Magpie Sings The Blues & Kay Bridgeman on universal stories, creative passion and the price of fame

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Magpie Sings The Blues” is a psychological thriller that explores the pursuit of fame and its effects on mental health and sibling rivalry. Directed by Simon Blake, written by Kay Bridgeman and produced by Bridgeman Quinn; Magpie will be screening as part of BUFF SHORTS UK SHOWCASE in association with Channel 4. In 2010, Bridgeman Quinn Productions was formed with Donna Augustin Quinn in New York. Their aim was to produce critically acclaimed outstanding film and theatre. Mainly to help broaden the images of people of African descent and to promote universal stories that portrayed the triumphs, challenges, and complexities of our lives. “Magpie Sings The Blues” is the first short film that Kay has ever written and produced, which she hopes to turn into a feature. Ahead of the screening on 6th September, we caught up with producer, writer and actress Kay Bridgeman.

The first play you produced was a sold out; all black version of “King Lear” at the Contact Theatre in Manchester. What was the response to your take on Shakespeare and was there a certain degree of pressure to attract audiences because of the all black cast?

Our King Lear received an amazing reception because nothing like that had been done in Manchester before. Wyllie Longmore who played Lear, was a classically trained actor with a fantastic reputation up there. Our version had an almost Mad Max futuristic look to the set and the whole production was very ambitious and refreshing. I was 22... Sonia Morris and I produced Lear straight out of drama school. So the pressure to get an audience came partly from being unknown female producers. We were young so we didn't see the cast colour as an obstacle only a selling point. Our motivation was to perform in good work that benefited black actors and produce something unique. We spoke to black and minority groups that felt Shakespeare wasn't for them, challenging their misconceptions and explaining that the themes in King Lear were universal and not elitist. We wanted show our audience a play about family dynamics, inheritance disputes and dealing with dementia. Our aim was to introduce them to Shakespeare by powerful performances with actors who resembled them.

As a producer, writer and actress, who inspires you and where do you draw inspiration from?

In terms of playwrights Roy Williams and Winsome Pinnock are huge inspirations. Winsome's plays Mules and Talking in Tongues were the first stage performances I'd seen, where women of colour told our stories and the plays resonated in me.

I'm inspired to tell original stories mainly for women that focus on people on the edge of society. As an actress Sally Fields in a film called Sybil portrayed a young woman dealing with mental illness in a way that was refreshing and pushed boundaries for the time. Her performance actually inspired me to become an actress.

It's a harder question as a producer. I feel we need more black female producers or just producers of colour to effectively change the shows that get aired and the plays that we see. We all want to be in the limelight as actors or directors, but the producer is the most powerful and influential part of the whole process. To encourage people of colour to take on that role and to see that it can be done for me is the next step.

How does your culture make an impact on your line of work?

My culture definitely impacts on my work because I feel there's more of a "responsibility" to portray a broader spectrum of the black female experience. That impacts on the work I want and choose to do. If there is only one black character in a play or film and she is shown as the stereotypical neck rolling, estate living, sexual predictor or angry black woman; that poses a problem for me. I'm not saying there isn't any truth in that stereotype we all have flaws but I need to pick work that portrays the ordinary black woman without a chip on her shoulder, OR explains why the woman is frustrated, as well as the obvious roles.

You are currently starring in The ‘Long Road South’. It's set in 1960's USA during the Civil Rights Movement, a time which had an incredible impact on Black History to say the least. What inspires you about the role you play and the message it puts across?

The Long Road South by Paul Minx is without a doubt one of the most moving and hard hitting plays I've performed in. The overall message from the play is about overcoming external and internal obstacles, standing up for your rights and facing your own demons.

My character Grace can be perceived as being the typical SBW (Strong Black Women). I've fought hard to show some colours and vulnerability to the role as I feel it's my duty to portray a real more rounded black woman. All too often assertive women of colour are stigmatised as being angry when they are actually passionate or frustrated. We are often forced to bear the brunt of racial and gender inequality on our own. We aren't offered support because of the myth that we don't want or need it. So this play set in 1965 does show my characters drive and her incredible strength and I hope some of her weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Hopefully putting across the need to support and understand the perceived strong black woman.

Tell us about your next venture, what can people expect from Magpie Sings The Blues and what do you think audiences can take away from the upcoming performances?

I was keen to produce something very different from the obvious black British experience of guns and estates. I understand that those stories do reflect a version of British life but wanted to show another less told urban experience. I hope audiences see behind the hype and glamour of the shows like X Factor and the celebrity lifestyle we're bombarded with. I wanted to glimpse at the damage this industry has on the individuals. Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston even Robin Williams are the big story's but there are lots of mini casualties in this industry and I want the audience to take a look into the price of fame.

What single piece of advice would you give to black artists who are breaking into film and theatre? Share some of the lessons you have learnt throughout your acting career.

My advice would be to stay grounded and surround yourself with positive people who inspire you. Kwame Kwei-Armah really supported Donna and I whilst we were in New York producing Shoot to Win. He told us not to give up or allow others to distract us from our goal and also turn every obstacle into fuel to push us forward. I would also say to new actors, don't make this profession your whole life. All the successful artist have had support and other interests. In order to stay fresh and on top of your game have another creative passion.

Finally please remember that you have to climb a mountain of No's to get to 1 yes.

Magpie Sings The Blues will be screened at Genesis Cinema on the 6th Sept at 8.00pm as part of the British Urban Film Festival. Book tickets here