Thoughts about things I've done and news about what I'm going to do.

What my thoughts look like after editing/second-guessing.

An irregularly updated blog (mostly) about theatre.

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    [Oh, you thought I would write one D&D-related blog post and leave it at that? Oh no…]

     

    Beyond the fact I think D&D counts as theatre (and amazing theatre at that), I’ve noticed more and more when playing the different ways in which I think it can make people better at making theatre - the good habits and skills that it encourages to make people better performers, collaborators, editors, and creators in general. So here’s a rundown of why I think, if you make theatre, you should give D&D a go:

     

    Killing babies and letting go

     

    When playing D&D, you regularly think of things you’d like to try and do - things that would be cool, or funny, or hopefully emotionally cathartic. (For instance: stealing an unconscious character’s flying shoes so you can pour boiling oil over your enemies from a height and deal out some medieval-style justice. Some of my characters get a bit brutal.) However, as much as you might get focused on that idea, it’s not guaranteed you’ll get to even try it - the character might wake before you can steal the shoes, the shoes might not fit you, they may not work on you for some reason. You soon adjust to the fact that ideas have to be cast aside almost as soon as they’re thought up, and being okay with letting things go and not clinging to them is a very good thing to learn.

     

    Putting the character first

     

    Why some ideas have to be abandoned is almost as important as getting used to doing so. D&D trains you to put the character first - maybe you’ve thought of a hilarious comeback to someone’s comment, but your character doesn’t have that sense of humour. A D&D game is only as strong as its characters, since the story is generated out of characters’ choices and the group’s dynamics. You’re forced to be as honest as possible about what the character would do - it’s not about you showing off some skill or talent (as can sometimes happen in performances), it’s about what’s truthful to the character. You might want to keep a magic talisman so you can keep casting cool spells in the game, but if the character is in a situation where they’re compelled to break it: it’s got to be broken.

     

    Sharing the space

     

    D&D is about collaboratively telling a story - typically with friends, and the aim is everyone having a good time. It’s not just about one person having a good time. You have to genuinely tell the story with and alongside everyone else, allow space for other people’s ideas and build upon them. You have to be alert to others - if you don’t then the story suffers, as does everyone’s enjoyment of the game. I can think of few other activities that train you to be so aware of how much people are engaging with what’s going on, and the position you’re taking in amongst it all. Part of this is also making sure you’re not trying to control what’s happening, that you’re allowing space for surprises and new things to happen as well - not stifling creativity by dictating everything. Another part of it is trusting those you’re telling the story with.

     

    Everyone an artist

     

    D&D literature is written how I wish theatre literature was. It perfectly fits into the ‘everyone an artist, everyone a scientist’ model of thinking. It’s untimidating, clear, friendly, and written in plain English, taking something that’s a highly creative, sometimes mathematically-minded endeavour, and gives straightforward advice and aids. It constantly emphasises the importance of using and focusing on what entertains and interests you. Despite DMing being a mix of writing, performing, directing and showrunning, the handbooks for D&D make it seem accessible and easy. The attitude is one of: you’re totally able to do this, you simply haven’t done it yet. And if we were able to talk about theatre in this way more, I think that would be a brilliant thing.

     

    Playing the moment, not the end

     

    One of my favourite theatre quotes is from a very old review about an actress playing Joan of Arc, who ‘came on half-burnt’. in other words, from her first entrance, she was playing the ending. It’s one of the things that frustrates me most in performances, where an actors’ knowledge of what’s coming up influences what the character does (however consciously or subconsciously this might happen). D&D takes away that foreknowledge - you’re forced to play precisely what’s happening in the moment. The flamboyance and confidence with which a character might produce an array of glowing stones and balletically spiral them down an underground cavern isn’t tempered or diminished by any awareness that doing exactly this is going to draw hordes of giant spiders to the group - because it was impossible to pre-empt. With random dice rolls dictating so much of what happens, any potential safety net - anything players might do to try and control events, any chance of predicting what’ll come up - disappears. 

     

    Empathy to the extreme

     

    It might sound like an obvious point to make, that D&D is one big exercise in flexing your empathy muscles (something useful for all manner of theatremakers), but it regularly pushes you into scenarios that are far beyond anything you might normally imagine. Someone whose life has been dedicated to helping others and avoiding violence is kidnapped and taken to an underground world inhabited by a ruthless, cruel, sadistic society; someone else is held by another person for the first time in their thirty-three-year-long life. D&D constantly pushes your empathy to strange and unusual places, which is what elevates it beyond other roleplaying or performance contexts.

     

    -

     

    Ultimately, Dungeons & Dragons - with its mixture of improv, dice-dictated randomness, character-led storytelling and collaboration (bolstered by its straightforward, welcoming and supportive guides) makes you better at telling stories - whether you’re an actor, director, writer or something else entirely. What I think is at the core of the many good things about D&D is how playing it encourages you not to think about yourself, your wants, desires or focus in the storytelling process - but instead about the character, and about the other players. When something only exists in a collective imagination in the way that D&D does, you have no other option than to be outward-looking.

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    Early last year, I was curious about Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not taken long for it to get under my skin, and taken me from causal fan, to regular viewer of podcasts and livestreams, to player, to Dungeon Master, to co-producer of a show consisting 250 hour-long tabletop roleplaying game inspired by it. That show, Adventurers Wanted, is listed in the ‘theatre’ section of the Edinburgh Fringe programme, which might raise a few eyebrows and questions. However, my experience of D&D absolutely justifies treating the game as theatre - and amazing theatre at that. Here’s why:

     

    • Come for the story, stay for the characters

     

    I do personally adore epic narratives. I’ve played in games where characters have died battling gods only to be resurrected in mechanical bodies; where entire planes of existence have collapsed in on themselves; where someone breaking a cursed item has resulted in them transforming into a giant and raining down meteors. And all of these have been described with such vividness by the Dungeon Masters at the time that it’s been effortless to imagine it all. 

     

    Yet - whilst the outlandish, exhilarating, bizarre and brilliant storylines that only D&D’s fantasy world can offer are what first caught my eye - it’s the characters and their relationships that keep me coming back. As players get better at roleplaying their distinctive characters, and the relationships between characters become deeper and more defined. People’s backstories are gradually exposed, their complexity revealed, moments of contact between characters catch you unawares, or rifts between them become unexpectedly complicated. It’s always struck me how other entertainment media will often sell a project on the basis of compelling characters - but how often have you seen a theatre marketing campaign focus on that over narrative, spectacle, themes or the team involved?

     

    • Making whatever you can imagine with whatever you can find

     

    Remember the character I mentioned that died battling gods and was then resurrected in a mechanical body? Well, that happens to be a character I play - and, ever since her resurrection, whenever I speak ‘as’ that character whilst playing a game, I speak into a mug to alter my voice (yeah, like how some people do Bane). It was an easy option that I knew would always be to hand during a game. I play it sincerely, and everyone playing in that game with me treats it sincerely, and it’s a clear and vivid trigger that helps us imagine the seven-foot-tall ‘robot’ I’m essentially pretending to be. 

     

    This isn’t the only example of a resourceful attitude to props or costume when the game calls for it. When a player in one of the the games I’m in picks anything up, throws, flips and catches it, everyone around the table knows that his character’s just showing off with a sword. Blanket throws wrapped around people have become blood-soaked altar coverings that allow characters to impersonate evils gods. My soft spot for medieval theatre practice is nicely indulged by D&D.

     

    • No one person knows what will happen, because everyone tells the story together

     

    Yes, dice rolls and their inherent randomness are a big mechanic of D&D, and you could say that they alone make for the utterly unpredictable and regularly surprising events that pepper the stories told in D&D games. But there’s another and more brilliant reason for this: whilst the Dungeon Master might write the game, creating a world for a story to happen in (often worlds of stunning detail and depth), they have to respond to what the players do.

     

    To me, D&D consists of friends gathering in each others’ houses, telling each other stories and making each other laugh. Everything about D&D is social - you can’t play it on your own, and everyone has to work together in some way to bring it to life. Because of the flexibility of the game, different players end up bringing different things to the story and the game can play up to what individuals offer. Everyone makes the story together and everyone’s contribution to it (provided they at least follow the rules!) is valid; everyone gets a say in the story that’s told. 

     

    • Everything that happens is exactly what’s necessary to tell the story

     

    D&D games can be so much more than people simply sat around a table, rolling dice and describing what imagined characters do. The moment that maps and minis can’t quite capture exactly how a group of characters have fallen over the lip of a volcano and are holding onto each other to survive, an alternative has to be found (in this case, three of us lying on the floor, grabbing onto each other until our characters get out of it somehow). When ‘I try to convince this enemy to become our ally’ doesn’t really capture enough detail, players can give the most astonishing improvised speeches that leave everyone present stunned. Yet, at times, all that you need is a certain look - a raised eyebrow, a feigned smile, a hint of hesitation - from across the table, to know what’s happening with one character in a story.

     

    People instinctively act out what feels right to act out, creating a mix of described, imagined and performed action that feels entirely natural, giving everyone enough to understand and engage with what’s happening but making sure everyone’s imagination gets a workout. If theatre’s a collective act of suspending disbelief, I can’t think of a better example than this. 

     

    • Chasing what feels good

     

    And do you know what’s the best thing about Dungeons & Dragons? Every time I’ve played it, everyone present has known that what they’re doing could be seen as silly, childish, nerdy, something that grown adults aren’t really meant to do. But we don’t give a damn and throw ourselves into it regardless, because it’s genuinely a joyful way to spend time with friends, and results in stories that are exhilarating to tell and to be told. And it would be amazing if more theatre felt like that.


    If this sounds like your kind of theatre, click here for tickets to see Adventurers Wanted and click here for tickets to play in the game itself!

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    This is not a blog post about The Print Room’s production of In The Depths of Dead Love. It’s a blog post about a specific argument that I’ve seen/heard countless times in discussions about integrated/diverse casting (that I have only ever heard used in defence of non-diverse productions, or in opposition to casting quotas or more generally the arguments of those advocating for diversity) that needs to be dropped. 

     

    I am genuinely sick of the notion that we should just ‘cast the best actor for a role’. Let me explain why. 

     

    I understand what this argument is meant to encapsulate: merit has no ethnicity. Merit has no sexuality. Merit has no gender. Merit is blind to whether someone is from a minority or underrepresented group or not. It makes perfect sense to cast on merit alone (and surely give audience members a better experience in the process, getting to watch the best performances possible) - who on earth would oppose a meritocracy?

     

    It’s not a meritocratic stance. It’s bias masquerading as meritocracy.

     

    [I’m likely to get a little ex-analytical/linguistic-philosophy-student during the following. Apologies.]

     

    Let’s break the notion of ‘casting the best actor for a role’ down. Either ‘best’ means simply ‘most skilled’ (a fuzzy notion at best, but for the sake of argument we’ll pretend it’s quantifiable - you can at least tell the different between very good acting and very poor acting) or it means ‘most suited to the role’, which at least contains some echoes of the meritocracy angle, since the actor has to be capable of fulfilling the demands that the role makes on them. 

     

    So, ‘best’ as ‘most skilled’: you’ll never see *all actors in existence* for a role. So, by necessity, directors* are limited to casting the ‘most skilled actor seen in audition’. This is where the argument I’ve previously heard against the notion of ‘casting the best actor for a role’ comes in: the audition process itself can be hugely biased. How diverse was the group seen for a role or production? What efforts were made to make sure it was clear to actors and agents that submissions from a wide range of performers were sought? (I’ve spoken to actors in the past who now take a lack of ethnicity listed on a casting breakdown to mean ‘white’. Immediately after hearing this, I added a sentence to the top of all my casting callouts specifying that a lack of given ethnicity/gender/disability/etc meant everyone was welcome to apply for audition, and noticed an impact instantly.) What - if any - steps were taken to genuinely find a diverse group of actors, from which the ‘best’ could be identified? Because if steps were not taken, and if those auditioned are already an imbalanced or entirely homogenous group - then the idea that the system being used is a meritocratic one falls apart. 

     

    [There’s also the fact that actors improve with practice - new roles, new challenges, working with new people, all informs and develops an actor’s craft. There is more depth to this angle of argument, as I’ve heard from others who I believe can articulate it better than myself. Plus, I want to make a different, additional, argument…]

     

    So, best as ‘most suited to the role’: ‘the role’ is not a fixed, unchangable, objective thing. It’s a combination of information given in the script, and what a director does with that script. (Yes, there are performances other than scripted ones, sake of ease…) A script may offer details about a character’s gender, age, ethnicity - but, of course, just because a character has a trait or identity does not mean the actor playing that character must have it in order to be ‘most suited’ to the role. Cases where unavoidable restrictions on performers who are allowed to play a given role are, to my mind, rare (I’m thinking the Becketts and the Harwoods).

     

    Benedict Andrews’ Stella Dubois is not the same role as Sean Holmes’ or Ellen McDougall’s or Sarah Frankcom’s or…Those Stellas all occupy different theatrical worlds, different performance styles, different contexts. If you took one of those actresses and transplanted her and her performance into another production of Streetcar then it would suddenly feel out of place, inappropriate, misjudged, entirely possibly miscast. 

     

    This might only seem applicable to a certain type of production - something stylised, director-led, a production where a director’s determined to ‘put their mark’ on it. However you choose to describe it. But deciding to stage Streetcar’s card games *as card games*, rather than, say, the aggressive consumption of watermelons, is no less a choice. It is still a choice that a director has made about the kind of production, the style of performance, the exact theatrical world for this play - all of which affect any given ‘role’ in the play, as they have to cohere with those elements. Choosing to cast Stella in one way is no less a choice than choosing to cast her in any other way.

     

    So, ‘best suited to the role’, becomes ‘best suited to the role in this production’. The actor who best fulfils the production’s requirements in terms of matching/reflecting its artistic aims, the skill required to tackle the individual part, and the director’s creative ideals. For a cast devoid of diversity to all individually be the ‘best actors for the roles’, it’s necessary that the director has decided that such a cast best serves what they want to say, what they want to achieve with the production, and what kind of experience they want to give audiences. I doubt whether a director who cares about this industry, who cares about fair and equal representation of a population, who cares about questioning their assumptions, who cares about challenging bias, would make that decision. 

     

    So: if ‘we should just cast the best actors for the role’ is used as a retort to those who criticise productions for a lack of diversity, what it implies is a cast with minimal/zero diversity is the best to fulfil all aims of said production, aims which are intrinsically tied to an artistic vision, an artistic vision which must consequently be accepting of a lack of diversity.

     

    The above doesn’t mean I’m opposed to every single production with a cast devoid of diversity, before clever counter-examples are offered (hell, the most recent thing I staged myself was a one-on-one piece that I performed, making the entire cast white, middle-class, cisgender, etc) - every argument that’s ever made has to be tempered by some sound judgement on individual cases. Also, I don’t believe or think that any of what I’ve said above means a lowering of standards regarding the quality of performances/skilfulness of actors. There is no dearth of incredible talent out there, possessed by a diverse group of people - it simply needs to be recognised (where the arguments re auditions come back in).

     

    ‘Casting the best actors for the role’ is used to try and claim meritocracy. All it does is hide assumptions about what kind of theatre truly is best.

     

    -

     

    *At times in this post, for the sake of brevity, I’ll say ‘directors’ where it could equally be ‘casting director’ or some other member of the creative/production team making the decision. Also, you know, I’m a director, so this is the angle I come at things from.

     

    **Some might say a director need only be concerned with the story a play tells, rather than the story a production tells - a) I disagree and b) one of the reasons I disagree is because I don’t think the two are separable.

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    I’m currently looking for experienced Dungeon Masters for a Dungeons & Dragons to collaborate with on bringing a month-long game to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next year.* I’m an avid D&D fan who started playing earlier this year; somehow, such a brilliant example of epic storytelling, improvisation and imagination hasn’t really featured at the world’s largest arts festival before, and next year I want to change that.
     
    It’s a big project. There are some certainties: those involved will be paid NMW for their work (factoring some time in for necessary prep too) as well as cover for travel and accommodation. I’ll also be doing everything possible to make the game accessible to as wide a range of players and audience members as possible, from a wheelchair-accessible venue, to BSL-signed sessions, to dice rolls called by Siri for visually impaired players - anything that’s needed. I want anyone to be able to feel like they could come and play or watch.
     
