Directors, leadership and integrated theatre

What does a theatre director do exactly?

giphy

Theatre director (noun); A creative collaborator, guide and conduit between a writer*, production team and performers and an audience.

*or not if the work is devised.

Who the director is informs the outcome to an extent, just as any other creative and production team member influences a show.

How the director works, who they cast, how they communicate, how they brief, manage people, run rehearsals, steer marketing and shape the final production for people is perhaps more important than who.

The role is as important as the person.

dark-horse2
Joe Sproulle and Lisa Howard in Sing Something Simple (Dark Horse, national tour 2)

There’s a highly positive drive for change in UK theatre to recruit theatre directors from under-represented demographics.

Disability-led work is thriving but actors with moderate learning disabilities struggle to lead and manage projects- and many trained actors don’t want to, they want to focus on acting as the hard-learned theatre craft it is-  and this is where integrated theatre (= casts and companies of creatives with and without learning disabilities) offers genuine equality for these performers.

People with moderate learning disabilities without literacy or verbal skills are barred from leadership roles in theatre.

But…

Actors with moderate learning disabilities aren’t barred from playing leading roles in general audience facing work when working in integrated casts with the Silent Approach.

 

The Silent Approach is a non-verbal rehearsal room method which supports actors with and without learning disabilities, in integrated general audience facing productions. Its proven, tried and tested in national touring, TV and film and its being shared widely via the Separate Doors project.

Separate Doors 3 aims to encourage theatre directors to increase the representation of people with learning disabilities in general audience, text based and venue theatre.

The project offers key tools for directors to make working with actors with learning disabilities as desirable and creatively expanding as it can be including casting/working with creative enablers and supporters/financial considerations, rehearsal room processes/ ensemble development/communication tips, management during the run and language and targets for marketing and promotion.

Get in touch and be a part of Separate Doors 3 at www.separatedoors.org

(We’re working with theatre makers and playwrights too…More soon…)

Race to the top
Vanessa Brooks and Dark Horse actors- Young Vic Silent Approach master class

FINAL TITLE

Its all about the work.

Theatre venues in the UK have made progress in widening the representation of diverse people on stages, in high quality work with impact which plays out to general audiences.

Black, gay, transgender, deaf and disabled and mental health focused work has been commissioned and supported by venues and by Arts Council England initiatives.

Intersectionality informs a thirst to break traditional silos and open doors to dramatic experiences of all of the human condition.

New stories, new voices and new experiences are being heard on main stages but one group continues to be unseen and unheard…

 

over here!

Separate Doors 1 and 2 highlighted the experiences of leading actors with learning disabilities, the integrated companies they train with, casting, representation and the wider landscape.

Separate Doors 3 will explore the work itself.

How do you approach writing drama featuring learning disabled characters? How do you effectively direct actors with moderate learning disabilities? How do you manage an integrated rehearsal room? Is devising or writing best or a mixture of both forms? What are the creative pitfalls and bonuses? How can vocational actors with learning disabilities be included in standard programmes and processes?

I’ll be looking at my own and others’ artistic processes, directorial choices, rehearsal room practice and playwriting craft in the development of new high quality integrated work featuring actors with moderate learning disabilities.

Key participants will be leading actors with learning disabilities, established playwrights, Artistic and Associate Directors of producing venues, theatre makers and practitioners, devising companies and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Master classes in my Silent Approach, rehearsal room analysis, interviews with leading creatives and the outcome of a forum event in London in Summer 2019 will form the backbone of the third Separate Doors report.

There’ll be regular updates here and you can follow the progress of the project- and read reports 1 and 2-  by clicking this link to the Separate Doors website.

There’s never been a greater will to include exceptional actors with learning disabilities in general audience facing work.

Separate Doors 3 will go beyond the will, and find the creative way….

lottery_Logo_Black RGB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Master class at the Young Vic

Participation is a bugle call, excellence is dynamite

 

director 5Gifted actors with learning learning disabilities have a right to access acting and rehearsal craft and audiences benefit from the characters and stories trained actors with learning disabilities bring to general audience work.

Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director at the Young Vic Theatre in London asked me to deliver a day long Silent Approach master class for up to 60 directors and theatre makers.

I accepted the challenge and approached the work with three objectives in mind:

  • To offer a hands on ‘doing it’ experience of Silent Approach ensemble, physical and vocal exercises.
  • To showcase Silent Approach non verbal directing technique
  • To inspire interest in and commitment to this kind of inclusive approach and integrated theatre and casting.

 

and?
Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill (Me in the middle)

The Silent Approach is an equaliser.

It unlocks standard rehearsal process by removing the need for speech (Apart from the play text) and it allows vocational actors with and without learning disabilities to work together with equality.

The foundation of the approach is Stanislavsky’s system.

Actors with and without learning disabilities trained in this way can readily access the technique.

It gives directors a non verbal map to get scenes up and work them and run them to production readiness.

No actor is excluded from the rehearsal process on the grounds of verbal or cognitive ability.

It works for text based, standard ‘written’ plays as well as working for physical and devised work.

I chose to work on the day with Dark Horse actors Toby Meredith and Rebekah Hill, both trained and experienced actors with Downs Syndrome.  I also cast non-disabled actor Johnny Vivash who I worked with on two national tours of my play HYPOTHERMIA.

 

 

group

The Silent Approach is dynamic.

Asking a large roomful of people who you’ve never met before to trust, follow and go with you on a silent journey is a big ask.

Thankfully, they came with me.

I score the days activity. Music and sound effects shape a narrative and emotional pathway we can all follow.

I started the warm up by communicating physically with Toby Meredith then gathered up and collected everyone in the studio, working through the kinesphere and at different paces, returning many times to breath, inhabiting the space, working with its energy.

We then moved on to a vocal warm up, working with breath, sound, laughter, tuts and shushes, vowels and lamentations.

An hour and a half later, no one had a said a word but a lot of information had been exchanged.

We had a shared vocabulary and shared knowledge.

We were an ensemble.

 

smile
Directors, Johnny Vivash and Toby Meredith

 

The Silent Approach is effective.

I moved into scene direction, establishing given circumstances and character with video files I’d edited together for the purpose, sound cues established place.

Actors understood where they were, a little of what they wanted from their scene partner and then played off each other.

Lines were fed in.

Three lengthy scenes were directed and on their feet within an hour and fifteen minutes.

Its possible to direct a two act, two hour fifteen minute production in two weeks using the Silent Approach.

I’ve done it. Several times.

 

joy
Joy

 

The Silent Approach is for everyone.

After lunch six directors stepped up and directed a further three scenes.

We used the same given circumstances and the same cues and the action took place in the same location as the morning scenes but the dialogue and the activity was new.

In each of the scenes an actor without learning disabilities and actors with learning disabilities delivered the kind of theatrically realistic performances you’d expect to see on a main stage.

All the directors did brilliantly.  They said they’d picked up some tools which will hopefully have influence moving forwards and perhaps create some change too. And change any perception about work featuring learning disability having to happen at participatory level…It can happen at all levels, and should.

Job done.

 

blog

 

 

 

Undiversity

8694

ITV flirt and pec fest LOVE ISLAND has been accused of undiversity, its stars drawn from too small a pool of ‘talent’, unrepresentative of the viewing public.

The indictment is that the narrow field of potential lovers negates the real life multifariousness of sexual attraction, reinforces body fascism, ableism, and a pecking order of desirability based on conventional looks…. And yet millions watch it, in spite of not being represented on the screen.

Listening to the panel on Radio 4’s Moral Maze tie themselves in knots over the issue last night- especially in relation to the BBC-  its clear that theatre as a sector has done comparatively well in terms of diversity representation via Arts Council Englands’ initiatives, support for black theatre companies and writers, a new Spotlight style casting system birthed at the National Theatre for disabled actors and portfolio funding for a fistful of diversity focused companies but putting all things considered nonstandard (pale, male and stale is the on trend phrase) into the same pot leads to an odd homogenisation.

How can black representation be the same as learning disability representation in the arts? The obstacles for each contingency are very different.

Is the diversity label a way of ‘othering’ anything ‘non-standard’- a badge of difference, a silo?

sarah-gordy-kelly-and-nicky-priest-dominic-127499
Sarah Gordy and Nikki Priest in JELLYFISH by Ben Weatherill

JELLYFISH recently premiered at the Bush theatre, a witty and sparkly play  by non disabled writer Ben Weatherill about the life experience of a woman with Downs Syndrome, played by the ever watchable Sarah Gordy. Joined onstage by a mesmeric Nikki Priest this work kept the idea of mainstream work featuring non mainstream actors alive, an important influence that its vital not to lose in the rush to label all work with nonstandard themes and characters as ‘diversity’ and therefore other and to happen somewhere else, with its own form, format and audience.

Bravo Artistic Director Madani Younis at the Bush Theatre for recognising this, its to be hoped that this hit production marks an active resurgence in the casting of learning disabled actors in general audience facing work.

Giving a play like JELLYFISH a ‘diversity’ label seems wrong. A piece of traditionally formatted theatre it defies labels as the best work does. Diversity as a branded position risks the groan, the perceived worthiness and at worst a dangerous invitation to reactionary politics.

celebrate T shirt

 

The composition of the cast of LOVE ISLAND is perhaps less shameful than its content, dumb, bland and reductive as it is.

The specific shape we make in the world and the words other people use to describe us and our existence is not the stuff of great art.

Being human is, the state we all share.

 

A credo for human being led theatre

1
Dusk by Daniel Graves

Theatre companies are led by disabled people, black people, people with mental health issues, cis and transgender people, older people, people with all kinds of sexualities and people with intersectional identities.

All of these people are human beings, making theatre for audiences comprised of other human beings.

The universals of human life, pain, love, death, work, conflict, desire and creativity are experienced by us all.

So how about human being led theatre?

 

amana daniel graves
Amana by Daniel Graves

 

Heres an idea of how it could be…

No two people must look or sound similar, have a similar history or political stance.

Failure is prized.

Difference is sought after.

Risks are taken.

 

Daniel Graves Tutt'Art@ (23) 2
Portrait of old man by Daniel Graves

Age is valued.

New talent is developed.

Contradiction, disagreement and debate is  encouraged.

All reasonable needs are met to enable all to work.

 

Brazilian
Brazilian by Daniel Graves

 

The criteria for leadership is the ability to lead, the ability to inspire those being led and the ability to serve an audience.

Roles are allocated according to suitability and skill.

Excellence and quality in artistic work is an expectation for artists and a right for audiences.

 

explorer
Explorer by Daniel Graves

 

Ten tips for theatre makers

thrust

1. Collect data.

1

Aside from evidencing everything you do, numbers of creatives, participants, audience etc. related factoids and statistics from trade papers, general media and specialist organisations can be helpful. 

Its neither interesting to write about nor fun to do but nothing values your proposed work better than a clear need for it evidenced by a percentage.

 

2. Compare and contrast

2

Learn about the work of peers in your field, make friends, have coffee, share experiences, tips, support and mutual respect.

You can then ensure that all of your planning and output clearly defines your differences and flags your USP. 

 

3. Make facetime meetings

3

Being in the same real world space with another human being is invaluable, theatre is a people-focused creative process and the dynamics between people at each point in the journey to the work inform the work itself.

4. Learn to predict

Design Buch von Condé Nast International für Mercedes-Benz

It takes a long time for any theatre project to reach the stage. Content is anticipated months or years before its delivered.  Research current and upcoming productions for trends, consider the world and politics and anticipate, as best you can, the space your target human psyche is likely to inhabit at this future time.

You can then generate work appropriate for this imagined future.

 

5. Chase the dream, not the funding

5

Projects cost what they cost to realise.  Hitting a figure because its available reads to a funder like hitting a figure because its available.  It needs to feel important and stimulating enough to do without any money being involved at all.

Its art, not a transaction.

