you like to be involved in the rehearsal process?
Well I’m an actor and I usually like parts that I can play since no-one else seems to be doing that at the moment. So I’m afraid I don’t have a choice! But I’m a huge advocate of a division of labour, I don’t want to direct my piece. Once that rehearsal room opens, whatever the director says goes.
What’s it like seeing your work being performed?
Being heard and having a voice, I have learned in recent years, is incredibly vital to my mental health. When I don’t have that I feel myself start slipping in terms of feeling like I have a place in this world. So to see my work in performance is a bit like a salve; it says you are valid and you have a place.
What’s it like to be working on a production in chorus with other writers?
It’s wonderful to see ideas develop and how they might fit together. I think there would be a lot more pressure if any single one of us had to come up with a female response to Faust – the play itself is just so big and unwieldy. To have responses diffuses the pressure a bit and helps us all find our own voices, rather than feeling like we are in dialogue with one writer who has been dead for centuries.
On four evenings we will perform a selection of the pieces together as ‘Anthology Performances. Check the website to see when Athena’s response, Recompense will be performed.
This interview first appeared in Globe Magazine, available to buy in the Globe Shop. Become a Member of Shakespeare’s Globe to receive the magazine three times a year.
Photography by Christian Banfield