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.
Working in partnership with West Yorkshire Theatre Network we'll be sharing the creative process of our next production, Parallel from start to finish.