Bill, Stephen 1948-
BILL, Stephen 1948-
Born January 16, 1948, in Birmingham, England; married Sheila Kelley, 1971; children: one son, one daughter. Education: Attended Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 1968-70.
Agent—Judy Daish Associates, 83 East-bourne Mews, London W2 6LQ, England.
Playwright. Norfolk Hotel, Birmingham, England, chef, 1966; Hales Owen Council, grave digger, 1967; Romsley Sanatorium, Romsley, Worcestershire, England, orderly, 1967-68; tax office, Birmingham, civil servant, 1968; Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England, writer-in-residence, 1977-78. Actor in plays, including The Silent Majority, 1974, Blood Sports, 1975, and Blisters, 1976; in television productions, including Nuts in May, 1976, Spend, Spend, Spend, 1977, Stepping Out, 1977, and Days at the Beach, 1978; and in film Prick up Your Ears, 1989.
Thames Television Award, 1977; John Whiting Award, 1979; London Evening Standard Award, 1987; Plays and Players Award, 1987; Drama Award, 1987; Writers Guild of Great Britain Award, 1991.
Girl Talk, produced in Sheffield, England, 1978.
Squeakers and Strags, produced in Sheffield, England, 1978.
Final Wave, produced in Sheffield, England, 1979.
The Old Order, produced in Birmingham, England, 1979.
Piggy-Back Rider, produced in Birmingham, England, 1981.
The Bottom Drawer, produced in Oxford, England, 1982.
Naked in the Bull Ring, produced in Birmingham, England, 1985.
Over the Bar, produced in Derby, England, 1985.
Crossing the Line, produced in Darlaston, West Midlands, England, 1987.
Curtains (produced in London, England, 1987), Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1988.
(With David Edgar and Anne Devlin) Heartlanders (produced in Birmingham, England, 1989), Nick Hern Books (London, England), 1989.
Over a Barrel, produced in Watford, England, 1990.
Stitched Up, produced in Bolton, England, 1990.
The Antigone Project, produced in Solihull, England, 1992.
What the Heart Feels, produced in London, England, 1996.
Also author of the television plays Lyndsey, 1980; House Warming, 1983; Eh Brian, It's a Whopper (series), 1984; (with Jim Broadbent) Marjorie and the Preacher Man, 1987; and Broke, 1991. Author of radio play Worshipping the Ground, 1988.
Playwright Stephen Bill writes both character-based and community-based theater productions. Bill once commented in Contemporary Dramatists that he feels "like a storyteller giving voice to the characters and situations that I have come across in everyday life, a voice to 'ordinary' people whose stories I don't feel are normally told." Bill's earliest plays were written in the late 1970s while he was with the Theatre Vanguard company of the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England.
Bill's individual voice became more apparent in the three plays he wrote for the Birmingham Repertory Company: The Old Order, Piggy-Back Rider, and Naked in the Bull Ring. These plays all have some tie to Bill's own background. For example, in The Old Order the characters manage or work in a factory like one that had been owned by Bill's father. In Piggy-Back Rider, the work of two generations in building such a factory is destroyed when a character named George, who inherits it, dismisses the workers and sells off the property. George reappears in Naked in the Bull Ring as the son of an elderly woman named Ida, a character based on Bill's grandmother.
Ida, who is losing her ability to control her mind and life, reappears as a central figure in Curtains, a play that pivots on Ida's explicit desire to have her life ended. "Bill uses a family where love has dwindled to a pro forma matter as a platform for the discussion of assisted suicide and the right to die," observed Village Voice reviewer Michael Feingold. Family dynamics are presented throughout the play's first act as Ida pleads to have someone help her die. At the start of the second act, one daughter accommodates her mother's wishes, and the remainder of the play revolves around the fact that someone among them has committed a mercy killing.
Curtains enjoyed success both in England and in the United States. According to Joel Beers, who reviewed a Seattle production for OC Weekly Online, "none of the issues Bill raises adds much to the right-to-die debate; most of those who have formed opinions about it won't be shaken in the slightest." "But," qualified Beers, "I suspect Bill is targeting his play at those who haven't formed opinions—not because they don't care, but because they don't want to deal with it. The greatest crime—perhaps the only crime—in this play is denial. Ida's family denies the truth about her illness and their feelings about whether she should live."
Feingold contended that the play's "slightly dour earnestness about its topic [is] relieved only by lively touches of realism in the crisscross talk of intimates who have long since ceased to listen to each other." Vincent Canby, reviewing a 1996 production for the New York Times, commented that Bill's dialogue "has the heightened edge of talk edited from material gathered with a hidden tape recorder. Curtains is a slice of life that bleeds."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Backstage, April 26, 1996, William Stevenson, review of Curtains, p. 38.
Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1998, F. Kathleen Foley, review of Curtains, p. 25.
New York Times, June 16, 1996, Vincent Canby, review of Curtains, p. 2.
Spectator, November 23, 1996, Sheridan Morley, review of What the Heart Feels, p. 63.
Village Voice, April 30, 1996, Michael Feingold, review of Curtains, p. 97.
OC Weekly Online,http://www.ocweekly.com/ (August 21, 1998), Joel Beers, review of Curtains.*