Stephen hails from Merthyr Tydfil South Wales. He trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Cardiff, the Actors Institute & The Actors Temple London.
He began his professional acting career in 1980 as Actor & Assistant Stage Manager in the musical Gigi Directed by Michael Meacham at the Haymarket Theatre Leicester. As well as working as a classical, character and comedy actor Stephen is also a singer and has toured most of the UK’s major theatres in musicals including Joseph & His Dreamcoat and the Pirates of Penzance.
His recent roles include: Dr. Chebutykin in Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Eddie Waters in Comedians, Gloucester in King Lear, Duncan in Macbeth. TV: the Casting Director in Word on the Street (BBC), Frank Sheeran in Conspiracy: The Lord Lucan Dossier (CH5). Film: James Watson in Trip to Kosovo, Edward Hodge in Edward Hodge, Pastor Bryan in Tongues (Official Selection London, Edinburgh, Berlin and Spain short film festivals), Edward Hodge in Edward Hodge, Julian the Dandy in Luck. Radio: James Farrer in Returning Spring (BBC Radio 4)
Born Stephen John Morgan, March 18th 1957, in the Mid Glamorgan industrial town Merthyr Tydfil South Wales UK, I am the eldest son of Valleys mining town born parents Roy (lorry driver then coal miner then policeman) and Irene Kate (mum, factory worker) Morgan. The first hints that the universe had a life as an actor predestined for me manifested in a natural inclination from birth; as a small child I showed no concern whatsoever when asked to recite a rhyme or sing any little song I had learned in front of adults or at Sunday school and school productions which I looked forward to immensely; and when, at the age of 14 or so out of the blue of boredom, with no encouragement from any source, I built a little theatre with working tabs in my bedroom using my mothers’ bed sheets and string. I’d devised on the fly a little skit I called ' Crime Doesn't Pay' and cast my sister Christine as the victim, my brother David as the thief and myself (ahem) as the Hero, a policeman, complete with my fathers’ police hat brandishing his truncheon. I then cajoled my bemused parents, who had never seen a live play believing theatre was only for posh people, to attend. It was only in hindsight many years later I realised I’d put together a morality piece. This desire to use my innate spontaneous creativity to bring theatre to audiences who would never otherwise have the opportunity.
My initial opportunity/experience in a professional theatre production came about, again out of the blue, in 1973 aged 16, during what I call my ‘aimless teenage wanderings', that post war generation Pilgrim's Progress-esque journey to find true family, love, purpose, genuine spiritual realities and a deeper belonging that seemed peculiar too and affected many of the youth, rich and poor, in the 60’s and 70’s. I was a perfect target for the California USA generated wave of the hippy ‘Jesus People’ movement that swept into Europe, and so, when I ‘chanced’ to meet one sunny warm afternoon two American guys with guitars on the street in Merthyr, I accepted their invite to visit their commune in the next valley, got hooked by their ‘we lurve you sooo much Stephen’ greeting on arrival and naively decided to become a member of the controversial sect The Children of God. I left home with £5 in my pocket given to me by my mother to live in their various communes in the UK and Holland. I was pushing COG pamphlets on the streets of Sheffield Northern England one day when I had another similar ‘chance’ encounter, but this time with members of another tributary of the wave the Jesus Family, who, utterly disapproving of the COG, decided to rescue me by persuading me to go home with them. They happened to be the cast of a hippy Christian rock gospel musical called Lonesome Stone. They gave me a job on the show dropping streamers from the fly tower onto the finale and singing with them sat on the edge of the stage in the final number. The experience was the catalyst that gave me the focus to realise, as Al Pacino aptly said of himself, “This is what I’m meant to do”, “With this, everything suddenly coheres, and I understand myself.”
As an aside, I’ve come to believe through hard experience that the root of many religious sects is seeded by a self deceiving kind of ‘religious psychosis' and presumptuous human ego than a truly genuine Pauline encounter with a spiritual reality, hence their tendency to fold in disappointing and crushing, to the victim, controversy. It has left me however with a fascination in my work for characters that manifest this trait. I recently found it pleasantly ironic very healing and an affirmation that brought wonderful closure when I was asked by the film producer-director Nathan Deming, who had no idea until we met I’d also, like himself, been caught up in a sect, to co-star as 'Pastor' Bryan Williams, the narcissistic leader of a charismatic evangelical sect in his London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Spain Short Film Festival Officially Nominated film Tongues [iMDB]; a project born out of his own similar experience and convictions. [Top]
In the late 70's after quite a few more adventures involving London, Scarborough, Holland and not the wisest of life and relationship choices (don’t ask) that necessitated a return to Merthyr Tydfil, I found an advert in a local paper offering various performance classes at the Sherman Theatre UK; I signed up and travelled to Cardiff with my rucksack and guitar where, again, I gravitated toward people ‘like me’ and found myself one day wandering into a place that felt like home, the Chapter Arts Centre. It was under the management of Mik Flood and Paul Chandler who, due to my practically living there anyway I suppose, gave me a job initially as cook and server in the cafe then receptionist, handyman, barman and general 'mucker in'. To my utter delight, I found himself part of an amazing creative factory buzzing with many artists, musicians and the home base and favourite venue for many of the ground breaking fringe companies of the day such as Cardiff Lab’Theatre Company (still going strong), Dek Leverton and Vanya Constant's Paupers Carnival, The Pip Simmons Theatre Group etc. It was the perfect environment for me and working there daily enabled me to marinade in this constant creative atmosphere, learning by osmosis, doing workshops and participating in productions such as Pip Simmons’s epic site specific promenade production of Woyzeck . It amazed me, I had never seen the like before, it took up the entire building, and thrilled me to be a part of it.
