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A love for acting: interview with Tessa Stephenson

Posted on Nov 18, 2019 by

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The first time I’ve seen Tessa acting was in Becky Shaw and most probably I’ve heard her voice in a TV commercial way before that. Her character wasn’t a very lovable one, but when I met her after the show, I discovered a sweet and friendly person. I’ve seen her in more plays since then, and soon she’ll perform in Actors Anonymous‘ next show, The God of Carnage. It was about time to meet her for a little chat and a quick photo session. She talks passionately about her work, about her family and seems to have found a great balance between the two. She is funny and charming and it was a delight to spend time with her. 

Tessa Stephenson 01

Thanks for agreeing to do this interview! Could you start by telling me about yourself?

Of course! So, I’m Tessa and I’m an actress. My parents are British but I was born and raised here in the Netherlands. I went to drama school in Amsterdam and I now work as an actress in the theatre and for film and TV. I also do a lot of work as a voice-over artist, so you’re likely to hear me pop up trying to convince you to buy a certain well-known shampoo, cat food or car when you turn on the tv. After finishing my acting training, I mostly worked in the Dutch theatre and TV industry. And it’s only in the last few years that I’ve become more involved in the English theatre scene here in Amsterdam.

So, your career is doing very well on the Dutch-language scene. When were you introduced to the English one? 

I was already doing a lot of English voice-over work, but noticed I missed acting in, what I consider to be, my mother tongue. There’s a really vibrant English language theatre scene in Amsterdam, with lots going on, but I felt I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for. I really wanted to work on material that I felt resonated with my own life and that spoke to me not only as an actress but also as a theatre-goer. Then I met Bryony, who I co-founded Actors Anonymous with in 2017 – and we hit it off instantly and have since become great friends. We shared the same ideas of what we wanted to bring and what we were missing and we decided to start Actors Anonymous. Our drive was to produce contemporary sharp comedies that focus on the lives and relationships of 30-somethings. The struggles they face, the way they deal with the pressure of daily life. Basically, what goes on behind the scenes of seemingly ordinary lives. We want the audience to feel as if they are a fly on the wall of an extremely private – and often awkward – situation. As we’re a female led company we also like to produce work by female playwrights.
Thankfully our first show Becky Shaw had a sell-out run in 2018 and confirmed that there was an audience looking for the same stuff as us. And now we’re on the eve of our second production The God of Carnage opening, which is very exciting!

Tessa Stephenson 02

Why did you choose this career? Did you have other jobs before becoming a full-time actress/voice-over?

It’s the cliché answer, but I’ve just always loved acting from since I was very young. I was always making plays and doing performances. So, when I finished school it seemed like the logical step to go to drama school. But at 17 I didn’t have the confidence needed, so I decided to study Media Studies at University instead and got sucked up by the student life. Which, to be fair, was a fantastic time and offered first-hand experience in so many things I still draw on in my acting today. Then I went to work as a creative/copywriter for a big media company (Talpa) and although I enjoyed it I couldn’t see myself doing a desk job for the rest of my life. I knew that if I wanted to pursue acting as a career I needed to get some proper training, so I auditioned for drama school and was lucky enough to be accepted. Those years at drama school were vital for me to really learn some tools & techniques. I always went on my instinct when acting, but it was a great learning school to really study different approaches. Of course, it was also a confronting time, you’re forced to tackle your demons and go to emotional places you might prefer to avoid. But it was well worth it. Since graduating I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to get enough work to be able to make a living from acting.

You will soon play the role of Veronica in the Actors Anonymous’ next play, The God of Carnage. What can you tell me about this play and about your character?

