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> > > Rich Downes talks to Phil Sherman of Booster Theatre Company

28 February 2012

Past. Present. Future. The Interview

photo of a young man and an older man, standing back to back, while they smile at the camera

James Tarpey and Phil Sherman Gurn On Present and Future. Photo by Rich Downes.

A while back Rich Downes blogged about 'A Christmas Carol' by Phil Sherman of Booster Theatre Company. Phil is putting on a season at the Karamel Club where he will show all his work with pop up books, mime and sign. Rich took the opportunity to interview Phil of Booster with his friend James.

I attended with James Tarpey, a young friend, studying at the Brit School, who is looking to take his career in comedy and serious drama further. I introduced them after the show to discuss their careers. The interview took on flavours of past, present and future.

I asked who had inspired them:

Phil: Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper. I loved watching them. Buster Keaton. His work is classic. My backgrounds mime, not acting. These showed me where I wanted to go. The humour was physical, not in the least bit nasty. A university friend suggested I attend a mime weekend. That's when it happened for me. I found magic at a performance arts camp. I pay tribute to my dad. I am he! Big and Loud. A wearer of big clothes and loud wigs.

James. Jim Carey. His sense of the physical really gets me. He's the last great silent comedian. He doesn't have to talk. Will Farrell's another. I love his stand up. I also love serious acting. I did a Helen O'Grady weekend drama thing. I knew from there that I would have to perform. I didn't know how.

All I heard about was careers, universities. It used to bring me down. I like computers and put myself down for Computer Design CSE's. Within two weeks I wanted away and ran over to Drama. I was then taken on to do a BTEC at the Brit. People go there to get students to do a piece. I get incredible opportunities in film and theatre. People take me seriously.

James effectively brought us to the present day, telling us about his studies. I asked Phil how things were going for Booster?

Phil: I've got endless shows coming up. I do 200 performances a year. They're everywhere. I love touring, seeing different places. I get the chance to mix work with social life at the Karamel Club. I talk to people all the time, making links with people who want the shows. The economic downturn has had an effect. I'm 40 shows down this year due to the impact on schools and parks budgets.

James: Its half term. I'm travelling and helping my girlfriend Chloe with media presentations, I take the time to go to festivals and network. I'm thinking about the future, working to make it happen. I've got a lot of friends from the Brit who I want to work with. They ask me for jokes. I'm thinking "they're my jokes, I should use them." It's about coming up with ideas and looking at how they might work.

Because of the shortness of James's life to date, and his excitement re what happens next he is already rapping on the next part of the interview.

James: I 'm looking into doing some stand up. This is my passion. Acting's competitive. This is my shoe in the door. I'm interested to be here - next door to Mountview Theatre School. I've applied to study there and to RADA and the Guildhall. I need a Showcase agent. When I finish school I'll do a monologue. I'm going to make things happen!

Phil: I find I need to appraise my work, change it, keep it fresh, I think about working with audiences. It's my job to make a piece and place work. It's delightful to find people responding to you but there's an element of risk there. I need to be able to change to meet them half way. It will always be about making shows, going somewhere new, finding out what I can do with what I've got. Changing Red Riding Hood into a horror, a comedy or an opera.

There's something James hasn't talked about that I know of. I raise it by asking Phil if he has an impairment expecting him to say no.

Phil: Mild dyslexia. I got it from Dad. It's bizarre. I write so many letters, newsletters, promo material. I accept I have to do it and get on with it. I have great short term memory. It really helps with the improv. I quickly learn what people are wearing, their names or what names I will give them; the characters that I make out of who they are. I constantly turn it on and call on it and the audience loves it. They become part of the space and piece and they love to be remembered but thank goodness for the spell checker.

James: I've got Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. You see a sum or a word in your head but you can't see what it represents or adds up to. I can read but writing is something else. I attend sight reading auditions. They're a nightmare. You get 15 minutes to learn something. Read throughs are sticky. If I could get a readerà..

Later, James tells me it's important to make the magic and to keep it. He is interested Phil works at a club with comedy and music nights and wonders how to work something like this.

I realise I've bought two people together with a shared history of impairment, common ground in physical humour and a love for stage work. I'm happy I've introduced James to the Karamel Club in Wood Green, London N22. He uses it, goes there and learns from what he sees.

Phil has told me, they see each other and chat. It seems I started a mentoring scheme. Whoever would have thought I could do that!