Continuing the 20 questions series… I ask playwrights, performers, sculptors, directors, novelists, poets, dancers, short story writers and anyone else creative and interesting in between the same 20 questions, with various results. This time I ask the fabulous Kiruna Stamell to participate….
20 Questions… Kiruna Stamell
Kiruna Stamell is an actress with more than 13 years’ experience, as well as a classically-trained contemporary dancer. In 1999 she got her first professional gig while at University, making her début in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. She used the pay cheque to come to England and study Shakespeare and Jacobean Theatre at London Academy of Music and Recognisable for her roles on the BBC’s ‘All The Small Things’, ‘Eastenders’, ‘Life’s too short’ and Channel 4’s, ‘Cast-offs’, she will this year be appearing alongside Geoffry Rush in Guiseppe Tornatore’s film ‘The Best Offer’. Her contemporary dance work has taken place between Australia and Sweden with choreographers such as John O’Connell (Aus), Sue Healey (Aus), Shaun Parker (Aus) and Christina Tingskog (Sweden), as well as Mimbre (UK) for a season at Watch This Space outside the National Theatre.
What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?
I think it was a television programme in Australia called ‘Young Talent Time’. I love dancing and as I got older I developed an interest in debating and public speaking too. At high school my speeches moved closer towards performance and monologue. At university words and movement had an opportunity to really mesh when I got involved in the drama society and contemporary dance scene.
What was your big breakthrough?
‘Moulin Rouge’ directed by Baz Luhrmann, it bought me financial freedom to learn to drive and come to the UK. I was able to access new places and communities where my dwarfism was viewed positively and culturally enriching, rather than as a barrier to an arts career (which was the predominant view in Australia). It was an opportunity to get about without my parent’s help and experience a financial and cultural independence.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?
Finding meaningful and fulfilling work as an actress with dwarfism. It is the lack of security in being self-employed, that also makes that particularly hard. I could sell out and ‘exhibit’ myself in nightclubs because there is still a market for that in our society and live quite well off that income. However, I want to reflect the real world and change people’s prejudice’s not reinforce their already restrictive ideas. The representation of people with dwarfism in the mainstream media is mostly hostile and ridiculing, with the exception of a few roles.
Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?
‘Peeling’ a play you wrote had a massive impact. ‘Stone’s from the River’ a book by Ursula Hegi, I wish they’d turn that into a film… maybe I should… Betty Adelson’s, Dwarfs from ‘public curiosity to social liberation’. I also have to mention ‘The Station Agent’.
They all highlighted the richness of the lives of little people and removed themselves from the horrible fascination many things written about us never quite get over and seem to get stuck on.
What’s more important: form or content?
How do you know when a project is finished?
When you begin to feel like you are putting more energy and passion into it, than you are getting out of it.
Do you read your reviews?
What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?
Just keep doing it. Toil away and find alternative ways to get your work out there. Don’t be too humble either, good work doesn’t always get noticed. Listen to feedback from people you trust. Pay attention to rejection, it gets you closer to being on the right path and working with the people who do appreciate your talent and want to be on your team.
What work of art would you most like to own?
There is a bookshelf that is really well designed by a French interior designer Olivier Dolle. It is shaped like a tree branch and reaches out from a corner of the room across a long wall. I’d like to have that for my books.
What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?
That it just happens, requires no effort, is not worthy of being a real job. All untrue.
What are you working on now?
Starting up my own company to produce a two-hander stand-up rom-com written by me and my husband Gareth Berliner. The show is called ‘A Little Commitment’. Also I am about to get stuck into some contemporary dance/theatre in Australia with choreographer Shaun Parker and another dance based project with choreographer Marc Brew.
What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?
I am happy for those original authors/artists to keep their names to their creations. If I had created them, they wouldn’t be the works they are… they’d be something else entirely.
What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?
That an accounting qualification could really help. Or that having something you can dip into casually when you aren’t funded for your creativity can take the fear out of a mortgage.
What’s your greatest ambition?
To change perceptions of difference and challenge the body fascism that’s become so pervasive in our culture. I hope in someways I do this just by being and getting on with my life and vocation. Maintaining integrity is so important to this goal.
How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?
Occasionally, I curl up and ignore the world for a day. I accept support from friends, family and the cultural community.
What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?
“I wasn’t expecting that… I wasn’t expecting that… [repeated several times]” Kimberly Wyatt, when surprised by my being able to actually dance, on sky’s Got To Dance.
And the best thing?
“Petite dynamo sparkles in energetic body of work.” A review of my first ever piece of choreography.
If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?
It’s a discipline, to which you must apply yourself.
What is your philosophy or life motto?
Each project should aim to be a personal best. This isn’t always going to happen but that should be the aim.
What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?
Getting a casual day job as a waitress or barmaid, if you have dwarfism is almost impossible.
What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?
I think it asks how much you really wanted ‘it’.
For further information on Kiruna, see: