Ahead of the opening night of Kathy Rucker’s, Crystal Springs, showing at Park Theatre from 5th August 2014, I caught up with Pearl Mackie to delve into her character Mia, the world of social media and cyber – bullying.
Reading up on, Crystal Springs, it seems that cyber-bullying is one of the main themes of this play. Being an online trend that has surfaced in the recent year, how does the play explore this subject?
It explores bullying and hate as an overall topic. It uses cyber-bullying as a way to demonstrate that bullying is something that has been happening, obviously for years, and it’s not just happening amongst young people. Whether it is sugarcoated and there are lots of niceties above it, the bottom line is if you make someone feel victimised or horrible in any way, that is bullying if you are aware of it. The show explores cyber-bullying particularly and how dangerous it can be because of the instant nature of the Internet. Once it’s there, it’s there! It’s so easy to write it. It takes quite a lot of courage to say some of the things people say over the Internet, to someone’s face. Instead you can hide behind your computer screen and you’re sort of a faceless person, but it’s then there for everyone to see and it can escalate a lot quicker… I don’t know how I would have managed to go through puberty in social media, it’s terrifying!
As you said it escalates quite quickly, like the snowball effect, where it doesn’t stop…
Totally! Someone can put a picture on Facebook/Instagram and then someone comments on it, it can completely escalate and then you look at your phone half an hour later like wow! I don’t know how many people have seen this, shared it.
That’s the scary part of it, the lack of control, especially amongst teens where they don’t realise the impact it has…
Exactly! I’m censoring everything I put on the Internet, but as an adult I’m doing that because I go ‘I don’t want this to represent me professionally’ or I don’t want people to know loads of stuff about me, but as a young kid, I guess that doesn’t really come into it. [They] don’t really think so much into the long-term or about the future. It’s really dangerous and can have horrible effects on people.
You play Mia, could you explain to our readers her role within the story?
Essentially Mia is one of the unwilling perpetrators. She is one of the people who start the cyber-bullying. But what’s so clever about the piece, and is reflected in Mia’s character, is that things can just start from one thing that is seemingly harmless and then done for various different reasons. Mia’s very keen to please her boss; she’s quite an insecure person who wants approval and this is the thing getting her approval. But it then very quickly escalates into something that she didn’t want it to be, that no one wanted it to be. So it really shows how one little idea can snowball as you said. It’s scary but [the play] it’s quite funny in places. There’s a bit of light relief, it’s not all dark.
Did you do any background research to develop Mia?
Not to develop Mia specifically. She’s quite a normal young woman. We’ve done a lot of exploration in rehearsals, into character back-story and we’ve been using a technique called ‘under-reading’, which is really interesting. For example, there are two people in the scene and you have the assistant director, who reads in your lines for you and then you say them at a given point, when you feel it’s appropriate. What’s really good about it is we’ve been doing it lying on the floor laughing and running around pretending to be six year olds. Jemma Gross (director) has put us in quite strange physical positions in order to explore some of the emotional depth that the characters’ reach. It’s quite freeing because you’re not standing there with your script in your hand, thinking about what your lines are and how you’re going to deliver them. It’s not about the lines, it’s how you feel about the lines and sometimes it can really make you realise that you feel totally different emotions to how you’ve been initially reading it or the way you thought you were going to play it. It can be quite liberating and that has been an interesting way of exploring the characters.
Could you relate to Mia in any way, if at all?
One of the really strong things about Kathy’s writing is that all of the characters have a huge humanity to them. They’re all human, they are all people, they’re all flawed, they’re all insecure, they’re all wanting people to like them, sort of the same as me, definitely. I know there are elements of Mia, specific details that I couldn’t quite relate to, but then she’s human and sometimes we do things that are out of character. No one is good and no one is bad and that’s something revealed as the play goes on. No one is actually the bad guy, which makes it much harder to digest. It makes you think that this could have actually happened to anyone.