    Some details are still to be decided, because it only makes sense to work these out with the DMs involved, but the current general plan is: 10 hours of playing each day for 25 days, which is a *lot* of hours and so will likely involve two or three DMs on rotation (but there are different ways in which this could work) and a possible mix of regular and guest players, as I want to open out the opportunity to play as much as possible.
     
    For years I’ve gone to the Edinburgh Fringe as a punter. I now want to take something as my own experience of D&D is gathering with friends to tell stories, make each other laugh, and get lost in other worlds and personas; I’d love the chance to take over a space in Edinburgh where, for the entirety of the month, that’s what people are invited to do. 
     
    In a nutshell, I’m looking for DMs who:
    • Are available throughout August 2017
    • Are comfortable and confident playing public games, with players who may not know each other, and may have different experience levels
    • Are open to collaborating with other DMs on a campaign
    • And are, of course, excited by this idea
    If you’re interested in being involved or have any questions about the above, then email me at info@chloemashiter.co.uk and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.

    *A little further down the line, I will also be looking for people to be involved in a non-DM capacity, for any non-DMs who happen to be reading this.
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    The Wooden O 25 October 2016 | Comments (0)

     

    [Really, I should be thinking about other things right now - projects, soon-to-be-projects, sleeping, eating properly, etc - but I won't clear space in my head unless I write all of this]

     

    I know what anyone else with an internet connection knows about today’s announcement regarding Emma Rice’s position as Artistic Director of the Globe. I don’t have any privileged knowledge or connection to the theatre, so I have to take that information at face value. This isn’t (precisely) about those given reasons, anyway. It’s about something different. 

     

    The only show I’ve seen at the Globe since Rice took up her position was her production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think it’s the fifth show I’ve ever seen at the theatre (two being school trips around a decade ago). A major difference between this production and the others was that I was excited about it. The others I was, at the most, curious about. Maybe I hadn’t been to the Globe in years and felt an obligation - more as someone working in theatre than a punter - to touch base with such a significant venue. Maybe a friend had a spare ticket. Maybe my teachers thought I should go*. But A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the only production I was excited about going to, that I booked a ticket for months in advance, that had caught my eye well before its first performance. 

     

    And that was, primarily, an excitement to see Emma Rice’s production.

     

    When I think of Dream, I think of Puck’s ‘Clap me! Just you!’. I think of Meow Meow descending from the sky with glorious excess. I think of the perfect way that Bottom checked his watch. I think of (shocker, artificial lighting) the ‘Rock The Ground’ neon sign. I think of looking up at the spheres and whatever-the-word-is-for-them drifting in the wind above me and thinking ‘Christ that’s beautiful, why have I never seen something like that here before?**’ I think of a celebration and an exploitation (in the best sense of the word) of what the Globe can do, how the theatre can feel, what it can offer. 

     

    The thing is, I go to the theatre as both and audience member and a theatre-maker. They’re hard to divorce - and it might be part of the reason that I’ve had this very specific, what might seem a-bit-too emotional response to this news. Both as an audience member and a theatre-maker, I really enjoyed Dream (it wasn't - to my tastes - flawless, but Christ it was a brilliantly entertaining, fun, warm, welcoming and raucous few hours) - even as someone who has a pretty major fondness for ‘shared light’ productions (to be honest, at no point did I feel like the lighting utilised in Dream divorced the actors and audience, that it directly contradicted what ‘shared light’ can do in unifying the spaces that both groups occupy). I thought it was a brilliant Shakespeare, a brilliant theatrical production, a brilliant piece of entertainment. 

     

    Hearing that the board apparently find Rice’s methods inauthentic, or not apt for the Globe, or misaligned with the Globe’s aims and intentions - what that says to me is that I am not welcome there. If I think a show like that has a place there, I am wrong. If I think that is a way to treat Shakespeare, I am in error. If I enjoyed that production, I do not belong at the Globe. 

     

    That is the feeling the announcement leaves me with.***

     

    I’d only recently become properly excited about the Globe. As somewhere to see shows. As somewhere to one day make them. As a place that has the potential to offer a unique audience experience. I’ve no doubt that my feelings are tinged with the fact that I’m a young(ish - Railcard’s run out so I’ve no official proof of youth anymore) female director who enjoys Rice’s work, both as a punter and a professional, I feel more of a connection to her than I do to most artistic directors. It also doubles-down the sense of no longer being welcome - it’s a lot harder to imagine myself one day behind the scenes at the theatre, now that someone whom I artistically admire has been treated this way. 

     

    Other people will write eloquently about historical accuracy, about the Globe as theatre vs Globe as museum, about Rice’s previous work - both before and during her time at the theatre - and the responses to her first season, so I will leave that to others. What I am trying so hard to articulate is the sense of the board - however consciously or unconsciously - saying, through this action ‘Oh, you thought the Globe could be for you? Well, of course not - the Shakespeare that makes you excited isn’t proper.’

     

    And yes, the natural response is to go: don't listen to them. And I wouldn't, if they weren't the same people with the power to determine the Artistic Director of the Globe.

     

    -

     

    *That said, I did enjoy those other shows - but I never looked forward to them, they never caught my imagination beforehand in the way Dream did.

     

    **Okay, maybe I would have if I’d been to the Globe more before, I don’t know if they have previously featured similar hanging items over the audience - but the theatre’s previous programme hadn’t brought me in more times. This production did.