 

6. Know the difference between persistence and being a pest

 

6

Not everyone wants to work with you. Read the signals. Stop just before someone is likely to give you a definite ‘No’. Keep doors open for next time.  Don’t be irritating. Radiate happiness and positivity.  

You’re privileged to be doing something you love as your job, most people aren’t.

 

7. Expect timelines to stretch

7c

Time gives air and space to projects, new collaborations form and artistic content gets richer.  Fight any urge to do anything quickly and relish time taken thinking strategically, its never wasted.

 

8. Offer something

8

In kind contributions and cash investments are of great value to projects, clarity about what you’re offering and what value you’re bringing in return is vital.

Your theatre work has to give something useful, enriching and unique, know exactly what it is and be ready to make that case.

 

9. Review sent and received email

The Letter

There may be a positive response you’ve forgotten, an invitation to be ‘updated’ or an email you sent which was never replied to which warrants a follow up.

Your future may lie in your past.

 

10 .Embrace the long term view

longview1

None of it is now, its all tomorrow and beyond.

 

 

 

 

Risk, theatre and a divided nation

risk versus opportunity

 

Opportunities to make theatre are rare.

In the realm of venue-based work the theatre maker needs to dive into a commitment to a vision, attract allies with an original idea and then push up and through a series of waves to eventual production.

A show is the consequence of persistence and alchemy, the right idea plus the right money plus the right people at the right time.

It’s a long game.

Where the aim is to reflect our society dramatically (as it most usually is in theatre which speaks to general audiences) prediction of zeitgeist, and hitting that trend before its passé, or before its even happened, requires almost psychic levels of precognition.

And luck.

And courage. Or lack of a fear of failure. AKA taking a ‘risk’.

woman diving
Painting by Eric Zaner

There are two main areas of risk in theatre, financial and creative.

Common sense dictates that high financial risk equals bad and that high creative risk equals good but both come with modifiers.

Some financial risk, for investors from funders through to ticket buyers is desirable. The unknown’s of a theatre experience make for excitement, the more intriguing the concept and story, the ‘what if?’ the surprising casting and the buzz around the show the more risks investors will take.

Conversely all creative risks need parameters; who wants the play to not speak to anyone in the audience at all or for the stunningly designed glass set to dazzle the audience when lit?

Finding the boundaries for both kinds of theatre risk is hard right now.

Money for most people is very tight and opinion on virtually everything is unpredictable, party lines no longer apply, bigotry calls itself patriotism. The choice feels like put up and shut up or risk approbation but the consequence of rattling cages and challenging the status quo is rarely empty houses.

eric zener 1
Painting by Eric Zaner

Theatre history indicates that agitation and dissent in dramatic format has acted as focus and catalyst for change, provoking it or mirroring and amplifying movements in society.

Ibsens’ DOLLS HOUSE, questioning female subjugation caused outrage but lit fires, THE CHILDRENS’ HOUR, TORCH SONG TRILOGY and ANGELS IN AMERICA addressed injustice and drove gay rights forwards and BEHTZI questioned abuse and violence veiled by religious impunity.

In an era where much that is progressive in terms of equality and emancipation is in jeopardy drama representing the journeys, status and values of people with learning and other disabilities can speak volumes to people of all kinds trying to make sense of a skewed current reality.

Funding cuts and Crowdfunder fatigue don’t have to equal a retreat into known theatrical formulae. Creative risks can get bigger.

If the fields are on fire why not bet the farm? Why not spit in the eye of political meltdown with a pot boiling musical about a modern day UKIP voting Boadicea and her daughters?

In an uncertain and volatile political climate, when we’re aiming to make work for a society split in two, its vital that theatre deals with contemporary UK life, with its division, prejudice, shocking poverty, nostalgic self-delusion, neglect, resurgent class distinction and simmering anger and ensure that people with vastly different opinions are able to sit next to each other and consider alternative stories, with cathartic endings, offering views which lead to a vision for a better future.

If theatre of contemporary societal and political relevance becomes too hard to countenance for fear of upsetting one side or the other then we’re all the poorer.

The loss of an agitating and provocative theatre experience for a disparate and diverse audience is the biggest potential risk of all.

final image