For this post, I’m excited to feature an interview with Stephen Briggs. Stephen needs little introduction, but here’s a quick run-down on who he is: writer, narrator, playwright and actor, best known for his extensive work on plays, maps and books pertaining to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Stephen’s won awards for several of his recordings of Terry’s books and was on the BAFTA-winning team which created the online PR for Sky’s ‘Hogfather’. He’s also actively involved in amdram, and has directed and acted in many shows over the millennia.
Caroline: Stephen, thanks for letting me interview you. I remember seeing you in The Truth at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon many years ago—your association with Studio Theatre Club obviously goes back a long way. Which came first: your interest in acting or in writing plays?
Stephen: Acting came first. I started with the Oxford Youth Theatre many, many years ago. Over those years I played lots of roles—the MC in ‘Cabaret’, Oberon, Brian in ‘Life of Brian’…. I had adapted the occasional book for the stage and it was that which first led me to write to Terry Pratchett to ask if I could adapt one of his books—and life went down a different leg of the Trousers of Time.
Caroline: How do you decide which books to adapt?
Stephen: The first one—’Wyrd Sisters’—was chosen because it had a theatrical setting which I thought would most easily be grasped by theatre-going audiences. At the time, Terry was only really well-known within his genre. After that one proved successful, I was then able to stage the ones that appealed to me and, after a few years, I began to adapt the books which Terry was writing, so our play would often be out before the paperback edition (in those days the PB came out later than the hardback). Nowadays, I sort of wait for ‘inspiration’ to direct me to a project!
Caroline: If you hadn’t become involved with Discworld, what direction do you think you might have taken?
Stephen: I’d have stayed on in the civil service; life would have been very much duller, though I’d still no doubt be doing amdram!
Caroline: Maybe good for the civil service, but a loss to everyone else. I’m curious how you came to narrate the Discworld audiobooks.
Stephen: The audio recordings happened almost by accident. The principal company, Isis Audiobooks, was looking for a new reader because, at that time, Nigel Planer was busy with other stuff and couldn’t commit to the next Pratchett unabridged. A guy from Isis mentioned this en passant to Bernard Pearson and he said ‘Why don’t you try Briggsy. He’s a bit of a thespian’. So I started with them and then, when the US publisher phoned to ask who did the U.K. audio books, they were told ‘Stephen Briggs’, so I got to record both versions.
Caroline: Another lucky break! Though as they say, fortune favours the well-prepared. What’s your writing routine?
Stephen: Routine … that implies a level of organisation! I write mostly in the mornings. When adapting a book, I read it through, then set it aside for a few days, then jot down the ‘shape’ of the plot. Stuff that I don’t recall is top of the hit list when I have to find material to cut in order to get a plot down to playing length. Then I tunnel through the book, adapting as I go and trying not to over-edit along the way—i.e., not necessarily trying to write a ‘two hour’ adaptation. I’m happy to go back and look a options for cutting once the first draft’s complete.
Caroline: During your time on stage, are there any particularly memorable (good or bad) moments that stick with you?
Stephen: I was very pleased to have played Cervantes/Don Quixote in ‘Man of La Mancha’, I loved playing Garry Essendine in Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’—I also had a lot of fun with my Discworld roles—Death, Vetinari, Duke Felmet, the Count de Magpyr, Salzella, etc…
Bad moments? Not too many—maybe performing in ‘Monstrous Regiment’ with three broken ribs from a fall during the tech rehearsal… the cast were delighted—I’m told I am much more mellow on a cocktail of codeine, paracetemol and ibuprofen!
Caroline: What’s the most unusual location where your plays have been performed?
Stephen: For my drama club—’Blott on the Landscape’ in a disused and slightly unsafe Baptist Church. But in general, it would have to be the production of ‘my’ ‘Wyrd Sisters’ staged at the Australian Antarctic Base. Cool in every way.
We’ve licensed productions in more than 22 countries, and there’s info about that process on my own website.
Note: If you are considering putting on a play, please make sure you check the licensing process before you start!
Caroline: How do you spend your spare time (assuming you have any)?
Stephen: Planning my next drama projects, walking the dog, avoiding housework and tax returns…
Caroline: What plans do you have for the future?
Stephen: In the immediate future, I’m rehearsing the role of Sir Harcourt Courtley in Boucicault’s ’London Assurance’
As soon as that’s over, I will start to direct my script for Dracula – the atmospheric and medieval stones and beams of Abingdon’s Abbey Buildings will be the perfect backdrop to this darkly gothic horror story.
Caroline: And in the longer term?
Stephen: Nothing that the planet needs to worry about too much – I’m happy to take stuff as it happens. I am, however, heavily involved in planning my current dramatisation (’Dracula’) which I’m staging in November. Beyond that I have specific ideas about how I’d like to stage at least two Shakespeare plays.
Caroline: I’m sure whatever you do will be sold out!
If you’d like to attend any Studio Theatre Club performances, here’s how to get tickets. London Assurance will run 17 – 20 July, and Dracula will run in late November.