As an emerging artist myself I know how difficult it can be just getting into a professional rehearsal room, where you can learn and hone your craft. I was therefore really keen to open the doors to our rehearsal room to fellow theatre-makers. The idea being that it is an opportunity for students, emerging artists and those just needing a bit of a creative boost to observe our process: the hurdles, the challenges and the discoveries. The hope is that by observing another process that you are able to reflect on your own practice and enrich your creative process with these reflections. It's has also been hugely beneficial to us having observers in. It has given us a supportive test audience and a fresh energy injection into the room. One of these observers was Emma Jackson. She explains what she gained from the experience and gives advice to those thinking of doing something similar.
Being an Observer is a bit like being Alice for a day, if Alice was also a secret agent. It’s bizarre how just getting the title of Observer makes you feel the need to observe everything and everyone with a childish yet serious kind of intrigue - though maybe that’s just me... I didn’t know what I wanted to observe. You see I hadn’t really gone with something particular to observe in mind. I’d been sent a copy of the play when I was ill and had no idea who I was (quite literally) or what I wanted to do anymore. It was about midnight when I jumped out of bed at the opportunity to read it. With brew in hand I found it a comfort and challenge to absorb all the script had to offer, it struck so many chords with me. I quickly but quietly became very interested in how it was developing and so when the opportunity to spend a day seeing the work come to life was offered to me I couldn’t say no. I wanted to push myself after spending so long out of any kind of theatrical/creative environment.
Within minutes of those first tentative steps through the mirror and into the rehearsal room I felt nervous but excited to explore. Everyone breezily said hello and then with big smiles accepted my role as the Observer - which in my head is said in the style of “The Great and Powerful Oz!!”. Moving on. No one questioned why I was there they just accepted that I was and tootled on with their day. It was brilliantly disarming and immediately made me feel relaxed. After going to meet the photographer Ant outside I returned to see the actors taking turns in leading a warm-up before they worked with the Director, James. It was fascinating to watch them energetically switch between general vocal and physical warm-ups to working with excerpts from the script.
As the day progressed I found it refreshing to see how at ease everyone was with each other, how no one seemed more important than anyone else and how focused everyone was. Every minute counted. No time was wasted. Breaks were relished but then as soon as it was time to work again people slipped easily back into work mode. In fact the lines between what was work and what was social interaction were often playfully blurred which helped keep the energy high throughout the day.
This was week 2 of a very short 4 week rehearsal process and guided by the enigmatic James I could see the play taking shape and coming to life. James (Director), Steph (Assistant Director), Laura (producer/writer/actor extraordinaire), Arabella (actor) and Seda (actor) were relaxed but focused in feedback sessions which meant they could openly discuss changes and try out new ideas quickly. Owen the sound designer was pretty intriguing too. He was there patiently absorbing all the subtle changes as they all worked through the script only leaving once for a discussion with James. The relationship between the Director and Assistant Director was interesting to observe too. They popped off to discuss how things were developing and would discuss each other's notes too. It was great to overhear that their notes were similar and though I didn’t speak up I felt pretty chuffed that my secret agent/observer notes were not far off either!
I’ve a lot more notes on what actually happened on my observational adventure but I think what’s probably going to be more useful to give you some Alice Secret Agent/Observer Tips:
Immerse yourself in the day. Take the opportunity to see an incredible piece of work come to life in the hands of skilled professionals. Embrace the team’s process of shaping, refining and discovery over a course of a day - or more days if you have the time - because it’ll open your eyes to the kind of hard, yet playful and inspiring, work that goes into producing a piece of well written theatre.
Go with an open mind. If you go in there with a checklist of how you would do things or a textbook idea of how you think, or how Professor Theatre thinks a rehearsal should run, you’ll miss a great opportunity to see through someone else's eyes - so to speak. Also I think it's generally just a bit sneaky and negative to go in there with any other mindset than an open one.
Don’t be afraid to really look/watch. Being an observer is essentially you having a good nosey at what’s going on so don’t be coy about breaking about. It feels a bit intrusive/weird at first but with a professional bunch like the Parallel team you’ll have the freedom to engage with exactly what interests you.
