Apparently everyone feels like an outsider, I’m definitely familiar with the feeling. Stuck somewhere in the middle between theatre and dance, I felt like everyone else just knew… and I didn’t, and the people who I admire, knew better than anyone else. But it was okay, because I had a feeling that someday I would finally ‘get there’ and ‘get it’. Now I’m starting to realise, that I’m actually here. Not ‘there’, but somewhere. And the way that I get ‘there’ is through practice.
I’ve always loved making. My theatre degree involved a lot of devising and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of many devising processes as a performer with both theatre and dance companies. After making my first solo piece and choreographing a few short bits and pieces, I’ve wanted to start exploring making work with others, overseeing the process as a director. I’ve been jotting down ideas for various shows, which currently all lie in the pages of notebooks, dead before they even had the chance to exist. I’ve got a graveyard of shows that ‘never were’. I suppose it comes down to fear of failure, and the oh-so familiar and recognisable figure of Imposter Syndrome. But lately I’ve been frustrated and know that in order to move forward, I need to move!
So when the chance came up to be an Assistant Director on The Girl With Incredibly Long Hair with We Made This, I thought it would be a great way to tiptoe forward into the world of directing, and it’s great that the role is supported by Wales Millennium Centre.
What interested me about We Made This was that Matt and Jacqui founded the company with the idea to work collaboratively with other artists, which I felt sat nicely with my background and my approaches to making theatre. I came into the second stage of the project (there had been a previous R&D) and therefore felt like I had to catch up a little bit with the ideas behind the piece. Matt had scripted a rough draft for us to take into rehearsal and there had already been work on the set, lighting and sound design, so we were not starting with a blank canvas.
As ‘Assistant Director’ I wasn’t sure how much to input (without overstepping the mark) but Matt assured me to jump in with ideas. I’ve enjoyed the openness of the rehearsal room on this project and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to practice; through leading warm ups and looking at some of the more movement based moments within the work.
As a performer I have worked with both actors and dancers without much differentiation. However, stepping into a directorial position has made me notice the effects of training and the performer. Although I haven’t undertaken a three-year professional dance-training course, I have had training in various styles of movement practice and consequently have learned to move in a certain pattern. So when it comes to choreography or movement tasks, in my head I think everyone moves like me! In reality this is very far from the truth because everyone has their own movement history, making everyone different – a good thing.
This is where having a vision can be the easy part. The difficulty is in the communication. I don’t always have a clear picture of what I want a moment be, but I might have an understanding of what it might feel like, maybe its texture and rhythm. The challenge is in how I translate this to the performers. More often or not, I find myself talking through my hands with a series of sound effects, which isn’t always helpful! So how can I turn that into something useful for the performers to move forward? I think having a common language can be helpful and I’m definitely still developing mine.
Every actor or dancer is different, and exercises I have tried with one group have sometimes mind-blowingly different results with another. I’m learning that it’s not about predicting the results of a task, which can lead to a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ mentality, but instead working with what has been offered and shaping that. The other option is to tell the actors exactly what you want to see, but that doesn’t necessarily interest me because where is the collaboration?
That being said, there are some things that I’ve realised I am interested in stylistically. I found that warm-ups are a really useful place to introduce some of the language and techniques that would be used in the devising process. As my practice develops, I hope that the fundamentals for my practice will become clearer, and then I know to teach these early on in the process, so that my performers can get to grips with them making the rehearsal and devising period smoother.
I’ve definitely felt like I’ve made mistakes during this process, and I’ve gone home some nights replaying those bad decisions and awkward moments… but from those experiences I’ve had a thousand new thoughts on how to try it next time. The difficulty is in the moment when things don’t seem to be working.
Sometimes in those moments of frustration, self-doubt starts to creep in and can completely suck the energy from the studio. So how long do you keep pushing for and when do you give-in and stop?
Working with We Made This has definitely been beneficial to my development. I haven’t answered all of my questions, but I’ve started to explore the possibilities. Just like a devising process, you piece things together as you practice. You don’t begin with the answer – otherwise what’s the point of exploring at all?
The arts can come with a feeling of needing to be talented or having the ability to get things right first time. With social media we see the positives; companies awarded funding, new job roles, theatre awards. We celebrate the successes – but how do we support the failures on the way?
I think the more we talk about process, and have the opportunity to share practice, the more we can recognise that everyone has to make a journey. We might also never get ‘there’ because maybe ‘there’ isn’t actually anywhere at all. But we definitely have here and I think that’s a great place to move forward from.
We Made This in partnership with Blackwood Miners’ Institute and Wales Millennium Centre.
4th-6th April Blackwood Miners Institute / 4-6 Ebrill Sefydliad y Coed Duon
10th-15th April, Wales Millennium Centre / 10-15 Ebr 2018 Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru