Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Working in 'Albemarle'.


When I was still a boy my mum and i would often make the sad journey to Cheltenham.

Sad because it was there that I would be put on a train to make the fear-filled journe to the boarding school in Swanage.

I don’t remember much about my mum. When she died, it was as if a lead curtain fell down to block my memories.

But I do remember us driving past a huge gasometer where it smelt of gas all around. 

There were houses there, and I remember saying how awful I thought it must be to live there in the smell of gas.

“The thing is”, my mum said sadly, “You get used to it”.

And then you don’t notice the smell.

I’ve been in and out of rehearsal rooms for the past thirty years; and the one smell I’ve got used to is the smell of fear.

Mine mostly. It’s a lonely business being a playwright in some ways, and you carry a load of responsibility. Because if the play is crap the production too will be crap. However much directors and actors try to gild it. And in that sense what happens there is in the end down to you.

So there’s my fear of failure, and the director’s fear of failure and the actor’s fear of failure. 

Bullying is pretty endemic in the profession, in one form or other, and I have sometimes been in rehearsals where it has been very obvious. And very ugly.

But always everywhere everyone tries to be professional and responsible and strong. 

Everyone does their best to get on with the job and create the very best production that can be created in the very difficult circumstances that always apply.

But still to a degree fear taints everything.

I mention all this because I’ve just been in a rehearsal room for two weeks where the smell wasn’t there. And so I noticed its absence.

Maybe it was because for the first time in those thirty years and all those rehearsal rooms I wasn’t writing the play. And so I had the pleasure and joy of creating material with none of the responsibility of trying to figure out what to do with it. Or where to put it. Or how it might fit, or not fit, into the overall structure.

I loved that. It’s a bit like being a grandma.

But then if I come to think about it I’m really not that frightened of writing plays anymore. I do know what I’m doing. And while there are also going to be people who dislike what I’m doing really very intensely (a “disaster of a play”: Sunday Herald on “The Tree of Knowledge”) I’m not that frightened of them.

So it might make more sense to be afraid of doing something I really have very little experience of - working as a performer/deviser - and that actually there’s not a lot of evidence that I can actually do.

Especially since I was working with such brilliant people:

Chris Goode http://chrisgoodeandcompany.co.uk/

Jeni Draper (of The Fingersmiths http://www.kaiteoreilly.com/otherprojects/fingersmiths/index.htm

Tom Ross-Williams of Populace http://populacetheatre.wordpress.com/

Heather Uprichard of Shunt http://www.shunt.co.uk/

Jamie Wood http://www.jamiewood.org.uk/

And all under the incredibly well informed critical eyes of Maddy Costa (of The Guardian and http://statesofdeliquescence.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/how-you-do-this-is-up-to-you.html) and Theron Schmidt (of Kings College, London http://performancephilosophy.ning.com/profile/TheronSchmidt.

It was all a bit like being in some 70's Supergroup with some unbelievably acute music critics watching every move. And it could very easily have been terrifying.

But it wasn’t. There were tears, to be sure; but good tears. Tears shed in an atmosphere of creativity and trust.

And consequently I kept on finding myself doing things I had no idea I could actually do.
All this was mainly due to being able to work with people who were not only incredibly skilled, but also worked with huge courage and generosity of spirit.

There is a fundamental belief at the core of the society we are forced to inhabit that fear is somehow good for people. That it brings out the best in us.

It’s crap of course. Like so much else. 

Fear inhibits creativity and stultifies thought. And a major aim of education and artistic activity should be to help people overcome it. 

Most artistic and educational events do the absolute opposite: and in that sense the artistic place we’ve been in for the past fortnight has more than a whiff of revolution about it.

A much better smell than fear....

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