Observe things that aren’t on your “I must observe this” list. So even if your interest is in Directing don’t just focus on watching what the Director does take note of how the actors and anyone else present is responding to what’s going on… Maybe ask yourself:
Be ready to join in. I never expected to be joining in a warm-up game and whilst my arse wanted to be firmly seated in the area I decided was my “observer area” it was great fun and made me feel a bit more confident/a part of things. When people potter off for lunch too see about going with them even if you’re anxious and sit on the table behind like me, haha, do it it’ll make you feel a part of things.
Final thoughts... promise!
Observations of another company’s way of doing things can lead creative insights of your own journey. If you’ve been out of the industry for a while, been in it for an age or are taking those first tentative steps towards a professional career in the arts I’d recommend this observing malarkey. There is no commitment to do anything with what you find and you get to meet some lovely people and see them working professionally. You get to learn with no strings attached. You get to just be you, live the dream of being a part of brilliant production for a day and also soak up the reality of what goes on in the rehearsal process.
So even if you don’t know what you want to do then maybe go step through a looking glass with Black Toffee you never know what tha will find…
Then fill up the glasses with treacle and ink,
Or anything else that is pleasant to drink:
Mix sand with the cider, and wool with the wine--
And welcome Parallel with ninety-times-nine!
(“borrowed” from Through The Looking Glass”)
Ta’ra, take care and stay warm!
A once-upon-a-time Theatre Maker and arts platform co-builder who is now happily an official Observer ;)
This next blog post is from one of our cast members Arabella GIbbins. Finding a talented, suitable and affable actor for each role is always integral for the success of any production, but for a show which requires the actor to switch into a character on the roll of a dice, even more so. We auditioned over 60 actors from just under 600 applications and recalled 8 for an intensive workshop audition. Working collaboratively with other actors, switching between roles and maintaining truthful, honest performances was a tough ask. The standard was extremely high and we were hugely impressed with all the actors in the workshop, but ultimately, it was a unanimous decision - we all agreed Bella and Seda were the ones for the roles. They both excelled at the recall audition. They were generous, alive, responsive and flexible. And the rehearsal process has proved how important it is to have a rigorous selection and audition process to get the right cast. Bella has been a joy to work with: dedicated, detailed, flexible and collaborative - exactly what this production needed. She reflects on her experience of the audition process and gives some cracking advice to other actors on approaching auditions:
"I was sat at my desk in London on a Monday morning when my agent called me with some good news. I had been invited up to Manchester to audition for a play called ‘Parallel’: new writing, dark comedy, three parts, all female cast (hurrah!), and a different role each night depending on the role of a dice. Wow! My ears pricked up at ‘dark comedy’ and then when I grasped the dice-roll concept I was totally intrigued. I read the full script that afternoon and chose a short section for each character to present to the auditioning panel in Manchester in two days’ time. In terms of notice it’s fairly common to have just a day or two to prepare for a part – anything more is a luxury! - and it’s just a case of how much you can jiggle your schedule around to give yourself maximum preparation time. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming when you have to familiarise yourself with a brand new script, explore a number of characters sufficiently to present an honest and considered portrayal of a character in an audition scenario in less than 48 hours. At times like these I just remind myself that everyone else will be in the same boat, and the people in the audition room won’t be looking for a polished performance. The most important thing to show is a solid understanding of the story and a connection with the character(s) you’ve explored. I try to make strong character choices where possible rather than giving a ‘general wash’. It’s impossible to know what ‘they’ are looking for, and you’ll just tie yourself in knots trying to second guess, so best to mine the text for clues and then flesh out the character as best you can.
I took the train up to Manchester on Wednesday morning, arriving at the theatre with plenty of time to have a cup of tea, dry myself off and look over the scipt before I was called in. Bearing in mind James and Laura were on their second full day of auditions I knew I was probably the 40th (maybe even 50th) person to come into the room. You’d never have guessed. I was greeted with huge smiles and introduced to Laura (writer/producer), James (director) and Pete (audition assistant) who’d be reading with me. Auditions come in all shapes and sizes and you never know what to expect, so you have to be ready for anything! On this occasion I was immediately put at ease by the warmth and positive energy in the room. Ready. I performed each of the sections I’d prepared, script in hand – one for each character. Laura and James responded really well, they each gave me a few notes to think about and suggested some changes, and I went through them again. I was in there for about 15 minutes and it was one of the most enjoyable auditions I’ve ever done, which was entirely down to the atmosphere created in the room. I felt the team were willing me to do well and really listening to me and considering the choices I’d made. I went back to London with a smile on my face.
On Friday my agent called to say I’ve been offered a recall; I was over the moon. It meant I was down to the last 8 out of around 600 applicants, and that another trip to Manchester was in order. The recall day was scheduled for the following Saturday – a three hour workshop with the other lucky 7. I booked my train and got back to Laura’s script. When you come out of an audition room it’s a good survival technique to put the whole thing out of your mind as quickly and as much as possible. Generally if you’re not recalled there’s no such thing as a rejection letter, you just don’t hear back. The waiting game is probably the most maddening part of the job, and you can drive yourself crazy if you’re waiting for the phone to ring. When I leave an audition I usually treat myself to a coffee and a cake and hide the script at the bottom of my bag. When I heard I could dig the script back out and resume my excavation I was thrilled. This time we were given three specific sections to prepare for the workshop; we didn’t have to be off-book, but we were advised to be as familiar as possible with the lines. Having a whole week to get back into the three characters and spend proper time playing with their physicality and vocal qualities was a joy. I loved the script and the storyline struck a chord with me so I couldn’t wait to get back in the audition room (not something you hear people say very often!). Saturday came round and me and the other hopefuls met at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The workshop consisted of warm ups, games to loosen up and get to know each other and some script-play, culminating in a final hour of pure script work where we performed short scenes to the group whilst being swapped in and out at a rapid pace!
It was a brilliant day. In an audition workshop it’s vital that you see everyone else in the room as an equal and an ally, not competition. As I’ve said it might be an obvious point but you’ll never know what the casting team are looking for. There are so many factors they will be considering aside from your acting ability. All you can do is prepare as best you can before you arrive, bring positive energy into the space, be ready to play and make mistakes (that’s where the magic happens, so go for it) and always be receptive and open. It was a privilege to have three solid hours with the group; so often you’re in an out of an audition room within minutes and decisions are made based on a tiny glimpse. When you’ve had an afternoon together you get a good idea of everyone’s skills, rhythms and the different dynamics created. I finished the day feeling energised, excited and wished Laura well with the project. She told us we’d hear back from her the following day either way, which was a relief. When I heard I’d got a part in this fantastic production I literally jumped out of my train seat and whooped in the middle of the carriage. The Parallel adventure had just begun."
The next blog is from Owen Rafferty, our sound designer. I worked with Owen on Hidden and he’s brilliant. He’s someone I’ll work with again and again because of his passion, precision and innovation. He takes utter delight in contributing to a collaborative theatre process. He also laughs at my jokes. Owen is an great example of the benefit of giving your all to every project you work on, as it will certainly lead to more work.
My journey with Parallel started when I went along to a rehearsed reading at the Royal Exchange Studio in March 2015 I had worked with the writer Laura Lindsay on her first play – Hidden - a couple of years earlier, and I had been invited along to watch and share my thoughts from a sound design perspective. At this stage, the play still was using a working title - Waiting for Light, and all I knew going in was that it would have 3 female characters, it would be set in a train station in the middle of the night, and it would be loosely based on Beckett's Waiting for Godot. And that was all I needed to know – Beckett is one of my favourite playwrights, and any project that aspires to emulate his style is one that I am keen to be involved in!
As a sound designer my job is to add sound effects and music that help give a play atmosphere and production values. Usually this process will start with me reading a completed script, then meeting the director to discuss creative vision and talk through some early ideas. So it was a unique experience to see a play I was going to design sound for already on its feet, being read script in hand to an audience of over 100 theatre-goers. And it was really good. The character's were compelling, the jokes were funny and the audience really enjoyed it. Which begs the question – does a play like this even need sound? After all, it already works without it. In true Beckett style, there is minimal action, which brings the focus on the characters and the dialogue. The worst thing I could do is design something that sounds great on its own, but which distracts from this focus. I am the first person to advocate for the importance of good sound design in theatre, but some of the best theatre I have seen didn't have any production whatsoever. I was worrying about all this when I realised I had barely anything written down in my notepad, and the read-through was nearly over.
“I see this play as having a lot of silence,” Laura admitted to me after the show, apologetically. “I don't suppose...that's something you would be interested in working on?” she asked, as if by focussing on silence more than sound, she was asking me to sell out everything I stand for.
“Awesome. I LOVE making silence... actually it's kinda one of my favourite things to do.”