     

    ***Well, also anger, and sadness, and…you get the idea though.

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    Yes, it’s not even halfway through this year’s Fringe and so a ‘roundup’ might feel premature, but a) it’s already a week since I was up in one of my favourite places in the world, having scrambled the only time up in Edinburgh I could manage and b) it’s not like I’m a major news outlet who’s going to claim that my limited show-seeing/recommendations comprises some comprehensive and unequivocal ‘best of’ list, so I figure this is fine. 

     

    My visit this year (4 days, 3 nights, 20 shows) was a pretty damn good one - a mix of knowing venues, companies and artists I either enjoy or am likely to, and a healthy dose of luck on a few random punts. (I still saw a couple of bad shows. I’m not invincible.) I even saw a couple of potential all-time mega-favourites (Us/Them and Mr Swallow: Houdini, for the most unusual combo possible). I don’t want to talk so much about shows though, but a few moments that have really stuck with me. Quite a few involve singing. Make of that what you will.

     

    Warning: technically spoilers follow. Not necessarily narrative ones, but I’m aware that in talking about moments that were often wonderful by dint of them seeming spontaneous and being unexpected, I’m taking the air out of them a bit for anyone who’d want to see these shows/experience these moments.

     

    • Both Pulse and Puppet Fiction (an autobiographical piece with a mix of song, storytelling and viola all performed by the incredibly skilled Mairi Campbell, and a marionette version of one of the story strands from Pulp Fiction) featured semi-spontaneous singing. That’s about where the similarities end. In Pulse, maybe 3/4s in, Campbell is playing her viola and begins to hum and ahh over it - just fluid, free notes. I can’t quite remember how many people seemed to naturally join in with their own voices and how many came in after Campbell gave the gentlest of encouragements. But I actually feel phenomenally emotional even remembering it now. Softly, kindly, with feeling, the audience began to sing; no set tune, no set sound, just hums and ahhs, whatever felt good to sing. I can bang on a lot about not wanting to spend an hour sat next to strangers in the dark and this moment - of suddenly all those strangers sat side by side in the dark sharing in that activity, feeling safe to sing without any guidance but Campbell’s viola, and making such a beautiful sound together, that absolutely surrounded me - this moment felt like a really beautiful antidote to that. I think it maybe lasted a minute. I can’t quite express how genuinely magical and mercurial it felt. 

     

    • With Puppet Fiction, it was the Pulp Fiction theme. After the opening scene, the titles kicked in (on the flatscreen TV that acts as a brilliant backdrop to the show’s action, rolling through video of Edinburgh so it looks like Jules and Vincent are driving down Nicholson St) and the three-strong case began singing the theme. No one had to be told to join in, it was just natural - sure, it wasn’t ethereal in the way Pulse was, but a basement full of people going ‘dunnnnnnnn - dun nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nunnn’ still felt like the best room to be in at that precise moment. It feels like something that lets you know everyone else in the audience is on the same page you are. Which is a really lovely feeling.

     

    • One more singing mention: I went on Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour out of a mix of curiosity, an interest in the use of headphones in performance, and a genuine fondness for silent discos (though zero previous experience of public, daytime ones). Above and beyond the general joy of dancing wholeheartedly in a group of strangers for an hour (sure, I’m not the most self-conscious person, but it’s still impressive the effect just blocking out the sound of the outside world and replacing it with disco can have), there was the genuinely brilliant feeling of singing as a group, as we were encouraged to do during certain songs. Sometimes just out to the world, sometimes to specific people, always with a very poor grasp of what we sounded like, due to the headphones.

     

    [So I think what I’m saying is: more shows that get people singing, please.]

     

    • I’ll just do one other moment, since I should be doing other things and this could go on for ages. I started one morning with half an hour in a rooftop garden area at Dance Base (main Fringe ’14 souvenir: a vacuum-packed tube of toothpaste used in the bizarre Olympic event finale of a show at this venue), drinking green tea and watching some silent clowning. During the show, as part of the action, the performer finds a stone in his coat pocket. He has fun throwing it around, feeling its weight, testing how far he can throw and catch it whilst keeping his eyes closed, that kind of thing. Then, just before the show’s end, he finds a small bag at the base of a tree. Filled with similar stones. Ritually and with so much care, he goes to each individual audience member and gifts them a stone. I’m struggling to think of any other show I’ve seen where it essentially gives you the means for recreating - or expanding on, or exploring, or devising anew - the performance at the end of it. It was a brilliantly executed expression of a brilliant sentiment: well, you can do this too now. Enjoy it. 

     

    Good Fringe.

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    I don’t know how coherent this is going to be. It definitely won’t be slick or neat. It’s fuelled by distress, fury, a cold sense of emotional suppression or shutdown as means of survival, and other things I can barely process let alone articulate (and I’m aware I’m already contradicting myself. Consider the tone set).

    Whilst recently watching a show - I’ve no idea what in the show, audience, venue, overall evening or my mind provoked this, but something/s did - I felt overwhelmed by the sense of being shut off from the world. Not in an exhilarating, there’s-no-CCTV-here-so-we-could-do-anything-and-no-one-would-ever-have-to-know way, but in an unpleasant, ugly, sad way. We were a group of people who’d shut ourselves in a dark room, treating this show as the most important thing worthy of our attention, with zero contact or communication happening with the outside world during the performance. We’d contrived to isolate ourselves. This is not necessarily a wholly rational feeling (if a show comments on the world at large, is that a form of communication? Well, evidently not a powerful enough one to stop me feeling this in this instance). But briefly, I was genuinely overwhelmed by a sharp awareness of this.

