As a child, Nathan Chapman didn’t really have an interest in acting or the theatre.
It was during one particular drama class at school that he had a lightbulb moment. In his own words, something clicked.
‘I can still remember the moment when I was in class and I thought I’m good at this. I’m not sure whether it was a comment from a teacher or not. I just thought I really want to carry on doing this.
‘I pursued it as a hobby and a profession.’
Gradually, Nathan became more and more involved with acting and joined local groups Southsea Shakespeare Actors and Bench Theatre. He went on to graduate from what is now the University of Winchester as a drama teacher.
Now 35, he’s creative director of Havant-based professional theatre company, SOOP Theatre.
Nathan, who lives at Havant, says: ‘It started out as a conversation between myself and Vincent Adams, as we were both teaching drama at colleges. We thought it would be nice to do all the things we get our students to do in class.
‘I had always been involved with local quality amateur companies, but we were really interested in creating stories ourselves, so we decided to give it a try.’
SOOP was formed in 2008 when Nathan and a couple of local-based actors performed The Overcoat – to packed audiences and good reviews.
‘The intention was always to differentiate ourselves from other amateur theatre,’ explains Nathan, ‘not for any reason other than we were doing something different. We just wanted to do something that was slightly different to what else was out there.’
They wanted to provide opportunities for young actors so they could gain their first experience of touring theatre. The group uses talent spotting and open auditions, and many of the actors are from the Portsmouth area.
Past SOOP Theatre productions have included Scallywags, which draws upon the people who were recruited in the Second World War in case of invasion, and Radio Soop, where a radio company is forced to come up with the sound effects for three one-act plays.
Nathan says: ‘It’s been really exciting lately and I think it has been our busiest summer so far, a summer in which we developed our new show, A Viking’s Tale, which premiered in June.’
With support from Hampshire County Council, the show was designed for children aged nine and over. In fact, the group is still working with the council on performances for young people, and putting on workshops in improvisation, comedy theatre and characterisation, among others.
A popular venture is Instant Soop, which began before SOOP Theatre was formally created and was recognised by The News with a Guide Award for Best Comedy this year. Four actors and one musician take suggestions from the audience and create a show in front of their eyes – all on the spot.
In September, the cast will take the show to London as well as The Cellars at Eastney.
Nathan says: ‘I absolutely love Instant Soop. It’s fun to do and great for the audience.
‘There’s a few times if you’re doing something new with improvisation that it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s probably the scariest thing you can do, to go up there with no preparation, but once you’ve done it nothing else can hold any fear for you.
‘You’ve done everything you can and it breeds confidence. And winning The Guide Award was great for us.’
Admittedly, Nathan has always achieved his ambitions. That’s clear with the current success of SOOP Theatre. The group has been invited to perform in Birmingham and Buxton, and regularly puts on performances in the Portsmouth area.
‘I think I’ve always had quite strong ideas about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to achieve. I’ve always been quite motivated and as soon as I get into something I want to pursue it and make it happen.
‘I got so excited about SOOP. I wanted to see how far I could take it. I take opportunities and I always want to say ‘‘yes I want to try that’’.’
The future for the company is to keep touring and keep creating new ideas, as Nathan explains: ‘We want to be a national company producing original theatre, which is devised by the cast rather than by writers.
‘It’s new stories, that’s what I’m interested in. With every original show, it has been something new to the audience and the improvisation blends into it as well. All of the separate parts of SOOP are connected.
‘We’ve got a few more dates lined up so I hope we just carry on as we are.’
And he wouldn’t change a thing.
‘It’s incredibly rewarding, especially as we started this with very few expectations. The response to our work and projects is amazing. It’s fantastic to think I’ve been part of making that happen.’
For more information go to soop.org.uk.
A major constituent of SOOP Theatre is Instant Soop, which specialises in improvised performances. Sometimes referred to as improv, it’s creating something in the moment it is performed.
The dialogue, the action, the story and the characters are created by the actors working together as the performance unfolds.
It’s a skill sometimes used in film and television, both to develop characters and scripts and it also plays a part in drama courses to train actors for stage, film and television.
Improvisation is as old as performance itself, and improvised comedy generally can be split into two categories – shortform and longform.
Shortform is made up of short scenes usually constructed from a predetermined structure or idea and driven by an audience suggestion (such as Instant SOOP).
Longform performers create shows in which short scenes are often changed by the story, characters, or themes.
These shows may take the form of a traditional type of theatre, for example a full-length play.