Not the answer she was expecting, but this was truly how I felt. There is an art to creating silence, and it can be really effective dramatically. But that doesn't change the fact that it feels a bit weird to talk about. You end up using nonsense phrases like “creating” silence, as if that were physically possible, and it all ends up sounding like a cop-out for a lazy designer who can't be bothered actually putting together any sounds. This has turned into a bit of a running joke about how the “silence designer” doesn't have any work to do, so he can just put his feet up until show day.
But actually it isn't as straightforward as it sounds...in a way it is harder to create a soundscape that is stark and minimal. You have to be incredibly delicate, as every little detail matters. It's not a case of having total silence throughout, it's about using quiet sounds that emphasise the stillness.
A critic once said of Waiting for Godot that it is a play in which nothing happens...twice. And while there is some truth in that – there aren't any of the typical dramatic developments we are used to – it also misses the point. The lack of conventional drama (or sound or set) gives space to the characters and brings our focus in to the details of their speech. And that's what I am aiming for with the sound – sometimes “nothing” will happen, but making that work turns out to be a fascinating challenge.
So why is silence interesting to me? And how do you “create” it? I guess it has something to do with that odd thing that happens when a fridge has been humming in the background, you don't notice how loud and grating it is until it stops. The contrast between the noise of the fridge and the sudden silence really grabs the attention and makes you very aware of the sounds around you. And this is one of the easiest ways to create silence – play a subtle ambient sound long enough for people to take it for granted and start tuning it out, then fade it out for effect.
When I first sat down with director James Baker to discuss the sound, he was also keen on the idea of using silence. It was great to see that right from the start we were on the same page about how we wanted the atmosphere to be. And I was able to cite the example of a fridge humming to demonstrate that not only was I onboard with the idea, but I already knew ways to make it work. I use this example again and again in early meetings, especially if directors use phrases like “subtle”, “minimal” and so on. Most directors are wary that sound can get in the way, so it is very useful to have a concrete example you can use to show that you share their concerns and know ways to achieve atmospheric and dramatic results with a stripped back set of sounds.
The next step was to decide on our equivalent of the fridge hum, luckily we had one in the form of a vending machine on set. This opens up the opportunity to use the mechanical sound of the machine as a drone that can be brought in and out subtly at key moments of the play. The setting had changed from being a train station to being more of an abstract world that could be anywhere. Like many Beckett plays, it takes place in a vague purgatory that feels empty and lonely. So it's important that the sounds echo and reverberate to give a sense of the size and emptiness of the space.
So I should probably get back to it. That lack of sound isn't going to design itself! I'll just sign off with this awesome video I found online about the use of silence in cinema. If you're still not sure of the dramatic benefits of using silence, the link before explains it much better than I ever could.
Victoria, our designer, is a recent graduate from LIPA. James met her at a networking event organised by Matthew Xia as part of the Open Exchange ran by The Royal Exchange in Manchester. Her passion, approach and portfolio left a lasting impression on James and he was very keen for her to be involved on Parallel. We interviewed three designers for the position and Victoria stood out not only because of the quality of her work, but how deeply she connected to the content of the piece. James and her developed an instant rapport and a shared artistic vision built around collaboration and joint investigation. Seeing them work together has been a joy. Victoria has designed a world I never imagined - it both supports and elevates the writing. Before she buried herself in the workshop to do the set build, she wrote this blog - reflecting on the design process up to the first day of rehearsal.
Hello! I'm Victoria, the set and costume designer for Parallel and Laura has asked me to write a little insight into the design process for those who may be interested in what goes in to creating the world you will eventually see on stage.
The design process for Parallel has so far been a wonderful experience, as my first job out of university I feel incredibly lucky to have found myself working with a team of people who are so supportive, open and exciting!
As of Monday 1st Feb we go in to the workshop to make this world come alive!
But back to the beginning...
The process began for me in July when I applied for the job and had to face that first hurdle that a new and curious designer has to deal with: confidence! When asked to send James and Laura my first responses to the script I worried that my approach would be off-putting. Every designer has their own individual way of getting into a new text and mine is to write as much as possible; every thought and silly notion that comes into my head whilst reading. Then I condense and look at what stands out, what are your intuitions, impressions and ideas? I hesitated a little before sending them only written impressions as I feared they would be looking for someone who could send them images in abundance with an idea of what the set would look like already... It seems I was right to have trusted myself and stuck to my practice! That was lesson number 1.
After the summer James and I met again and ensconced ourselves in a corner of a coffee shop for our first proper design meeting. We spent a few hours discussing the defining concepts of the play, sense of space, characters, abstraction and realism... This time we both brought along visuals which inspired us and it turned out we both had the same kinds of images in mind. Armed with copious notes and a much better understanding of James' view of the project I went home to explore those ideas and let them grow.
We met about once a month after this to discuss how much we had progressed whilst keeping in touch online. Happily its been very easy to communicate with James as he's a very visual director and sees the design as an integral part of the creation of the play, rather than simply as a backdrop!
I found myself having problems progressing the design into 3D which I realised I couldn't get passed until I'd seen the space. Usually it would be the first thing to do upon beginning a project but as we were in Manchester and the theatre wasn't... it was a few months until I could actually be inside the room the play would take place in. It was, of course, the huge help I needed to push the design forward and I gave myself the deadline of finishing the white card model (general design though often without finalised textures/paintwork etc) by our last production meeting in December so the team could get a sense of the space they'd be working in.
On Monday, first day of rehearsals I'll present the finished model box to everyone. It's often a nerve-wracking moment, even if you're happy with your design... months of work, hundreds of choices, changes, angry outbursts and papercuts have hopefully created something comprehensible, buildable and complementary to the piece.
Right now we're still working out how to build the set within the budget, what kinds of seating we will use for the audience, whether or not to use a suitcase... spoilers! I'll also be working with the actors throughout the rehearsal process on their costumes as they develop their characters (and change between them)
So things may well change along the way but that's all part of the process. It's sometimes a bit scary to sign a contract agreeing to create something, the idea of which hasn't even been conceived yet. You are agreeing to deal with any problem which may arise, though you have no concept yet of what those issues may be!
However that's what the team is for. Liaising with the production/stage managers has helped me to better understand the building and costing process, James' experience with fringe productions has been a great help and in general everyone has been very supportive!
For now it's time to get out the painting clothes...
James, the director, was the first person on board our production of Parallel after me. He agreed to direct the play about 12 months ago. Initial conversations about style and artistic vision started immediately and have gathered pace, leading up to a pre-production period with the rest of the creative team around 6 months ago. Before James joined, the play had sat gestating with me for a year. I had already spent 6 months researching, drafting and developing the script with the help of a select group of talented and generous people as part of my R&D process (see previous blog). Handing the play over to a director is exciting, scary but liberating. You are trusting them to do justice to your piece, honour the intentions of the writing, but also elevate it beyond what you could have imagined. Not much to ask then. As James explains, this process starts with assembling a team.
"Directing is tough. It demands you to be one of many people; a facilitator, a philosopher, a teacher, a mediator, a listener, a collaborator and so on... but very few really understand what a director actually does. Getting involved in directing any play is scary. It's an exposing industry and one that tends to be a very open and thus an impersonal experience - you feel on display; "It was rubbish", "I liked it" are all comments we may hear from our audiences when directing, and just like any job, we hear these comments and they have an affect - you have to build up your armor. While we'd like to think we please everyone, we can't, theatre should be divisive and it is always subjective... for me the true art is in the collaboration when making theatre and for who we make it for, the audience, that's why when approached to direct anything I first think "who do I want on my team" to make this happen. Building the team sounds like a silly place to start when setting out to direct a play... but actually it's the most crucial. Working with Black Toffee and with Laura Lindsay's play is not a light challenge; you are ultimately responsible for the end product... but... build the team, engineer the process and the product should follow.
The start of the process is tricky - you read the play (in this case a new piece of writing), you have an opinion, you relay this back to the writer, in this case they hire you to direct it... then it becomes a partnership... it's a marriage. I take directing this seriously. I have this play and it's now my job to lift it from the page. You analyse, you defend, you challenge, you questions, you probe... then you ask yourself, who shall I get on board? Who will help me serve this work? For me the designers you hire have to have enough in common with your process and thoughts, but be able to challenge you when needed and ultimately serve the work, not the director. Therefore you need to trust that they share the same philosophy as you. All the team that were brought onto Parallel have exactly this philosophy. They work for the play. We have a sense of shared responsibility for the outcome and what the audience actually experience.
Early days are meetings with designers, discussions about the play, the world, the characters, the big ideas... you are in a state of finding your way in... your angle. You have ideas, visions, opinions and you test these constantly with your designer... you ask a million questions and you answer very little. I love this stage. Me and Victoria, the designer, spent many a day talking, walking round Manchester, being silly, drinking coffees (lots) and looking at our world with 'Parallel' goggles on. We were trying to find our way in. This is the exciting part but also the challenging part. It took over three months for both me and Victoria to have what I call the 'Eureka' moment - the moment when everything makes sense and you find your way in. This moment was special!
Pre-production takes up most of your life before entering the rehearsal room. While you have to spend time with the text sometimes too much time is dangerous... I've tried to keep it balanced so I feel fresh when going into rehearsals and so I don't feel like I become the voice of the play... I'm a discoverer - I like to dig! I like actors to find the answers and for us to share that journey and therefore a shared product. I am an elicitor and one who likes to work with their gut... my head gets in the way. And to be honest audiences don’t experience your intellect, they feel your heart. This is why a rigorous audition process and finding the right actors to take on the challenge of playing all three roles was key. We put the actors through two rounds. First call was to see them against a cold read and identify their understanding with the material... second was to test their toolkit and assess how believable they could be in the roles. It was important that they were honest and truthful with their portrayal of the roles due to the subject matter and writing.
So far it's been a rewarding process. At times you get it wrong, other times, right. It's a journey of learning and it's nearly time to start animating the world and putting it on its feet. I think I'm ready but you never really feel ready. Juggling paying the rent in full time work, working across two shows and having a social life is hard... but you don't exist within theatre you have to live within it... that's why we do what we do.
Directing is rewarding... take courage, stay strong and be prepared to be challenged to your breaking point. This career is not for the faint hearted but for those who can endure adversity and try and try again."
The next blog will be from Victoria, our wonderfully talented designer.
Parallel is my ‘troublesome second album’. After the rather unexpected success of Hidden, I have to admit writing something else filled me with a fair bit of trepidation. Fear of failure, imposter syndrome and a distinct lack of ideas threatened to relegate me to a theatrical Chesney Hawkes. Not that I think Hidden is on a par with the sheer 80s brilliance of The One and Only, but you get the point.
This is where R&D was so very useful. I had the seed of an idea. Or rather several seeds that had been sat in the packet for a while, that I’d kept meaning to plant. Planning a period of R&D meant that I could explore the ideas through research, drafting, workshops and rehearsed readings without the pressure to deliver. It also allowed me to develop my process as a writer and build relationships with partners and theatres.
Rather than blathering on about my own personal artistic discoveries during the process, I figured it would be most useful to give some advice if you’re considering doing something similar yourself.
Plan your funding bid carefully, give yourself plenty of time to provide a clear outline of your desired outcomes and make sure you get partners on board. Building these partnerships doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time to establish a relationship and to get them to believe in your idea as much as you do. Do some research, arrange meetings, ask for advice. This is ground work that should be done before you put your funding bid in.
Research is sometimes fruitless. You will probably end up discarding 99% of it, but you need to do that 99% to find the golden 1% that gets your creative juices flowing. Don’t worry too much about forcing the research into the piece – it’s not an exercise in proving how much you know. Trust that it can’t help but infuse, infiltrate and influence what you write.
Set up informal chats with people who have experience, knowledge and interest in the subject matter. You’ll probably find you get a lot more of an honest and frank response if it isn’t set up as a formal interview.
Every first draft is awful. Truly awful. It’s all part of the process. Try not to censor yourself. Get it out of your head and onto paper. Thenyou can refine it.
No matter how you decide to structure your process – whether it is simply a process of private research, drafting and re-drafting, or if it is a more expansive process, like mine, including workshops and sharings – I think you need a good critical friend. Someone you can bounce ideas off, who’ll give you honest feedback, who knows you need to be nurtured, but who also holds you to excellence. I was blessed to have three hugely supportive critical friends throughout my R&D process - Peter Carruthers (script editor), Adam Quayle (dramaturg) and Stephanie Upsall (now Assistant Director).
With a more exposed development process such as mine – one that actively sought feedback from partners, audiences and peers at each stage – the feedback can be quite overwhelming. Remember that all feedback is given to help the development of the piece, but it is subjective and not all of it will be useful. Make a note of it all. Don’t dismiss anything out of hand. Know that some things you will have to discard, some things may have to sit for a while before you are able to process/address them and some things will surprise you by unlocking something for you. The interesting thing is you don’t know which pieces of feedback are which until you give time to absorb and reflect on them. Be gracious with the feedback given, people are investing their time in helping you.
