• Lindsey Bowden

Conversations...with actor and director, Sarah Berger.


Sarah Berger

It’s no secret that the acting world is often undependable. Actors often turn their hands to other roles within the business, such as producing, writing or directing.

And then there’s that actor who does all of the above, and then some. Sarah Berger is an actor and friend I have huge respect for. Her career has taken her all over the world, and she is also the founder of the So & So Arts Club which now celebrates members worldwide. Add to all this, she’s a cancer and Covid-19 survivor and one person I couldn’t wait to chat to.

Lindsey Bowden (LB)

Hi Sarah, thanks so much for joining me for a chat! How are you doing at the moment?

Sarah Berger (SB)

I’m doing fine all things considered. I think I’m as shell-shocked as everyone else and I have also had the virus, and lost people to it so it’s impacted me professionally and personally.

LB

I’m glad you’re ok, it’s certainly been a difficult time. So, let’s chat about your impressive career. You’ve been in this business for over 30 years. What was your initial inspiration for wanting to act?

SB

This is actually my 40th year in showbusiness! I think what started it all was being in a school production of Snow White and starting off being cast as a tree, then being promoted to a dwarf, and finally, owing to another girl dropping out, being cast as the Wicked Witch! I must’ve been 8 or 9 and I just knew instantly that was where I belonged.

LB

Who were your inspirations for coming into this business?

SB

I don’t think it was really a case being inspired by anyone in particular but my mother brought us up watching old Hollywood films, so I grew up on a diet of Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn et al.

LB

Now you’re talking, I adore that era, Gene Kelly and Ann Miller are two of my biggest idols. So, let’s talk about the next stage in your career which would be your training. How did the find the process of drama school? What is your most vivid memory from your training?


Berger, Albert Finney & Linda Marlowe in The Green Man

SB

I think drama school was very important for me because I came from an all girls convent boarding school and was very shy, and totally unused to the company of boys as I have two sisters. It also ups your game working alongside other talented people. I trained at Guildhall and it taught me discipline and to be a team player, the emphasis there was very much on being a working actor not a star, which I think stands you in very good stead. There were things I hated about drama school; the process of breaking you down in order to rebuild you. I remember one male teacher making a point of having a go at me because I was posh and pretty, mocking me for it, and I actually developed very severe anorexia whilst at drama school which took me a decade to fully recover from. I have found the emphasis on appearance as an actress difficult to deal with across my career and have had my fair share of #metoo moments.

LB

It’s interesting to hear you say that. I was always other end of the scale, aware I was overweight and not slim like the other girls. I, thankfully, never had any #metoo moments, but I also never considered myself attractive because of my weight. Interesting how we take these things into our acting careers and use them. So, you’ve worked a lot on stage as well as screen, but have also delved into the producing and directing world. Where do you feel most at home?

SB

I have always been interested in directing as I love rehearsals and investigating the text, and have always had an overview of the whole project. I became a Producer simply because I wanted to make things happen and grew tired of waiting for others to generate work or opportunity. I don’t like producing much to be honest, though I’m very proud of some of the festivals I have produced especially Women and War. I think I am first and foremost an actor and Director. Also, I love being part of a team and a company, and directing is lonely and producing even lonlier.

LB

Oh believe me, I completely understand. I also miss part of an acting team! In 2013 you founded the So & So Arts Club. Can you talk a little about why you wanted to create the club and what the vision for the club is?

SB

I started the So & So Arts Club because I wanted to help myself and other artists to take back some control. The vision of the club is to enable, to level the playing field as much as possible, to generate opportunities for people across the board by sharing contacts, trying to bypass some of the gate keepers, and sharing as many opportunities as possible. I didn’t really know what I was trying to do when I started it, but I think it has evolved and continues to evolve into what it needs to be for its members.

LB

It incredible what you have achieved. With the club you have done some exceptional work, including directing the first production on Macbeth spoken in Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan. That must have been a life changing experience?


The Kyrgyz production of Macbeth, directed by Sarah Berger

SB

It certainly was! The bi product of setting up the club, which I didn’t foresee, is the fact that it has opened up opportunities for me worldwide. Kyrgyzstan was a real challenge as it’s a radically different culture and I don’t speak Kyrgyz or Russian, but I found pretty quickly that I do speak actor and those actors were truly astonishing. I wouldn’t have missed the whole mad escapade for the world and was tremendously proud of what we managed to achieve despite some pretty formidable odds.

LB

So now you are working on another amazing project celebrating woman over 50 and their lives. Can you talk a little about what you are trying to achieve with the project?

SB

The aim of the We Are Here project is to curate and celebrate the lives and achievements of women over 50 all over the world. The idea is that we hear the stories, not just of women who are already in the headlines or game changers, but ordinary women, because I feel that anyone who has lived for over 50 years has some stories to tell. Also, older women are an overlooked, often invisible, demographic whereas actually we contribute enormously to the wellbeing of society as a whole.


Women at War So & So Arts Club members including Miriam Margoyles, Josie Lawrence & Rula Lenska

LB

What a wonderful project to be working on. I’ll look forward to being part of it in 7 years! Do you feel as a woman over 50 that the industry has changed for you – Covid aside, and if so in what way?

SB

I think the ageism particularly against women is still terrible, we earn less through what are considered to be the more productive years of our working lives, and then the work largely dries up. Also, the parts, apart from a lucky few, are often underwritten, stereotypical and dull. Women still tend to be somebodies daughter, somebodies girlfriend, somebodies wife, somebodies mother, somebodies grandmother, but never the somebody. It’s one of the reasons I started the club because I was unstimulated largely and wanted to do something about it myself rather than just moaning.

LB

I hope there are writers who realise that this is a problem for older actors. Just because an actor is older and in some peoples eye not bankable, it doesn’t mean they don’t draw an audience. Where do you see the future of the industry now that we’re living with Covid?

SB

I think the industry was broken before Covid and in many ways this has just accelerated the deepening problems and exposed the cracks. We are part of the gig economy and for most people it’s not a sustainable life. I believe that theatre will survive in some form, but it won’t ever be back to what it was before Covid. I’m working hard with fellow creatives to find a way forward through the worst of it, which is why I am launching a new social distancing lockdown project on June 3rd called the Capsule Theatre and Film Festival.

LB

Wonderful idea, I look forward to hearing more about it! So Sarah, if you could work and collaborate with anyone, living or deceased, who would you work with and why?

SB

Billie Wilder because he made films that made me laugh and cry.

LB

Oh great choice! So many amazing films, Sunset Boulevard being one of my favourites! What advice would you give to your younger self?

SB

Don’t care so much of what people think of you, value yourself and your work. Do your best and don’t be frightened of failure, and if you want something done do it yourself!

LB

Ain’t that the truth!

Follow Sarah Berger on Instagram @sarahjaneberger1 and Twitter @sarahjaneberger

Follow Lindsey Bowden on Instagram @lindseybowden76 and Twitter @lindseybowden76

Follow the So & So Arts Club on Twitter @soandsoartsclub and visit the website www.thesoandsoartsclub.com

Find out more about the Capsule Theater and Film Festival at https://www.capsulefestival.com and We Are Here at www.wearehere-worldwide.com

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© 2020 Lindsey Bowden.