What is Charlotte’s Compass?
I’m an actress, so I’m always trying to understand human beings. What drives us? How do we overcome loss? Where do we find happiness? Drawing on challenges in my own life and conversations with over 50 people across 4 different countries, in this series of eight films we explore the themes that emerged.
As you’ll see, I might not have all the answers, but I did discover a little more about what makes us human.
So, what is Charlotte’s Compass?
What began as a character study to inform my work as an actress evolved into a six-week journey where I heard the life stories from an incredible mix of people.
From a boxer in a ring in Dublin to a crystal healer on the cliffs in Ibiza, to a winery in the South of France to a teacher on a floating classroom chugging along the canal in London, it’s been a privilege that so many people have let me into their lives to tell me their very personal stories and about the obstacles they have overcome.
When researching a part, I immerse myself in it completely. Before I played Mozart’s wife in Interlude in Prague, for example, I visited his hometown of Salzburg to meet historians, spent time learning to waltz and had in-depth discussions with corset makers at the V&A Museum. I wanted to really feel and understand the character I was playing.
This summer I set out to research even more roles, but this time the difference was that there was no part in the offing. I simply wanted to explore the human condition. I wanted to meet interesting, dynamic people and find out what they do and why they do it.
How did this urge to explore the human condition begin?
It first came about through a very sad reason but put me on a happy path.
As a young girl, living in Dingle on the west coast of Ireland, my father died suddenly. So at the age of 9 I began questioning the purpose of life, questioning my identity…because without him I felt I no longer had one. It had me wondering what a human being’s journey is, and what it stands for.
Throughout my teenage years I became stronger, and discovered acting. My grandfather made me read plays which explored themes of love, greed, passion, grief and ambition.
I realised that at our core, this is what made up most people’s journeys – before Shakespeare, during Shakespeare, years after Shakespeare and up to today, and I doubt that it will change over the next 600 years.
It gave me the fundamental tools that every actor needs – an earnest longing to explore the human condition in whatever shape or form. The drive in me to do this has been unquenchable all my life. I know the most important thing that I could do for my Dad is to give him a voice when he doesn’t have one – I want to go out in the world and hear everybody’s voices.
An actor’s perspective on the human condition
If you’ve read Chubbuck’s The Power of The Actor or classic texts from Stanislavski on the craft of acting, you’ll know that every character in a drama has an overall objective, perhaps to be unconditionally loved, or to regain control over their life.
They also have individual scene objectives. You can tell they are who they are by their ‘doings’ – the way a cop sits in his car munching on doughnuts and fiddling with his radio, or a violent character polishes his knife while talking.
Place is important too – how does the environment around them shape their behaviour? And how about the ‘scene before’ – how does what went before inform what they do next?
I wanted to go out and observe different types of people to help me understand more about our common objectives in real life. What drives them? How do they respond to challenges in their lives? How do they find happiness?
I wanted to capture these subtle moments of humanity that are so easily missed as life passes by so quickly.
Some people we spoke to were very spiritual. I think of macrobiotic chef Jamie Trevena who finds balance in his life through the principles of yin and yang, or interior designer Hayley Newstead who follows the teachings of Kaballah.
By contrast, many people follow an inner compass that they don’t think about too closely.
Calling the project Charlotte’s Compass allows me to explore the different moral perspectives people take. How do they find strength when times are tough – when they lose someone close to them, when a marriage breaks down, or their lives are turned upside down by cancer? How they know which direction to take? What’s guiding them?
Over the coming weeks you’ll see eight short films based on the themes which emerged throughout the project, plus eight accompanying pieces in which you’ll hear some of the most powerful stories in full.
Prepare to feel moved, prepare to learn, prepare to see something of yourself in the people we speak to.
Who you are is enough
I look at my younger sister and see the celebrities she looks up to in fashion magazines. I see how we namedrop famous people as if this association makes us better people. I look at the industry in which I’m working and see that the way we elevate certain people in society to godlike status isn’t going away any time soon.
But I what I wanted to explore was how we have so much to learn from the people in our families and the communities around us. Charlotte’s Compass for me, is about reminding myself and hopefully others that one of the simplest, easiest and readily accessible joys of our life is getting to know each other. Learning about each other’s stories, and sharing them – reminding ourselves that that in itself is fulfilling.
As blind psycotherapist John Delany explained in one of our most moving interviews, “Life is the great teacher. The only question is: how good a pupil am I?”
Everyone is interesting
Often, when we approached people to see if they would like to be interviewed, the response was, “Why me? Why am I interesting?”
The perfect answer to this came at the end of our interview with print artist and improve comedian Mo Levy, who commented, “Everyone is interesting.”
To me, this sums up the whole project. Everyone is interesting if you make the time to listen to them, to ask the right questions, to pause and let them speak. How often do we do this – take the time to really listen to the people around us?
I am so grateful to all the people who welcomed us into their homes and workplaces to tell us their life stories It’s been a privilege to listen to you all. It’s not often a crazy Irish lady appears on your doorstep with a heap of personal questions and a two cameramen and photographer in tow. So thank you for opening up and telling me your stories. I learned a lot from you, and I hope others can learn from you too.