Sunday, 4 September 2011

This is not a rehearsal.

Hello. I am alive, I promise, even though my current levels of blogging (very little) might suggest I had fallen into a deep hole in the pavement.

But no! I am very much still here, if lacking in internet-appropriate, witty, insightful writing about the life of a wannabe-Theatre Director. Don't get me wrong, I've had several ideas for posts, including: Censorship, How to Deal With Rejection, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (a major reason for lack of blog), Social Conditioning, Theatre Politics and Gorillas. No, really - Bristol currently has a Gorilla-themed art festival whereby 60 life-size gorilla statues have been painted by different artists and placed in strategic places around the city. But, demonstrably, have not brought them to the internets.

Anyhoo. I may well post about the above in more depth in a later post, but I begin rehearsals tomorrow for 'The Importance of Being Earnest' so should probably go and make sure I have clean clothes, pack my script and avoid having a breakdown from first-day-at-school nerves. In truth I'm massively excited - the rehearsal room is where I have the most fun - but it's the first time the entire team will be together, and we get to see the beast for what it is. Including running length. Hoorah.


Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Young Vic Genesis Network

You can tell when I should be doing other work - I blog more. Anyhoo.

The Young Vic Genesis Network is pretty much the only such network dedicated to linking aspiring and established directors in this country. Possibly the world? It's a fantastic resource - with links to over 700 directors, regular updates about different opportunities from assisting on productions, attending workshops and talks, getting free tickets/ticket offers and much more. It also allows its members to send blanket emails to the entire network asking for support or advice, publicising your work, or anything else really.

When you become a member you get to create a profile - a bit like Facebook but without a 'wall'. There's a section for including information about past and present projects, put in requests for staff etc. And there's the 'about me' bit. It's a bit like writing a dating advert, I think. Because, I found out recently, there are actually people in the industry who take it upon themselves to wade through our profiles and actually read them with a view to possibly employing us. Yay. And yet, how best, then, to present oneself? Here's where I am:

Perusing through others' profiles there is a variation on length, how much past experience is included, whether a person has trained, what they're interested in etc. Some are chatty and done in the first person, others are strictly no-nonsense 3rd person pieces. But what is apparent is not only the amount of competition out there, but that there are people with amazing credits on their CV, people who have been on the National Theatre's Studio course (a bit of a holy grail for us lesser mortals down the rungs), who have worked at incredible theatres as both directors and assistants. But we're all in the same network.

In a way, while we're all in competition, we're also all part of a team. Team Director.

Go Team!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Challenges Associated with Fringe Producing

1. You are not the priority - if a better option comes along (read: better paycheck) then you will be dropped quicker than you can blink. This is not personal, this is business. The danger is the timing of this.

2. Your network will be small. Attracting funding is hard, and reaching an audience as a small company is harder - especially if you are independent and not creating work as part of a theatre's official programme.

3. Very often you have a much smaller company of people than a production may realistically require. Actors have to double as stage hands, the crew have to multi-task in extreme ways, and everything has to happen on a tighter, shorter and cheaper schedule.

4. Every success is an extraordinary achievement. Every failure is the end of the world. Emotions run high. This holds true for all types of show though.

5. An extraordinary amount of work goes into what may ultimately be a very short run. And then it's all over.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

On the Nature of Dreams

In today's edition of The Stage, Danny Lee Wynter has written an article on his experiences with the fickle nature of the arts industry. Where one minute you are loved, with your pick of jobs, and everyone knows who you are. The next you are back waiting tables, wondering how you got there. In the same edition it is reported that 'UK theatre is hotbed for bullying'.

So far, so shattered dreams of an industry built on the magic of performance etc. Well. Actually, is anyone really surprised?

The arts industry is so notoriously over-subscribed that it's gone beyond the point of cliche to say so. I have friends, fantastic performers, techies and other arts professionals who haven't worked on a single show since graduating. Now, granted it's only been a year, but there are people who train for years who just never work. Given the difficulties inherent in mounting productions - from raising the revenue to put the show on, to cultivating an audience, to solving all the little niggles and larger problems associated with co-ordinating a large number of people through different tasks like construction, rehearsals, and marketing - it is sometimes a wonder that any of them happen at all.

It seems to me that those people who "succeed" (and the definition of success in the arts industry is necessarily flexible) are those who are utterly tenacious. Those who believe that things will get better, regardless of how bad they are now. And similarly those who maximise the good times, in the knowledge that it could all disappear overnight. But most importantly, to get anywhere, people have to know who you are. So, very often, shamlessness can get you very far.

