Creativity Unblocked: Sophie Shepherd
I don’t know about you, but the idea of doing open mic nights is a scary one. But for young writer, poet and performer Sophie Shepherd, pushing herself to do scary things has been a key part of her creative journey so far, and a huge confidence builder. Born and bred in Weston, Sophie chats with Jasmine about all her creative endeavours she’s embarked on across the country, before circling back to Weston in recent years.
Hey Sophie! Tell us a little about who you are, and what you do.
What I’d describe myself as is a writer and performer. And at the moment I’m trying to do loads more youth and community based work so I’m working as a youth support worker with an organisation called Boombox Youth Project. I’m trying to do more specifically poetry with them, as that’s my main interest. Recently I wrote a poem for Weston Hospice Care, to advertise their mendip walk challenge. That was one of the first bigger projects that came out of me moving back to Weston in September 2019 after doing my masters in London.
What inspired you to work in your field?
Getting into poetry was something that came at uni after doing theatre for my BA. I wanted a way of being on stage which doesn’t require someone saying ‘yes you can be in a show’ or ‘no you can’t’. So poetry open mic is a great way to perform without walking into an audition room and waiting for a director to say yes or no. I went to loads of open mics and just watched people do it, and that was in York- all the Northern poets are so loud and gutsy! and I remember thinking yeah I want to be like that.
Are there any themes in your work?
I don’t tend to gravitate towards sad poetry or writing. My work has moments of sadness and being serious, but I try to keep it light. And funny. I recently worked on a project with my friend who lives in Margate but we kinda live the same life but at opposite ends of the country. We share the same struggles of moving back to our home towns, so we recently did a project about the intricacies of friendship. What we expect from people, relationships, and how people work. The idea of expectation is interesting. And one of the ways we thought about this was thinking about how if you become friends with someone, if you had to write a contract about what you would expect from each other and you both had to sign it, what would it say? We played around with this idea a lot, don’t we all make imaginary promises without realising? And if you fall down or fail can you get picked up? That’s something I’m really interested in.
How did you stay inspired in lockdown?
I feel like I’ve gone in waves. Using instagram was a key thing for me, in viewing how well my work is received. And at the start of lockdown, I had this art crisis where I felt “what is the point of this?” And then I came to terms with the fact that you can’t control how people react to your work, but if you like it that’s the main thing. In the summer I often thought how can I carry on making stuff? But now I think i’ve learned how to do it in a constructive and more healthy way, and I think it’s definitely as I now focus on what I think, rather than worry about what others think. But that’s the thing with art isn’t it… it’s hard. If you want to make money people have to like it, but if you’re just making things for other people to like, you might lose a bit of yourself.
Best piece of creative advice you’ve ever been given?
Megan said in her interview, it was a realisation rather than a piece of advice, and mine’s similar. I’m always making myself do things that scare me. When I was in London I said I’d do as many open mics as possible, so I went to 3 or 4 a week- on my own too, as there’s a certain point when you can’t drag your friends along anymore! It sounds so silly, all you have to do is walk into the upstairs of a pub and do it. But so many times I’d walk in scared because I was going in to perform. You wouldn’t know who was there, but I always forced myself to do these things.
Do you have any tips or advice for young or emerging creatives?
Never feel like you can’t apply for something or go for an opportunity because you’re worried you’re not good enough. By doing that you make things harder for yourself. If you’re thinking about it you want to, and know you’d enjoy it, always apply. The decision is already in someone else’s hands, which can be intimidating but for me I find it liberating. You just focus on going for as many things as possible because if something doesn’t come your way, something else will.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Weston?
In November they did the launch of Weston’s Placemaking Strategy which talks about plans for redevelopment of the town centre and other areas. And when I saw that I thought “I can’t believe that’s happening in Weston!” Which is something I’ve said for a year now, so it’s about realising things really are happening here. I want Arts and Theatre to become a central part of what makes up Weston, and the Arts go hand in hand with building a community here, and making it a great place that everyone feels they can belong in. There’s people doing really great things, like Artspace. The fact we have a visible building on the high street that represents the community and artists here is a really good thing. With Weston College, they have a lot of art courses and students, but I still feel theres’ a divide between young people who make art in Weston, and everyone else knowing about it. And you could say that for not just young artists, but everyone. I just want more people to know about what people are doing here creatively- lots of people are doing stuff but people haven’t found each other yet, so we need to connect those dots.
Find Sophie on Instagram at @Sophherdpoems
Banner photography by Greg Tiani Photography.
Are you an artist in Weston?
That includes filmmaking, dance, theatre, music, all things creative. Because I’d love to hear from you, and how you’ve been keeping the creative juices flowing during lockdown. Just tell me a little bit about yourself, and send any links to your work if you have them. Reach me at Jasmine@cultureweston.org.uk
You can also share what creative endeavours you’ve been up to on social media, using the hashtag #CreativityUnblocked
You can read more from the Creativity Unblocked series here.