7.Taking a break:
There will come a point where you know it still needs work, but you just don’t know what. You’ll feel you’re going round in circles, tied in knots and feeling lost. At this point, put it in a drawer and immerse yourself in something else creatively consuming. Have a break from it. Like a couple of months kind of break. Come back to it with fresh eyes, you’ll be amazed how much clearer you will see it.
The next few blogs will be from other members of the Parallel creative team. First up is James Baker, the Director. I worked with him previously on All Because of Molly and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and have always loved and admired his honesty, heart and commitment to delivering quality to audiences. With this in mind I was keen to see if he’d be interested in directing Parallel. He attended the final reading at the end of the R&D process. After which he agreed to direct the piece, but not without some strong suggestions for improvements. James is an example of a fantastic critical friend. He was honest, nurturing and held me to excellence. He’s a very rare find.
Hello folks and welcome to Black Toffee's first blog post for our production of Parallel. I've called it 'the start of the line' as we commence rehearsals next week and this is the first foray into sharing our creative process with you. But of course, in actual fact, it is not the start at all, more the middle. This play and the production has been gestating for some time. Journeying from the first tentative scribblings of ideas, to embarking on four weeks of rehearsals with a cast and full production team, has taken nearly two years. That's longer than it takes to make an elephant.
I should probably introduce myself, I am Laura Lindsay and I am an actor/writer and producer - but I prefer the title 'Theatre-Maker' as it's fewer letters and actually describes more accurately what I do. I run Black Toffee alongside my husband Jim McDonnell. I trained as an actor and then diversified to a theatre-maker as I wanted control of my career and to establish my own artistic voice. I graduated six years ago and I still consider myself to be an 'emerging' artist. Not quite sure when I'll shed my career chrysalis, maybe I never will, but at least I can see a bit of daylight and occasionally get to stretch my wings. I know how difficult it is finding work and keeping going in the arts. They can be dark, lonely days when you have no opportunity to do the thing you love and trained for. I have benefited from incredible support, advice and generosity from other more experienced individuals and companies in the industry, so I'm keen to do the same for others.
Parallel is my second full play that I have written, produced and acted in. The first was Hidden, co-written with Black Toffee's Associate Artist, Peter Carruthers. Hidden was a massive learning curve - we started small - playing to audiences of 15-20 and built up to being selected for Re:play at The Lowry, followed by a sell-out three week run at Underbelly at Edinburgh Fringe and a national tour to 11 regional theatres. Hidden became a platform for building relationships with theatres, audiences and other makers. Black Toffee and I were made Associate Artists at Harrogate Theatre in 2013. I am forever indebted to the support, mentorship, advice, and above, all belief in my work, that Harrogate Theatre has given me.
My hope is that by sharing our journey of creating the play, we will give emerging artists and theatre-makers an insight into a professional making process, including timescales and methodologies. I am by no means saying this will be a definitive model for theatre-making, but I hope it will provide some helpful information, insights and reflections that will benefit aspiring theatre makers' understanding of what goes into putting a play on.
I'm going to stop jibbering on at you now. But before I go, allow me to introduce the fantastic team behind Parallel:
James Baker - Director
Stephanie Upsall - Assistant Director and social-media marketing
Victoria Hinton - Set and costume designer
Aaron J Dootson - Lighting designer
Owen Rafferty - Sound designer
Amy Chandler and Rob Athorn - Stage Managers
Jim McDonnell - Executive Producer
Emma McDowell and Harrogate Theatre - Co-producer and marketing
Arabella Gibbins - Actor
Seda Yildiz - Actor
Anthony Robling - Production photography
You'll get to meet this bunch over the next few weeks, as this series of blogs will include contributions from all our production team. They will offer insights into their particular area of specialism in the process as we traverse the Parallel line together (!) (#sorry #notsorry).
The next blog will be another one from me on the R and D process, including applying for funding, booking rehearsed readings, and receiving and processing feedback. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think will find it useful. Thank you to Stephanie Upsall and the fabulous organisation, West Yorkshire Theatre Network, for helping distribute the blog.
Working in partnership with West Yorkshire Theatre Network we'll be sharing the creative process of our next production, Parallel from start to finish.