    And this morning I woke and the voice I was so happy to use to say ‘Remain’ yesterday felt silenced. I know it wasn’t. It was one of over sixteen million voices, one voice that called out the same thing as 48% of all voters. It was just that Leave called out four points louder. And those four points hit me in the gut and made me feel weaker than I felt yesterday.

    Now, theatre will not fix all the world’s problems. Obviously. But it has power. It has worth. But that worth is minimised, it is greatly diminished and diluted when it is isolated. When it happens within black rooms where a few shut themselves off. When it is a discrete entity, that might talk about or make oblique references to or be inspired by the world at large but happens in parallel to it, not as a part of it.

    Yes, this is a little general. I do not have a five-step-plan or a cut-and-paste blueprint of what needs to be the counterpoint to discrete, isolated theatre. My mind’s a f-ing mess right now frankly, so the more general is what it’s grasping. There are things - many things - happening that are *not* the kind of theatre I’ve detailed above (#notalltheatre #redundantuseofhashtags), that are wonderful, that welcome people in and deal with the world, theatre that serves and helps and supports people, theatre that isn’t theatre for theatre’s sake. But my head’s fuzzy and doesn’t want to point to specific examples as though there’s one way of doing something.

    This is also not a ‘let him without sin cast the first stone’ (paraphrasing?) blog post. I’m not saying I have a perfect track record, I’ve been working in theatre for four years and it’s all learning. Some things I’ve made have reached out and had ripples beyond theatre walls. Some have not. Sometimes I knew this would be a case early enough that I should’ve changed, adapted, rethought things but failed to do so. I absolutely can get better at making work with communities, at creating something that feels like it reaches out to communities and also creates a community that welcomes anyone in. What’s more: I *need* to get better.

    Today, more than ever (in my mind, at least - the wonderful blind spots/selectivity of a privileged, 26 year old mind), I need to get better at that. I need to count it as an essential, inalienable part of being a good theatremaker. It must be part of my metric for success. It upsets me beyond words how - over the course of the referendum campaign, but even more now that Leave votes outnumbered Remain (4 points. 4 points. In an opinion poll. My head won’t let that go) - so many people now feel less welcome in the UK, even possibly less safe. This is not me spoiling for anti-Leave-voter sentiment, for more conflict. That is not what’s needed, it is not the best use of my energy and emotions. Division is not solved by more division. So it’s not that. But it is an acknowledgement of how the Leave vote has given seeming legitimacy to and emboldened some horrific voices, and we need to work to undo that consequence.

    Everyone I know who works in theatre wants it to be a welcoming place. I feel at ease in theatres, but I’m aware a significant element of that is a) having worked in the industry for a number of years and b) possessing various privileges, so that theatres have never felt like alien spaces to me. I want that for everyone - I don’t like the thought (however true it may be) that something that gives me so much joy feels, to others, like it’s actively shutting them out. Like it doesn’t care about or acknowledge them. Or that it only cares about them as observers, devoid of agency and of no interest or worth to the industry beyond a pair of eyes to watch things. (Hyperbole, perhaps. I’m not differentiating between theatres, between shows, between companies, between audiences, etc. This is a blog of feelings more than facts, perhaps. And that’s how, when my mind’s as bleak as this, I feel that idea.)

    I want that to change and I want to be part of that change and I want to work with others who want that too. I want theatre that makes people feel welcome - in theatres, in streets, in anywhere performance can happen, but also in the UK. Maybe my mind’s fixated on this notion as my way of coping. I’m too scared of sitting alone in my flat feeling absolutely black. Tar f-ing pitch. So I want something to do, I want to use this to at least make me, and the things I do, and the industry I work in, better. My head’s still spinning but I need something solid to grasp onto. And that’s as solid as I have.

    There’s a contact form on this website. My thoughts are half-formed right now, but I want to commit myself to something, however small, right now. Anyone who messages me through that contact form with a UK address, or email address if you don’t want to supply a postal one, I will send you something. I can write short stories. I can make basic twine games. I know good cake recipes I can share. I can record stories or speeches. I’m respectable at sketching portraits.

    I can’t say when I’ll send something - as soon as I can (I’m only one person, right now anyway). I won’t know what would make you feel welcome, or listened to, or entertained, unless you tell me, so that’s what the message is for. It feels risky and potentially stupid (not to mention faintly MPDG) to offer this, but I’m entering into it with hope and goodwill. It might not qualify as theatre, it may still be far from the ideal, magical form of show that I’ll spend years reaching for (I know it’s still within the to/for structure, not entirely with), but it’s positive and it’s active. That’s something. It will not make everything that needs to be okay, okay. I know that full well.

    There’s no suitable ending to this. There’s no ending to this. It needs to be a constant effort to be better, to look outwards, to invite in, to practice and learn until I don’t have to use generalities because I’ve found methods and forms and relationships that achieve what I so badly want right now.

    This is more emotional that I normally get (or at least it feels that way). But it feels necessary. It feels worth saying. And yes, there is a lot to be done in the country in general. Writing a blog criticising how isolated theatre can be, then writing about theatre and disregarding everything else that is going on, everything else that we’ll need to work on and repair and build, seems contradictory (hello callback to the first paragraph, sometimes neat structural loops still find a way). And I don’t just feel everything mentioned here. I don’t just feel hopeful and proactive and other good things, I feel ashamed and scared and confused and not quite here. It’s relationships - preserving them, strengthening them, building new ones - that I know is what’s going to stop that last one. That’s what I want for me, that’s what I want to offer, and that’s what I want my theatre, at least, to be about.

    Push the button. Post the blog. See if I can wake up tomorrow feeling even fractionally better.

