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LifeBox Theatre and the StageWrite festival of new writing

StageWrite Festival Theatre Sputnik Faith Art

Phil and Harri Mardlin are the founders of LifeBox Theatre company, based in Bedford. Both relative latecomers to the theatrical world (at least, by the industry’s standard) they’ve nonetheless carved out a successful niche for themselves by switching between several different hats: communication training in businesses, education and healthcare; agency-style management of other actors; and of course, your meat-and-potatoes gigs acting, writing and directing.

Sputnik Patrons helped to fund the 2018 StageWrite festival, run by LifeBox Theatre – a festival for new writers which Phil and Harri have built from the ground themselves.

Sputnik Patrons Promo Phil Harri Mardlin
(L-R) Phil and Harri Mardlin.

PHIL AND HARRI exemplify the Sputnik credo: an abundantly creative, affable duo, operating at a professional level; embedded in their industry, but also dedicated to their local environment, Bedford, where they lead a Sputnik Hub thriving with poets, painters and other actors.

For Phil and Harri, work, life and faith commingle every day; with humility, they pour themselves out serving a community that is rarely on the church’s radar. And by embodying a person onstage, they can challenge an audience to new empathy and perspective, without being heavy-handed (a well-known maxim of good writing: show, don’t tell).

“We have an opportunity to be embedded in our industry, and to give people a positive experience – whatever the stage of their career.”

In conversation with the Mardlins, it’s clear that they have a deep-felt, nerdy love of their artform, and an unabashed desire for the community around it to flourish. One particular passion project of theirs shows this in crystal clarity: StageWrite, which is run in collaboration with No Loss Productions.

StageWrite: a theatre festival focused on new and undiscovered voices

“STAGEWRITE IS A festival of new writing,” Harri explains. “We invite scripts from any writers, emerging or established, to give them the opportunity to see their work performed by professional actors, in front of an audience, and to gain an understanding of how their work really sits in that context.”

“It’s the most valuable thing, to see your work in front of you, being performed by professionals,” adds Phil, principally a writer/director himself. “We bring a sense of what it might look like in a fully-realised, professional production. You realise, for example, that those 25 lines of dialogue you wrote – an actor can do with one look.

“Out of the new writing festivals that exist, not many are offering that. The feedback we get from writers is that it’s hugely valuable: they learn to hone their voice, to get their message across.”

StageWrite is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part. Not only has it been self-funded for the last four years, but in its very essence, it exists to do good for the industry, to show a helping hand to all writers, whatever their background; to encourage people, and amplify unheard voices. It has immediate benefits in some cases: three pieces from previous StageWrite years have gone on to full production and/or touring. But it also takes the long-term view that to bring Gospel life to any community means inhabiting it fully, not as a ‘project’ but as a group of fellow humans in a notoriously difficult and discouraging line of work.

StageWrite, self-funded for the last four years, is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part.

Harri considers how to summarise the project. “StageWrite represents a greenhouse, to grow new theatre, which is important. But it also provides us an opportunity to be embedded in that industry, and to give people a positive experience at our festival: directors, actors, writers – whatever stage of their career. We want to live out our professional relationships with people well. We want to honour people.”

StageWrite LifeBox Theatre Sputnik Faith Art
Performers rehearse with LifeBox Theatre.

The Christ-like art of rehumanizing everyone in the room

IN A WAY, StageWrite has at its heart the same golden thread that runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication. Whether they are teaching people how to communicate in a corporate setting, collaborating with actors to bring a play to life, or interacting directly with an audience, the Mardlins help people both to speak, and to listen: a distinctly Christ-like art of re-humanizing everyone in the room, showing us the face of our neighbour.

Phil: “You need to learn, as a writer, to capture your own vision so clearly that any director and a set of actors can pick up your script, and they’ll communicate what it is that you intended to communicate.

“We invite writers to come to the rehearsal of their piece, but they’re not allowed to feed into it; that’s really difficult as a writer – you’re sitting there, thinking ‘That’s not what I meant!’ But actually, that’s how the industry works: the process of submitting a script to a professional company, and having to step back.”

The same golden thread runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication.

This year, our Sputnik Patrons scheme is helping Phil and Harri to fund StageWrite. After honing the list of submitted scripts down to just four, they’ll select one to take beyond just rehearsal into a more fully-realised production – and pay the actors who are taking part.

“Theatre is like no other experience,” Harri smiles. “It can’t happen without an audience; there’s an energy in live performance that doesn’t happen in other situations or mediums. You work with the audience, and off the audience as an actor: it’s an extraordinary experience that can have a very far-reaching, lasting impact.”

Help us to support StageWrite, and other artists like Phil and Harri, by becoming a monthly Patron of Sputnik.