Hello, gorgeous reader! I hope that you’re keeping warm this chilly Tuesday.
I am delighted to announce that in August I will be returning to that fabulous world of sleepless nights, excellent shows and a bajillion flyers, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. (For more information about my 2014 excursion, click here.) This time I will be pottering up the road to Scotland with the fabulous Kate Goodfellow, producer and performer extraordinaire.
My history with Kate is a classic example of how life can take you by surprise. Kate and I met through a mutual friend, who is herself a flipping fantastic performer (quite literally, in terms of her physical theatre training), and hit it off immediately. We have similar senses of humour, a like-minded attitude towards theatre and a mutual appreciation of red wine. As a result, Kate has asked me to direct her devised show Tumbling After, a story about two couples living next door to one another.
The thing about devised work – particularly when it centres around romantic relationships – is that it requires an entirely different set of skills to rehearsing a straight play. With a normal production you have clear instructions in the form of stage directions, lines of dialogue which have been written to shape the actors’ performance and a concrete context for everyone to work within. When you devise a show, you have starting points and end goals: stimuli in the form of images and pieces of writing, music that informs the tone of the performance, and an idea of how the story will probably play out. I say “probably”, because when a group of people devise they are basically being encouraged to go with whatever feels natural in the rehearsals, and that can take the whole performance off in unpredictable directions.
This is, to put it mildly, a bit scary. As a director I am very excited about the challenge of shaping a performance from scratch, but I’m also keenly aware that this is going to take a lot of work. In terms of administration, marketing and rehearsal schedules, Kate and I are Fringe aficionados who are completely comfortable with the production’s demands, but in terms of working with the actors to create something completely unique, this is uncharted territory for all of us.
The reason why (despite the various times throughout my Drama degree when devising was asked of us bright-eyed young students) this project is so much more daunting and exciting than anything I’ve done before is that it requires a level of emotional honesty about something that we all talk about, but very rarely publicise: our love lives.
Relationships are hard. Falling in love is exciting, but staying there takes effort. The people we form attachments to shape, make and break us, which is something that most of us seem to accept. For instance, a person with ongoing commitment issues may trace their problem back to an earlier, failed relationship, while someone who finds it difficult to trust their partner might attribute this difficulty to a previous infidelity committed by somebody else. We all allow our past relationships to give us attributes and attitudes, whether or not they are good for us. The emotional hangovers of our love lives are difficult enough to deal with, and now myself and four actors are going to try and make that premise into a show. Crikey.
The trick when it comes to putting real life into theatre is to take what you need, but nothing else. Over the course of this rehearsal process I will be asking the actors (and the movement director – and myself, actually) to be as honest as possible about how their own romantic histories will shape the characters and the narrative of the play. This is not because Kate and I like to make people cry – that’s a separate issue – but because we know that putting two relationships onstage means nothing if the characters don’t come across as genuine, and their problems are not rooted in something that the actors already understand.
The play, clichéd as the notion may be, really is the thing. I am very excited about working with such brilliant actors and a stellar movement director (who is, in fact, the person who introduced me to Kate in the first place – her name is Liz Williams, and she’s headed for great things), because I know that this is exactly the right group of people to make a scary, brilliant, challenging and emotionally demanding project with.
Plus, you know, there’ll probably be red wine somewhere down the line.
For more information about Tumbling After and all the nonsense we’re getting up to in rehearsals, like the company Facebook page. More information soon!
Have a truly sublime Tuesday.