In 1978, while still living in Cardiff, I had another of my unexpected ‘chance’ encounters; this time with an American, Jeremy Quarto, who, unknown to me at the time of our meeting, was an actor and student at the then Welsh College of Music and Drama! When I told him of my strong desire to be a professional actor, he, no appointment, just up and took me there, marched me into the student canteen and introduced me to the then Head of Drama Peter Palmer while he was trying to have his lunch. Never the less he granted me an audition for a place on the 1978-80 2 year Performers Course. It was starting only a few weeks away but with Jeremy’s help, for which I am forever grateful, I prepared my pieces, auditioned and was overjoyed to find myself accepted. After a thoroughly comprehensive training in all aspects of performing from acting technique, stage fighting, theatre tech’, dance, music, sound editing and camera work; I graduated in 1980 with a LRWCMD (Dip. Performing). I also, while training at the RWCMD, supplemented my opportunities for practical stage experience by performing for free in Cardiff Universities' directing and producing course post grad' student productions, such as 1995 BAFTA winner Fiona Finleys’ Light Shining in Buckinghamshire and West Side Story at the Sherman Theatre Arena. I also joined at this time Cardiff Little Theatre for their production of Sergeant Musgraves’ Dance playing Earnest Collier Walsh. I was invited to attend another year at RWCMD to complete my B.Ed. degree but turned it down in my youthful eagerness to become a professional, paid, Equity card carrying actor by accepting a job offer as Acting Assistant Stage Manager at the Haymarket Theatre Leicester, in then resident Director Michael Meachams’ 1980 production of Gigi. [Top]
At this time I also moved to London full time. I was soon signed up by an agent and having a strong tenor voice and dance training, found work in musicals, Joseph, Pirates of Penzance etc. (then using the stage name Steven Firth) although my main passion is and always has been classical theatre. I joined the Okai Collier Theatre Company as Actor, costume designer, Stage Manager and Assistant Director on productions at the Lyceum Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, Mermaid Theatre, London and Merlin Theatre Frome, honing my skills and experience in all aspects of theatre production while continuing to train at the Actors Institute Islington. I also at this time decided to ignore all industry snobbery and take walk-on and bit parts in many TV and film productions to gain what I consider to be invaluable experience, training and discipline that I would never have gained doing courses, by interrogating the crew, watching and noting everything from the director to the runner. I am not ashamed of it. This resulted in my being regularly contracted on many productions such as London's Burning (Whitewatch 6 years), The Kenny Everett Show, Morecambe and Wise (including their last feature film) because of my punctuality, professionalism on set and seasoned knowledge of the production process. I also supplemented my income by working as a telephonist/night dispatcher with the London cab firm Computer Cab where the cab drivers gave me the nickname ‘Shakespeare’.
Unfortunately, in the mid 90's, I suffered a severe illness and taking my doctors advise to avoid all stress which I was told ‘could kill me’, apart from some easy work front of house at the Prince Edward Theatre and back stage at the Mermaid Theatre Blackfriars, London as stage door keeper, I gave up acting. I worked at the Mermaid when I could from the Roy Marsden’s ‘Treasure Island’ and Steven Berkoff production days to when the theatre controversially lost It’s performing licence forever. The irony was not lost on me when I locked up one night and sat alone at the stage door thinking “you and me both lady” and cried. I stayed on for a few more years as occasional front of house receptionist, follow spot operator, barman and painter; but due to the length of time off the industries RADAR, apart from an offer from Vanessa Ford to join her company as stage manager which I couldn’t accept due to my illness, my acting career faded away to the point I believed it to be over. I had not yet had the opportunity to play Shakespeare, Chekhov, the classic parts I yearned for and express my creativity to the full, so, deeply grieved I fell into a deep depression, stopped working all together and became practically a recluse. [Top]
Thankfully I recovered, to the point where in 2009 I was well enough physically to move from a tiny flat in Westminster to my current, larger home by the River Lee in Haringey north London. The light here, the river with swans and river birds, added to lifting the depression and by 2010 I found myself recovered, extremely well and seriously considering beginning the process to return to acting work. It was a rebirth, a ' new beginning', so, reactivating my by now lapsed Equity Union membership under a new stage name Stephen ‘Christos’, in gratitude, I began the application process to various drama schools to attend a refresher acting course for mature students to get me kick started again. I considered a course and was about to apply when one night while idly browsing, the website for the Actor’s Temple Warren St, London popped up on my monitor. I discovered they specialise in training in the Meisner Technique, which I’d never considered undertaking in the past. I watched their onsite video of the training, attended a one week ‘Taster Session’ and due to what I saw decided with no question of a doubt that this was where I should re-train. I