The play sounds even more intriguing now because it’s a situation that maybe not everyone has experienced, but could relate to, especially with social media sites like Twitter, where people always put their two pence in, people are contributing without realising that they are…
Yes. That’s exactly true. You can leave a comment on one of your best friend’s photos and they may find it slightly rude and you may not have meant it in that way. Even the way you can misconstrue tone through a text message. Twitter, you’ve only got 140 characters – how are you supposed to explain yourself clearly!? [Laughs]
As part of this production, what have you learned?
A lot! I’m usually quite a head actor, where I’ll receive the text, go through it and understand it, know how it works, know how I’ll deliver it. It’s taught me a lot more to go with my gut and what is written is what is written. You will learn it and you know the text that’s there, but exploring it from different places, how you feel about it, is an interesting way to unlock it. All people can say things, but mean something completely different, so it’s taught me to explore things in different ways and not rely on the techniques that I know and love.
How have the rehearsals been?
They’ve been great. I think Jemma is a fantastic director and I’m not just saying that because she’ll be reading [Laughs]. It’s been brilliant. I think Jemma and Angela Bull [founder of Epsilon Productions] have worked together for a while and we all just seemed to click really easily and I think that’s partially Jemma making us feel really comfortable, in a really safe space. Not having a script in your hand makes you think you can explore this and it’s not just about getting it right, it’s about finding it and having that feeling that we’re all in this together. It’s been great; there’s been a lot of laughter and a lot of hugs, because it is quite a depressing subject. We’re making sure that we look after each other.
As you said, it’s quite a depressing topic, have there been any difficulties during production?
It’s been a difficult process, particularly with research and researching some of the terrible effects that cyber-bullying can have on younger children, it’s been quite shocking. When I first heard about the play and was asked to audition for it, I didn’t realise the extent of it until I explored it. I didn’t realise the impact that it had. It felt like it wasn’t real, it’s just cyber. But that is actually the danger of it and that’s why it’s seen as not a real thing. There are no laws and no proof that a comment that someone said led directly to this person feeling like this or doing this. That’s been quite difficult, but in an enlightening way and I just hope that a lot of young teenagers and adults that use social media, understand that words even if they are in the ether of the internet can still be really powerful.
What was it about this play that made you decide to audition for this part?
Actually I was asked to audition for the part of Claire, who is a reporter in the piece. It’s a very interesting part as well. Very different to Mia. I’m glad they cast me as Mia and I’m glad they’ve cast Lucy [Roslyn] as Claire. Mia has been more of an interesting exploration, in terms of her emotion. I’m quite an outgoing person, but I haven’t always been and I think that’s what Mia has tapped into me from when I was a bit younger and a bit shyer, a bit more awkward at school. It’s allowed me to access bits of that, that I’d thought I had forgotten or maybe wanted to forget. There are so many levels to her. She’s so vulnerable, but also she is one of the perpetrators. She’s fascinating – she’s human. That’s what really drew me to the play as a whole as well.
Will the audience be able to relate to Mia and the other characters?
I think they will. The writing is very beautiful in the way the characters are put together. They all do have their flaws, things about them that are interesting. There are things in all the characters that I think everybody could relate to. Particularly with Mia and the other two girls, for adults and parents who have children, the older female characters, people will be able to relate to how they behave to protect their children. I haven’t got any kids, but you can still sort of understand it. I’ve got a young nephew and how I feel strongly about him and he’s not even my child, you can see what great lengths people would go to, to protect their children. There’s a lot to get out of it.
What is the one thing you would like the audience to take from Crystal Springs?
I think an appreciation for the fact that bullying is not an acceptable thing to do at any level and it doesn’t matter how old or young you are, how confident you are, how introverted you are…you still can be a bully and you can still be bullied. It’s not ok to make someone feel a way that you wouldn’t want to feel, to make someone feel victimised in any way.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
That’s the worst question you can ask an actor [Laughs]. At the moment, I’m just knee deep in invitations to write and send to various casting directors to get them to come and see the show, so hopefully it will be a good platform to springboard into some other stuff in the future.
Epsilon Productions presents Crystal Springs will be running at Park theatre from the 5th -31st August 2014. To book tickets, go to the Park Theatre website