Looking at it another way, we're all mad.

Friday, 24 June 2011


Theatre, like all the arts, is a matter of personal opinion and taste. What one person loves, another can possess surprisingly aggressive negative views on. This is useful to remember when not only watching, but creating performances for others. On the one hand, it helps to put my own thoughts about the productions I see in perspective, and - similarly - to deal with the varying opinions I encounter about my own work. Including my own.

Surely this is what makes the arts so interesting - they are life-responsive and rely on honest feedback to thrive. As artists we must find our audience, but I think that there is an audience out there for everyone, no matter how left-field your work might be. We are none of us unique enough to find no one sharing our taste.

So...bearing all this in mind...where does personal taste rank with quality and professionalism in the assessment of a piece of theatre? E.g. in awarding prizes like the Olivier awards. Or, to put it another way, how can you honestly judge a piece of work alongside another, when one is not to your own taste? Is there such a thing as lack of bias in the arts? Should there be?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


So, it's been a little while since my last post. That's mostly because my days have been filled with the following:

1. Sifting through hundreds of applications for auditions for 'The Importance of Being Earnest'
2. Preparation for, and beginning my second project as visiting director for BOVTS.
3. Taking part in the 24 hour plays in Bath - the third time I've done such a mad thing, but one of the best.
4. Tackling my newest challenge - a one-man TIE show. Can't say much at this stage, just that it is something I've never done before, has the potential to reach a lot of people, and is really testing my skills as a director. Exciting!
5. Various trips back and forth to London. Mostly social.

So it's been quite a good period of time. And I tentatively feel like I've taken one of those little steps forward in my long game.

How marvellous. Let's enjoy it for now...

PS my iTunes thinks it's Christmas. No, iTunes, I don't want to hear Al Greens 'Christmas Song' on the first of June. Thanks.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Brilliant Productions

Two productions I must mention:

Black Watch (National Theatre of Scotland Tour)
This is my current evangelism show. As in, I bore everyone I meet by telling them they must see it. No, really, it's the best thing I've ever seen. You must go. No, really. Ad infinitum.

But, really. It ticked, for me, all the boxes - it was traverse staging, so no sight line problems. Tick. It incorporated singing, movement and straight acting. Tick. It used aerialism. Tick. It was extremely well written and performed with nuance and truth. Massive Ticks all round. It just. I have no words. In terms of using theatre to present an often untold story (from the soldier's perspective) of comraderie, politics, friendship, duty, this production nails it.

See it.

Richard II (Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory)
This, for me, succeeded primarily because of one man: John Heffernan. He's been getting a lot of interest, and is a rising star of the RSC, and now I see why. Spell-binding, utterly truthful performance. The clarity of language and intention is always lauded in Hilton's productions (I was fortunate enough to work on the 2010 season), but in Heffernan it was supremely effortless. Fantastic supporting cast, but Heffernan stole the show.

This is no longer playing, but if you get the chance, check him out in the future.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

All Change

It seems to be an interesting and exciting change of management among some of our leading theatres just now.

Michael Grandage is exiting the Donmar to be replaced by his protege Josie Rourke - leaving a vacancy running The Bush in its new premeses, and now Ian Brown is set to step down from the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Also, in less than five years there will be another shake up at the Old Vic with the departure of Kevin Spacey.

All Change!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Life in London

Yep, that's me - living and working in London for the past two and a half weeks.

I'm assisting the wonderful John Kachoyan on the new Ben Ellis play 'Unrestless', as part of the 'Civil Unrest' event taking place as part of the 'Coming Up' Season organised by IdeasTap/Old Vic New Voices. And yes, it really is that complicated. To steal a quote from the play, it's like onion rings: layer upon layer...

This isn't the first time I've lived and worked/trained in London, but it's still something of a culture shock. From dealing with a daily two-hour commute to and from my digs in Chiswick to London Bridge, where we are both rehearsing and performing, to the faster pace of life (I literally walk faster here). Also, the sheer number of people - it makes Bristol seem like a quaint town. Aptly enough, considering it's the country's capital city...But anyway.

Part of the reason for coming was to see whether I would/could/should make the move to London, and I've encountered varying opinions. London seems to be the place to be to make contacts, and there are - in theory - more opportunities here, but conversely it's potentially easier and cheaper to make theatre (and stand out) elsewhere. I think it's an ongoing dialogue I'm going to have to have with myself. In an ideal world I would be able to juggle locations, but that does sort of require money...