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    [I'm probably going to forget so many things I should write down in this post - but if I wait to try and think of everything, I'll never post it.]

    Last August, I started my ten-month stint at Theatre Royal Plymouth as Resident Assistant Director - my first time working and living outside of London since leaving uni, my first time working full-time rather than freelance, my first time living on my own (shout out to Plymouth rental rates). That's now over - swipe card returned, office key handed in, classy leaving gift of gold-tipped martini glasses (*very* gratefully) received. I had a genuinely fantastic time at the theatre, in that role, and it makes sense to share what I gained from it, and simply to write it down so I don't go and forget any of it.

    The below's a bit of a mishmash: working in a building, living in Plymouth, working full-time, Theatre Royal Plymouth specifically, are all factors and it's often tricky to divorce one from another. Also - should go without saying - this is all just my own experience of a particular set-up (I can't speak for everyone outside of London/working full-time/in buildings/etc). So, in no particular order:

    • Physical, paper diaries are *fantastic*. I can't pin down why they are so much better at organising my life than any electronic equivalent, but they are. 
       
    • Working to office hours made me really appreciate what it is to ask/invite someone to a show on a work night (so thankyou, anyone who's done that for one of my shows). I feel a bit like a moron for not fully appreciating this before, but only when I was seeing shows knowing that I'd be in the office the next morning (and not able to shape my day around my theatre-going/know that my work tomorrow would be in the afternoon/evening) did I feel the energy and effort it can call for.
       
    • As much as I like all the things (and people) London has, I think I prefer myself elsewhere.
       
    • Follow on: I need to work particularly hard at remembering the above. I know it'll be easy to let it slide into my blind spot.
       
    • You can sign music, and it looks *fantastic*.
       
    • Time is an incredible thing to be given - and not time to *do* something, not time that's to be filled with work towards a specific end, but time without demand or pressure. Time to think, time to reflect, time to make decisions, time to even figure out what decisions you can make. And I'm talking months at least here.
       
    • You can only really be granted time if you're granted money/some stable income, otherwise trying to make that will take up all your time. (Or maybe *you're* amazing at carving out time regardless. I'm not.)
       
    • I am worth being paid. My work is good enough, and I am good enough, to deserve pay. This, of course, shouldn't be a thing that needs saying (remuneration for work is a pretty basic concept, I'd say) but I think before my stint in Plymouth something would've got in the way of me saying this unequivocally, out loud, and publicly - though I'm not sure what. That's gone now, and that feels good.* 
       
    • I nail living on my own. I squeeze every solo-dance-party-rough-and-loud-ukulele-playing-Home-Alone-style-fantasy-filled-morning-afternoon-and-evening out of it.
       
    • Working full-time gave me guilt-free evenings, which I am *so* thankful for. (Again, other people may be better at carving out this guilt-free time when freelance, but not me.) I've finally learnt to 'play' the ukulele I was given many Christmasses ago, I've made headway with re-learning German, I've learnt how to cook so many more brilliant things. I only managed this because I had evenings that were truly mine - they didn't belong to an upcoming project, or work, or job hunting.
       
    • Post-show Q&As, audience club-style discussions (without any show creatives/cast/etc) and meet & greets are all different things that serve very different purposes, and all ought to be encouraged and pursued wherever possible. 
       
    • There are such things as nine-hour production meetings. The memory of them never leaves you.
       
    • As well as thinking about a season in terms of the subject of different shows or forms of different shows, you can think about it in terms of the experience an audience will have watching. Shows that are ostensibly about different things and take different forms might still all be ‘difficult’ watches, or quite light entertainment, and no one wants a whole season of the same experience. (Actually: *I* wouldn't want a season of the same experience. Must get better at making that distinction.)
       
    • I spent a short while, a few months into the job, feeling fiercely jealous of someone I knew, because of a job they were doing. It was a one-off assisting gig, but assisting someone I find incredibly exciting. I briefly let myself forget I was currently doing a job that, a year beforehand, I would've killed for. A job that made me do a wierd celebratory-yet-kinda-aggressive-because-I-couldn't-expend-all-of-my-excited-energy-any-other-way dance when I found out I got it. I berated myself for doing that, and cannot fall into that trap again.
       
    • Living on my own for the first time, in an entirely new city, where I didn’t previously know anyone, hasn’t been lonely. I’ve been both surprised and relieved to learn this. Being honest, as much as I was excited to start my new job and live somewhere more rural than London (so anywhere), I was quietly very (*very* (VERY)) worried about this possibility. I’m sure part of this is to do with having a consistent job alongside lots of great and friendly people; also, two new friendships that happened to start just before I moved to Plymouth definitely made a difference in this. I’m also aware that I’m someone more comfortable with my own company than most (at least I’d wager this). But still, thank Christ.
       
    • If you can bake a decent carrot cake, milk *the hell* out of that skill. (It's this carrot cake. Except minus the walnuts, and about half the icing.)
       
    • There’s something really glorious about musicals. Seeing a West End-scale musical for the first time since my early teens (save for the lone outlier of Book of Mormon - overall, the ticket prices have rendered me pretty oblivious where musicals are concerned) caught me off guard with the wonderful nostalgia it made me feel. I saw Cats with my school friends, Return to the Forbidden Planet with my family, Bombay Dreams (YES, Bombay Dreams) as a treat for my thirteenth birthday. Musicals probably loomed larger than any other live performance when I was younger, but over the last ten years I'd kind of forgotten about how they feel to watch.
       
