Singer-songwriter, event organiser, Director of Create Youth Theatre, and the founder of Ullapool Community Choir – Sot Otter is all of these and more, but what lies beneath?
Hi Sot, The shows you produce for Create Youth Theatre have fantastic production values and are always sell-out events, bringing in audiences much wider than the friends and families of the young performers, but each show is staged only once. What are your thoughts about the ephemeral nature of these performances?
This is something we do get asked about quite often. The most important thing for us is that the students get the best possible experience, and I feel a one-off performance to a sold out theatre is the most exciting and rewarding. Also, some of our students are as young as 7 or 8 and the whole day of the show can be pretty tiring as well as exciting. Especially when you factor in that some are travelling from pretty far-flung rural places to be part of Create.
Writing-wise, how do the shows evolve?
The initial concept is the hardest part. Once I have the idea then I always start with a very basic synopsis as a skeleton to work around. I find I have to be very disciplined in order to write something that has parts for over 30 students, where they all have something meaningful to contribute, and where the final production doesn’t last over an hour and a half! I also try to tailor my writing to the students we have, so that each young person gets the most they can out of their experience. That’s always my aim.
The songs come later and are woven into the play depending on the cast. If we have students who are very keen to sing, I try to take that into consideration too. We also try to consult the students for ideas and input along the way, so they feel a sense of ownership with their production.
Where did you grow up?
Dorchester in Dorset.
What were you like at school?
I went to an all girls secondary school, with an almost completely female staff. Lots of music and lots of hockey! I loved school, but always knew I was one of the ‘weird’ kids. Which I still am, thankfully.
Writing or performing – what came first?
Performing definitely. I was singing and performing with my sisters in a group from the age of 4. We performed together really regularly when we were growing up. We also wrote songs and comedy scripts together and recorded radio shows on a cassette recorder (where we were the presenters, the guests and the musicians.) Just for our own entertainment. We also started our own youth drama group and put on productions to the public. Looking back I think we were really creative and driven although the quality was probably fairly dubious in places.
What has been your best writing moment so far?
This is going to sound cheesy. But when you have a student who is very shy, or might have issues with anxiety or just is struggling with being who they are at that point in their life, and you watch the amazing effect drama and singing can have on a person, and you’ve created this part in the production for them to work with their strengths and be sensitive to any issues they might have… That moment when they’re on stage being amazing.. Having fun. Every one of those moments is my best writing moment.
What are you working on now?
There’s quite a big list. Our next production with Create is on the 24th June – a steampunked version of Around the World in 80 Days. Our Community Choir is also part of that so I’m writing and arranging songs for them right now. The choir is also working on a set of songs to take to nursing homes as part of a little tour.
With my own music, I’m writing songs for our group, Dread Pirate Roberts to take to Belladrum again this year and I’m hoping to record a CD with Shrew (Myself and Anne Wood) this summer.
We hold a ‘Speakeasy’ event once a month now at the Ceilidh Place, Ullapool which has become a collective for musicians and poets to share their work.
The next phase for Create will be for myself and Debbie MacKay (who I team-teach with) to take some new workshops on the road to outreach rural schools and youth groups. Trying to reach those young folk who might not get access to the performing arts. So we are writing a series of workshops for that, which I’m really excited about.
Based on the themes of the Create shows over the past few years, I’ll hazard a wild guess that you like fantasy. If you could enter any of the worlds you have portrayed onstage, which would you choose and why?
I think one of the productions I enjoyed writing the most was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Bile in 2010. The students we had then were all Potter obsessed (including my own sons) so everything became Hogwarts related. So I think that would be perfect.
A few short questions to finish with. Favourite books?
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. It always seems to be childrens’ authors. Roald Dahl. C S Lewis. Tolkien…
Gin. Is gin a food? Rhubarb gin then. That’s got a food in it.
Probably be one of the Ealing Comedies. Kind Hearts and Coronets. Or the Anthony Asquith 1952 adaptation of The Importance of Being Ernest. Or Duck Soup.
Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, anything with nice harmonies.
Also Jason Molina who was introduced to me fairly recently by a Bird and has had a big influence on my current song writing. Especially for Shrew.
What are you reading right now?
My tax returns!
Thanks Sot. It’s been a pleasure.