Alumni Spotlight: Sophia Hirsch and Heather O'Sullivan

We recently sat down with MA Acting graduates Sophia Hirsch and Heather O’Sullivan, to discuss their collaborative process, creating new work together and top Mountview memories. Our conversation comes just ahead of the launch of their multidisciplinary production company Discoland on 2 September – read on to find out more.

How did you get into acting?  

Sophia: I was homeschooled for one year of my childhood, and it was an activity that was an option for me to get out and meet other kids. I grew up in San Francisco and I did these classes where we did sketch comedy, and I just fell in love with it and never stopped doing it. That’s the origin story!  

Lowkey Dying | photo by Zoe Ardiff

Heather: Both of our Mums were a huge reason that we got into it. I got put into drama classes as I was a very quiet child and my Mum thought this would help me make friends and bring me out of my shell. So I started doing classes in Dublin when I was four or five – I don’t think I spoke for the first two years, but once I broke into it I was all talk.  

Why did you choose to study at Mountvew?  

Heather: I had heard a lot about Mountview from people who had done the MA. It had a really good reputation and I wanted a balance of high quality training but also how to live life as an actor and for it to be feasible. I definitely think I got that when I went to Mountview. It was a really good balance of practical life skills as an actor and also the training. 

Sophia: I moved to London in 2019. I first heard about Mountview through someone I was taking a playwriting class with who had really good things to say. In America you only really know about a couple of drama schools, but the more I started to see Mountview around, I recognised it was a place where a lot of people were getting work and really enjoying their time. I applied for MA programmes during the pandemic. Mountview’s MA had a really nice balance of formal acting training and also a creative project module which is really important to my personal practice. I’m someone who really likes academic thinking and I knew there was a basis of critical theory as part of the course. That was attractive to me and it ticked all the boxes. Lastly, I got a really amazing feeling from speaking to everyone in the interview and I had a gut instinct to come.  

Do you have any highlights from your time at Mountview?  

Sophia: It was genuinely the best year of my life – and I’m not just saying that for the interview! It was such a stimulating year for me. I was going through a lot of life changes and the Mountview environment, cohort and teachers allowed me to safely and productively explore myself as an artist. The most influential and exciting part for me was the creative project, getting the opportunity to make a 30 minute piece of theatre. It was really empowering to make something completely from scratch and perform it.  

Heather: It definitely resonates with me when Sophia says it was the best year of their life. To be honest it saved me from the pandemic. My main highlight is the creative project. Before I went to Mountview I was looking to build my confidence as a theatre-maker and gain a sense of autonomy in creating my own work and I definitely think I got that. I really enjoyed doing anything that gave us that sense of ownership – making our showreels, doing our showcase and creative project gave us a real ability to leave Mountview as an artist who has the confidence to go out and make our own stuff.  

What drew you to collaborate on work and what are your highlights so far? 

Sophia: Heather and I are first and foremost friends and that is a blessing in terms of working with someone you vibe with personally and creatively. At the beginning of last year we produced a festival of new work that came from the Mountview creative project. We put the festival on in Camberwell and it was a really fun and empowering experience. We both have similar creative and personal goals in terms of the career that we envision for ourselves and the work we want to create. We come at it from different angles with different perspectives on approach to theatre making but I think those things are complimentary. We click in many ways.  

TwoFace at The Kings Head | photo by Max Kennedy

Heather: We went to Mountview during the pandemic and were never in the same bubble, how dare they keep us apart! But by the end of the year we were doing showcase which was the first time we realised that we have a lot of the same values in life which was a good basis to create work together. We continuously realised that our goals align a lot and it’s fun working with someone who has a completely different set of skills and talents. We help build each other up and we both work in different creative ways. We’re figuring it out as we go but we’ve had a wonderful time. One of the highlights is realising we’re so lucky to have a creative community that has come out of Mountview – people have helped us with their time, driving us somewhere, helping us transport things. They’ve chosen to do that and it’s been a real joy and help – we’re really thankful to them. 

What inspires you to create your own work?  

Sophia: Formally speaking, we work from Queer/feminist perspectives. That’s really central to our work. At Mountview I started to find a grasp on Queer critical theory and understanding how that translates into the work I want to make. Seeing examples of Queer performers and theatre-makers making work that was different to the structures we’re used to seeing really resonated with me. That influences what we do – wanting to create things that feel experimental and a bit weird but also relatable, fun and funny with big themes. The short answer is we work collectively from a Queer/feminist perspective because those are our personal identities. So we work from ourselves first and foremost and look up to the people who paved their way making things that are a bit out there and making work for themselves from a place of joy.  

