I remember at aged 5 asking my sister, who was much better at colouring in than me, to make me a Superman style ‘S’. I pinned it to my vest and wore it to school that day. During a breaktime and any opportunity I had in class I sneakily revealed it to my friends to prove I was a true son of Krypton. Wanting to be a Superhero has always been my main ambition, though through the years it changed from Superman, to Spider-Man, to a Thundercat, to Super Acrobat (one of my own, who had a magical transforming hoodie) and even Midnighter from the Authority (which believe me if you’re a geek makes me very cool). As I got older I realised that perhaps I needed slightly more realistic goals. So I decided that I wanted to be an actor. Perhaps not the most stable of professions but surely more achievable than gaining the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
I did the usual things at school. I was Joseph in the Nativity, and I distinctly recall a moment arguing with a teacher over a line in a Nativity alternative Baboushka, ‘Star, star what star?”. I still say to this day that with a small rewrite to ‘Star, star which star?’ the line would have worked much better. But it’s hard to argue your point for better material when you’re 7. I joined an amateur dramatics group when I was 11 but caused more problems there too when I wanted clarification why I was walking into a shop scene and then 3 minutes later walking out empty-handed after not stopping to look at any merchandise, what was I doing in this shop if I wasn’t looking for something? It was only later that I realised that at 11 I had unknowingly paraphrased that famous line ‘What is my motivation?’. Needless to say, I only lasted 4 months in that group. Drama at senior school was easier and I fell in love with creating my own work and that led me to choose a course at University that specialised in small scale devised theatre. A few detours along the way led me down the road of music and being a vocalist. That experience more than any other, influenced me as an artist. I couldn’t read music or play an instrument when I started and my tastes were considered by my fellow muso students as mainstream at best, but all that didn’t stop me creating, and learning as I went along.
For me that is the essence of the Pensive Federation; Talent, aptitude and passion aren’t things that can be taught in only one specific way and different people find themselves at different points in their careers and lives. Unfortunately we can’t all afford to go to Drama School or study a theatre programme at University but many of us have a voice, an idea and the passion to tell stories that reflect our own lives.
Life took me on some funny road trips, after university I was full of ambition and wanted to conquer the world with my theatre company Edible Rodent. We had produced and performed two successful shows in my local college theatre in Dorset but convincing other venues that there was an audience for contemporary new writing was an uphill battle that I eventually walked wearily away from. Also as with many creative people, the need to feed and clothe myself led me to look for other ways to generate income. I moved onto retail on the shop floor and then behind the scenes so to speak, in a head office environment. I was and still am constantly amazed how the skills that I learnt from my theatrical career are so highly appreciated and constantly in use; The ability to jump in to a project, to digest masses of information and regurgitate it to others in ways others will understand, to work under pressure, with looming time scales and to accept new ideas whilst still challenging ideologies and practices.
Eventually my career brought me to London due more to accident than design, well perhaps the universe’s but not mine, and I quickly became enthralled in theatre again. Being an avid theatregoer wasn’t enough and I soon wanted to perform again. Old Vic New Voices Community project gave me that opportunity and the fact this project was open to people of all ages made me snap it up as at 32 I was long past the 25 age limit that so many projects and opportunities seem to cut off at. The experience was terrifying, brilliant, confidence building and set me on a path again to creating theatre that reflects people that I could identify with. I made some great contacts, some awesome friends and a very special person in Laura Kim. Our backgrounds couldn’t be more different but our shared aspiration in theatre and all day breakfasts meant we bonded quickly and set about creating our company. So while I’m still waiting for my X-Ray vision to kick in or for that radioactive spider bite I will concentrate my efforts on The Pensive Federation.
Neil J. Byden
Theatre created by people like you that reflects people like you, made with people like you in mind.