We were drawn to The God of Carnage because it shows two seemingly normal, everyday couples, living their lives. But it doesn’t take long before you realise that these characters are not as well balanced and polite as they would like you to think. Their image crumbles pretty quickly when they are put under pressure, or feel that they are threatened, leading to very funny – and very embarrassing – situations. I’ve always been drawn to work that is about everyday situations and relatable ‘normal’ people. I think some of the best drama and comedy comes from the most mundane situations, and the bizarre and flawed behaviour – the ugliness – that we all like to keep hidden from the outside world.
The play focusses on one evening in which the two couples meet up to discuss a fight between their children. Their intention is to solve the problem quickly and get on with their lives… but the evening doesn’t go to plan. They end up in a chaotic verbal battleground, getting drunk and basically behaving worse than their kids.

Tessa Stephenson 03

Who should come see this play?

If you love sharp, dark comedies then this will be right up your street. I think anyone who likes to be fully entertained but is also looking for a bit of depth and strong performances will love this show. We are really lucky that we have a fantastic team working on this production. We’ve teamed up with Simon Feilder (who plays Alan) and James King (Michael) who are both excellent actors, but also just great people to work with. Cíntia Taylor is directing and she has gone above and beyond in creating this show, and challenging and stimulating us to bring our best performances, we couldn’t have asked for more. Lucy Brownhill is our Assistant Director, and it’s been great having her knowledge of acting (she’s a trained actress too) to fall back on. It’s so essential to surround yourself with people who you not only admire and get on with, but who also challenge you. I think we’ve really managed to professionalise our company further with this team.

And let’s not forget Bryony Cole who is playing the role of Annette! Is there anything that you and your character, Veronica, have in common?

Hahaha, I’d love to say no, because she is a complete nightmare! But I’m afraid there are similarities there. I think you always have to find things in the person you’re portraying that you can identify with to really be able to create a believable rounded character. So, although at first, I thought I couldn’t be more different from Veronica, I now see we have a few things in common, like wanting to be polite – even though you’re furious on the inside – and failing. And her need to control things also definitely resonates with me. I’ve actually grown to love her. She just wants to do what she believes is right. So, yep there’s definitely a bit of Ronnie in me.

Tessa Stephenson 04

How do you deal with conflict in your own life?

I really don’t like conflict, I’m a classic Libra I like harmony, so my first impulse is to avoid it and internalise it. But then if it builds up I can’t keep it in anymore and it probably comes out more intensely than if I’d just said something straight away… I am getting much better at vocalising it earlier. I think I’m becoming more direct and Dutch as I get older. And I’ve accepted that I can’t be liked by everyone, just as I don’t like everyone, that’s quite a freeing realisation.

I know you have two daughters. What do they think about their mommy being an actress?

When I go to work my 5-year-old asks me: ‘What will you be playing and pretending today Mummy?’. She thinks it sounds wonderful. We’ve taken her to a few children’s plays, so she understands the concept of theatre and thinks it’s great. Playing and pretending is basically what she does all day. She and our 2-year-old have definitely inherited my love of acting and the theatrical… so that makes for a busy, fun filled household.

When you have a five-minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing?

Nothing very profound I’m afraid. Mostly I just sit around having a chat with the rest. Laughing at – and making – silly jokes and discussing what we’ve been up to. I’m known for my dirty humour, so I’m currently trying to reign that in and pretend to be respectable and wholesome.

Describe what would be a perfect day for you.

Having a lie-in would be good… pfff kids don’t really do lie-ins, do they? Which is a bit frustrating as I really love lounging around in bed. And then spending a nice summer day out with with my guy and our girls. I love wandering around little villages on holiday and seeing where we end up. Stopping for a drink and something to eat. Just enjoying being together, laughing, chatting. I’d end the day by going out for a long supper with my partner or having drinks and a dance with girlfriends. Perfect.

Tessa Stephenson 05

What makes you happy?

Definitely my family and friends. And being fulfilled in my acting career. Having enough different things going on, but also enough time to stand still for a moment and really enjoy what I’m doing… So, I can’t complain. I’m in a good place right now.

Tessa Stephenson — Actress/Presenter/Voice-over

The God of Carnage — by Actors Anonymous

Perdu Amsterdam — 21, 23, 27, 28 & 30 November



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