Anyhoo, my weeks of relative stability here are about to end as I will now be working in London and Bath *simultaneously*. Yes, I'm just that good. Ahem. Watch as I try to juggle three different events in the same week - you will mostly see me sitting on a train :-) Sadly, because of things like commuting, working full time and occasionally needing sleep, I haven't seen as much theatre as I would like while in London. I can heartily recommend 'Vernon God Little' at the Young Vic though, and - obviously - 'Unrestless' ;-).

Sunday, 23 January 2011

National Press

Yep, I'm included in a national publication -

Albeit a small mention, but still - how exciting! This is a really interesting project that I was able to get involved with having previously worked on the festival last year. Do come along if you can.

I've been spending my 2011 so far on trying to broaden my horizons, get my name known further afield and learning more about the 'business' side of this industry. With moderate success. The thing is, there is a fine line between information and intimidation, and it's very easy to feel far behind the pack. BUT! You can now find me on the Young Vic Directors' Genesis Network, working at the Bath Literature Festival and potentially working on the Liverpool 'Write Now' Festival later in April.

Small steps. Long game.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

It All Starts Somewhere

My childhood theatre experience was pretty varied, thanks to my mum's own interest and passion in all things performance. But there are two shows that, I think, had a massive impact on me - both as a person and as a director.

Les Miserables and Blood Brothers.

I have seen both these shows more times than is possibly healthy - especially with the availability of DVDs like the 10th and, now, 25th anniversary concerts of Les Mis in particular. If you know them - both with aspects of comedy but ultimately driven by stories of hope, retribution, anger, despair and powerful music - then you will pretty much know everything you need to know about me as a person and a director. I love comedy but have an affinity for melacholic, nostalgic or thoughtful drama. There is something magical about musical theatre that theatre without music (is there such a thing?) could not match. It is often touted that 'whatever cannot be spoken is sung', and I do believe that in many ways.

When I was little I was desperate to be in the shows. In Les Mis I would be Fantine, in BB I would be Linda. As I was growing up there was a lot of flack associated with liking them. 'Oh that's a miserable show', 'What, the Liverpool thing?'...and the massive popularity that they attract meant that some people could be quite snobby about them. But the fact is that, for me at least, they were transformative experiences. Iconic productions.


Sunday, 2 January 2011

The First Rule in Theatre

Hello. Welcome to 2011. Are you sitting comfortably? Marvellous. You must not be sitting in the Gods.

Today I saw what was actually a rather good production, but which was let down by the section of the theatre I was sitting in - the only one I can realistically afford when I see so many shows. Why is the Gallery (Gods, Upper Circle; whatever name a theatre gives to its highest tier of seats) such an uncomfortable place to be? At it's worst you risk vertigo for a very distant glimpse of what may or may not be an actor standing/dancing/acting on the stage far below, and at it's best you probably miss seeing most of the action with an uncluttered view due to 'safety bars' in the way. And you don't usually get a seat. You have a bench. Now, I am not the smallest person, and with a dad who is 6'5 tall I have quite long legs, but being able to pay less than a cinema ticket to see a show doesn't really make up for having to sit with my knees up to my chin, craning to see any part of the show that dares to venture any further down stage than midstage, gradually stripping off layers of extra clothing while the heat from the stage, audience and lights below rises to cloud among those stuck at the top.

But, comfort aside, having been in my fair share of 'highest tier seating', it seems to me that the majority of actors and directors forget about it. It is very rare for performers to 'play' to the audience - indeed I have seen shows where their eyes never lifted above the stalls! I know that it's impossible to please everyone, and tickets are cheaper for a reason, and it would be horrible to have to dramatically alter an artistic vision because of sight-lines. But when you stage a good 40-50% of scenes below the realistic vision of people in the top it sort of takes the piss. Theatre is about collectivity - a shared experience between performance and audience. And it seems our inherited theatres have not been designed to fully facilitate that. Of course, it's easy for me to rant about it - I don't have to do anything about it, apart from make as sure as possible that when I stage a production the majority of action can be seen EVERYWHERE in the theatre.

I think this is why I love theatres like The Courtyard in Stratford, The Tobacco Factory in Bristol, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre and the Young Vic in London. Perhaps it's notable that all these places generally use thrust staging.

Put me in the thick of it every time.