Heather: I find creating our own work incredibly rewarding. The whole process of getting something from the ground up and then seeing people on the opening night come in and watch it – it’s a big sense of accomplishment. I love working in the artistic community and everyone coming together to create something. I get such a thrill from it, and I’m always so proud of us! It gives us a sense of confidence to keep going and grow in our career. Also a sense of autonomy – we’ve chosen a career that oftentimes is in the hands of other people, so it’s really fulfilling to make our own work and have a say in how your career is going.  

Do you have any mentors or influential figures that have stood out on your journey so far?  

Heather: Sophia, feel free to speak about our love for Dr Joe Parslow.

Sophia: My personal tutor at Mountview is called Dr Joe Parslow and they are a Doctor of drag performance. They’ve had such a huge impact on how I see the world, introducing me to Queer perspectives and the possibility of Queer making. Also just being a really supportive figure in my personal life, providing support and pushing me and us to keep making work. Also our course leaders Merryn and Sherrill have been incredibly supportive through our process post-graduating. Just having a sense that someone is rooting for you – they come to our shows and give us feedback. That’s been really helpful, knowing that people continue to push us artistically and personally after we graduate.  

Heather: I think it’s important to note that Dr Joe never requested that we call them ‘Dr. Joe’, but we only ever called them the Doctor!  

Sophia: But they are in fact PHD Dr. Joe, let’s be clear! 

Heather: I also learn a huge amount from the actors that I work with, whether in a show with them or watching them. I always feel like I’m learning from my peers. Idols of ours are people who make bold choices and decide to make their own work – people like Michaela Coel, Issa Rae and Mae Martin (who’s my personal favourite).  

Do you have a dream project for the future? 

Heather: We really would love to develop a two-hander at the Soho Theatre.

Sophia: This is our very specific goal! It’s in our mind everyday. 

Heather: It’s imagery in our head but of course it can be in any theatre. That’s how we phrase it. 

Sophia: We want to get to a place in our company where we have some momentum and have a solid body of work. We want to be able to pay visiting artists and ourselves – that’s not the most glam topic, but we both really value being able to be a working artist. What does that look like and how can we support others and commit to that and live off of making art. We believe this thing has value and purpose in the world and that people should be paid for their work.  

Heather: That’s definitely something we learnt at Mountview – knowing your worth as an artist. That’s something we constantly say to each other – we encourage each other to always remember that.  

Sophia: That’s one of the gifts of having an artistic partner who’s also your friend. We’re often taught to undersell ourselves as women and non-binary people. We’re often expected to apologise for taking up space and being confident in our work. Having someone who says ‘no, you deserve to be here and your work is valuable. It’s imperfect and constantly evolving but you have value’. To assert your confidence is not a bad thing but an important tool to build yourself up and your peers around you, in order to take your space and make important work.  

Heather: That’s a huge factor in how we’ve managed to create so much work this year and how we are continuing to in great theatres across London.  

Sophia: Yeah, because we’ve decided that we’re allowed to be there and should be there, along with everyone else. We all should be contributing and proud of it!  

What do you have coming up?  

Heather: We’re formally launching our multi-disciplinary theatre company, Discoland, on 2 September. We’re having a big launch cabaret called the Misfit Cabaret at the Omnibus Theatre at 9pm. We’re really excited about it – a load of amazing performers are lined up, you’ll get a little nametag and be able to mix with other artists. It’s going to be a lot of fun. 

Sophia: And there’s going to be drinks and dancing – optional! 

Heather: After that we will be doing my one-person show, Lowkey Dying, at the Omnibus Theatre in November – it’s going to be a riot. We’re really excited about Discoland – it’s an amalgamation of all our goals.  

Sophia: We’re spearheading it but it’s nice to call in the super talented people we know that we want to showcase and have on board. We produce our own work and each others work but it’s so cool to reach out to ten of our friends who have a really exciting set. It’s a really cool feeling to look at this community we’re building. 

Heather: We have some open spots for the cabaret if any fellow Mountviewers want to perform something! Email if you’re interested.

Interested in Postgraduate study at Mountview? Find out more.