Sitting down with Steve ‘Redeye Feenix’ Arnott

By 27 April 2022Blog, News, Shows

Erin Anderson sits down with Beats Bus co-founder Steve Arnott to talk about making his theatre debut in There Should Be Unicorns – and inspiring the show.

Steve Arnott in There Should Be Unicorns rehearsals

Steve Arnott bumps fists with co-star Emily Gray, in rehearsals. Photo by Tom Arran.

Perched on a couch in the corner of a small studio on the outskirts of Beverley, a beaming Steve ‘Redeye Feenix’ Arnott watches on as a group of his young mentees learn the group dance that will be included in There Should Be Unicorns, with movement director, Ryan Harston.

Steve has met most of these kids through his organisation, Beats Bus, that aims to reach out to children through the arts.

2017 was the real start for Beats Bus,” he says, explaining how the charity started. “It piloted for the freedom season [of the UK City of Culture programme], so it was a three-month trial that we actually made into an organisation in 2018.

“We teach hip hop to young people and then we mentor the young people, and we release their music on our record label.” 

Having to pull him away from dancing along with the kids from behind the studio set-up, Steve’s passion is unmistakable and the excitement for his work radiates out of him.

“We also teach them a bit of confidence building and self-esteem building, all the elements of hip hop, and also, they get to do live performances, as they’re doing now.”

It’s crystal clear from watching on that Steve and rest of the Beats Bus tutors build strong relationships to develop the creativity and craft of the young people they’re working with. 

Steve Arnott in There Should Be Unicorns rehearsals

Steve reads his script during rehearsals. Photo by Tom Arran.

For what many of us will feel like a lifetime ago – and for Steve likely several – in a pre-pandemic world Steve came up with the idea for a play that told the story of hip hop in Hull entitled ‘Hip-Hop-O-Mine’ and brought the idea to Middle Child.

“Me, Paul [Smith] and Mungo [Beaumont] met, and I just wanted to tell a story of the history of hip hop in Hull.”

This idea would eventually come to be There Should Be Unicorns, a family hip-hop musical about 11-year-old Jasmine whose dad, played by Steve, founds the Beats Bus.

Jasmine experiences bullying at the hands of those who don’t see the world with the same creativity and imagination that she and her dad do, so sets out to change their minds for the better.

“We’ve worked on it now for the last three years and it’s changed course but I’m really, really happy with the final product that we’ve got because it tells the story of hip hop, and it tells a beautiful story about family and friends.” 

Unicorns, as it is often affectionately abbreviated around the Middle Child offices, doesn’t only adapt Steve’s journey with the Beats Bus, but it also details Steve’s own health issues that almost cost him his life in 2019.

“My bowel exploded, and I had to have 7-hour surgery to save my life,” he recalled. “It was such a massive, massive shock and a trauma.”

The toll this took on Steve’s confidence and drive for performing saw him lose 18-months to a long recovery period.

“It’s probably taken me up until January this year to be physically fit enough to be able to do the play.”

In fact, it’s only due to the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the postponement of There Should Be Unicorns, that Steve is able to feature at all.

“When Paul said to me we’d like you to be in the play, I said no, you know, I just physically just can’t do it.”

The mental and physical strain was too severe for Steve, whose health conditions had left him needing to be fitted with a stoma bag that would alter his life permanently.

I want it to raise awareness of the stoma, you know for people to see and it and say yeah, he’s got a stoma and he’s still acting and he’s still running around on stage. That’d be a great thing for me.”

Steve Arnott in There Should Be Unicorns rehearsals

Steve and Emily Gray embrace in rehearsals. Photo by Tom Arran.

After facing his difficulties head on, Steve has found his passion for work again.

“I didn’t realise ‘til I did Beats Bus but yeah, working to live and living to work are two different totally things. I’m in quite a good place at the moment and I’m just really looking forward to it.”

Steve and his fellow Beats Bus tutors Kobby Taylor and David Okwesia have penned many of the lyrics that will be heard when the show premieres in Hull next weekend. 

“It’s exciting but I’m nervous cause it’s the first show in a week on Saturday so I’m like okay… it’s getting very close,” Steve laughs. “I’m sure once the first one’s out the way and it all goes well, we’ll all relax, and we’ll be alright.” 

As well as taking away the core messages of kindness, family and community, Steve hopes most of all for people to have as much fun watching There Should Be Unicorns as he has had making it.

“The whole process with Middle Child has just been amazing. The people that work there are amazing and it’s always fun.”

If you’re coming along to watch, don’t forget to dress up as your own superhero!

“I can just envision everybody going mad and having fun and dancing at the end, and you know, just have loads of fun and dress up it’s just gonna be amazing.”

Steve ‘Redeye’ Arnott will be making his acting debut as Jasmine’s dad in There Should Be Unicorns premiere weekend, 7-8 May at Hull’s Stage @TheDock. 

There Should Be Unicorns will tour festivals over the summer and return to Hull for Freedom Festival in August.