had little money in the bank, but due to my determination and a solid inner conviction that this was meant to be, I signed up for the 16 week full time course anyway and applied for a grant to pay the course fee from the Equity Charitable Trust who, being an organisation in place to aid actors leaving the profession due to accident or illness, had never awarded a grant to a mature actor wanting to return to acting after a long illness before; but, never the less, they decided, on this ‘one off’ occasion, to award me the grant which enabled me to begin the gruelling but immensely gratifying course. The course leader was Simon Furness who himself was trained over many years by by Tom Radcliffe the only British actor Mr. Meisner agreed to personally train for over two years at his LA studio. I couldn't have asked for better, just two degrees of separation from being taught by the man himself. The retraining proved to be exactly the dynamic catalyst I needed to restore my innate passion, enthusiasm and hope as an actor and I’m overjoyed to report that since my 2013 'rebirth' I am now firmly back in the saddle and have, at last, experienced the joy of playing straight roles in Shakespeare, Chekhov and contemporary plays as well as being cast in lead roles in short films and one feature; plus I am now a part of a new ‘acting family' and "amazing creative factory buzzing with many artists" in the large and unique collaborative cloud of actors who gravitate around the Actors' Temple where I continue to train today. [Top]
My life tenet: Now I am 60 and have the benefit of a retrospective perspective of my life that reveals a behind the scenes creative force is in action in so many practical, extraordinarily-ordinary, un-enforced, thought up or fought for proofs and unexpected positive encounters in my life; I’ve found myself enabled to step out of ego with it’s blinkered misconception of ‘faith’ being a rigid philosophical stoicism of mind, not the true ‘heart’ concept which is simply a ‘Love-trust’ that Life and that Creative Force is intrinsically good and will never fail me, which I have learned through my experiences I have shared with you and many others in my life like them. This trust also powerfully feeds in turn into my 'actors' ‘faith’ on stage and camera enabling me to relax, experience joy as an actor and singer and have a clear perspective when doing character analysis; and, like my own life, suspend any disbelief and allow my characters life, to live, authentically.
My work ethic: I hate being ‘in my head’ on stage. My best nights are when I’m so caught up ‘I’ can’t remember what I did after my last exit but the audience can. My firm belief is that, despite egoistic opinions and life circumstances to the contrary, being ‘a star’ is Everyone's default state; so, I just get on with it. Knowing the dangers I neither need nor want my ego bolstered and I do my very best not to knowingly drag it with it’s life dead intellectual opinions, fears and insecurities onto a stage or set; that only necessitates the wearing of a mask on top of another mask, “bullshit squared”. The word ‘acting’ has become erroneously synonymised with ‘pretending’, being something other than yourself, a word I hate being ascribed to an actors work. I’ve learned ‘acting’ actually means ‘doing’, as in life.
My preparation method is to firstly honour the writers vision, leave nothing to chance through thorough research, character analysis, personalisation and getting the lines in so deep they become automatic before first day rehearsal. I call this process ‘stitching down firmly, not gluing with wax, the feathers on my Icarus wings’. I love putting in the work because of the enjoyment and freedom I’ve learned by experience preparing in this way brings myself, the director, fellow players, to just launch off and fly, enjoy the ride, allow whatever will be ‘be’ naturally, fully, truthfully moment to moment as in life. It also frees me up to be totally present and spontaneous with my acting partner, not trapped in my own head in a scene; and most crucially create a true, clean connection with the audience with no mask or mental barrier; I quote my acting coach Simon Furness “Tension prevents us from listening and halts the free flow of emotion which is so affecting for an audience”; which is why I, as I have said, work best not intellectually but viscerally to enable a clean, strong, emotional association, empathy connection between the watcher and the watched free of that halting disconnect an actor encapsulated in ‘self’ or ego inevitably brings to the process. A true audience ‘witness’, a collective joy, the relief from emotional pain a ‘shared’ experience brings, that’s what I believe this industry should be about; It’s what I’m about; but I’m also not knocking a good healthy box office return and getting paid well for it to boot.
Thank you for taking the time to share my journey thus far and let me encourage you by saying the Universes has no favourites, life was meant to be a fun game, only ego takes it sooo seriously. It’s normal to simply know as a little child you’re a Star and let unreasonable illogical joy flow and play.
“As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm. Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE.”
As I love myself poem [link]
“I think you should take your job seriously, but not yourself.
That is the best combination.”
Dame Judi Dench.
“Act before you think - your instincts are more honest than your thoughts.”
“Don't be an actor. Be a human being who works off what exists under imaginary circumstances.”
Sanford Meisner [link]
© Stephen.J.Morgan SJMGraphics.UK 2017