    • Freelancing has a sense of adventure to me (at its best) but equally, there's something great about having a base where you know who you'll say hi to in the morning and bye to in the evening. (Again - these aren't exclusive. Part of this is me trying to figure out how to take the best of the past ten months and somehow translate it into what's to come.)
       
    • A little gold slash across a theatre’s doors goes a long way - and party bags, and party hats... (Aka: I'll think a lot more from now on about the split second where people enter a space, whatever that space may be, and how to welcome them into it.)
       
    • When offered some support for a week of R&D, I spent a while trying to think of which prospective project I might benefit from time to explore. I can’t remember what clicked, but I suddenly realised that, given the time/stability/support that I won’t soon have again, exploring a way of working, a potential form of performance - not a specific project or endpoint, but simply a development of my interests that hopefully would teach me a lot about things I can do or what might or might not work - would be far better. Not everything has to be a means to a final production.
       
    • Trust in selection processes to match the person to the place. I feel like myself and TRP have been a good match - and whilst I can't speak on behalf of all of TRP, it thankfully doesn't seem to be completely one-way traffic on that sentiment. (Downside: if it's a good fit, then expect leaving that place to be at least a little painful.)
       
    • It took me three months to feel fully settled at the theatre (not for lack of welcome and support - just a case of bedding in in a new city, new job, new lots of things). This naturally makes me wonder about the fact that, so often, you only have a fraction of that time to try and settle in with a new company when working on a show - and what might happen if you had this extra time for that. (And that's still only talking about companies, let alone about audiences...but of course the two aren't always distinct...nope, this blog post's already pretty long, different conversation, another time...)
       
    • London should be more jealous of the theatre that's happening outside of it and it never sees.
       
    • Being in a building doesn't automatically make your job easier (you have to adapt how you communicate, learn new systems of communication and operation, think on a difficult scale or format, etc). But it does give you immediate access and proximity to supportive, helpful and experienced people - and that's a golden thing to have. (Again, something that can be had outside a building but, for me, has involved a lot more legwork in maintaining/building.)
       
    • Stuff will mainly fuck up when you don't communicate properly, regularly, or comprehensively. (Maybe I'm a little late to the party in learning this, just feels like I learnt it more sharply or clearly over past ten months.) 
    • The calming, energising and comforting effects of bit of grass, a nearby lighthouse and an unobstructed view of the sea cannot be overestimated.
       
    • As a freelancer previous to my time in Plymouth, I had wondered whether I'd feel tied down, restless, etc, when attached to the same place and working with the same people for ten months. But it didn't feel that way at all. Sure, it'll have helped that I worked on four different shows whilst at Plymouth, so had a pretty swift turnover of teams I worked with/productions I worked on, but even granting that, I never came close to that feeling.
       
    • I need to be more and less patient at the same time. More patient in taking time to develop scripts, ideas, productions, less patient in building the support networks and searching out (or making) the opportunities necessary to make them happen once developed. 
       
    • I made a one-on-one piece for the Plymouth Fringe Festival during my final months at TRP. It was a piece that'd been floating around in my head since early 2014, but without the stability, calm and assurance that my time in Plymouth (this definitely *is* a combination of the full-time, out-of-London, living-alone factors) granted me, there's no way I would've got close to making it. I needed to be in a good place to write down and say everything that show involved, and it seems to be precisely the detailed, personal, emotional nature of the show that got it some wonderful responses. So I want to remember how I need to be in a good place in order to make good work.


    -

    ​*I don't think this - solely, at least - is what caused a shift for me, but it of course shouldn't take a role which contains 'director' in the title to make early-career directors feel legitimate - but that's a whole other blog post...

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    Over the past two days, I've performed my new one-on-one piece Inheritance seven times at Plymouth Fringe Festival. It's the first time I've made a one-on-one show, the first time I've made a piece of a work specifically to be performed outdoors, and it's the first time I've made a show that forces the performer to be silent and primarily works through recorded sound. Various firsts. 
     
    Essentially, the show consists of me sitting on a bench with an audience member, occasionally interacting with them a little (hand holding etc), whilst they listen to audio of me talking about my late grandparents, experiences with loneliness, and how the former put and end to the latter. 

    Partially because so much of the show was new to me/an experiment for me, and also because it's been a year since I've written a blog post specifically *for me*, I thought I'd write down some thoughts/discoveries from the performances.


    - When making outdoor performance, don't *only* worry about rain. Because wind will properly screw with you too.

    - When performing headphone-based work near the sea, don't *only* worry about cars as potential noise pollution. Because there might be two guys doing doughnuts on jet skis being *far* louder.

    - Performing a piece where both you and the audience member are silent makes you incredibly aware of people's breathing, which is simultaneously alien, intense and fascinating. 
     
    - I wish I’d thought more about audience care before the show (I’ve written a bit on my thoughts about this before). When one audience member got emotional only a couple of minutes into the (20 minute-long) piece, I worried that some personal experience of theirs might've provoked such an emotional response (it's around this point in the piece that I talk about the time I was first told my grandparents had cancer. To which I blacked out and collapsed in a knitting display in John Lewis' flagship store.) - and that wasn't a response that the piece was concieved with in mind. I felt a little powerless to respond to this aptly (more on that below). The following day I at least came equipped with tissues, and was able to gently offer these when they became needed during performances, creating what - for me, at least - felt like nice moments between me and the audience members. 
     
    - The tissue-giving may have become one of my favourite elements of the show. After initial performances, I felt frustrated that I’d made a show that actually was quite restrictive - there wasn’t much room for me to spontaneously interact with or respond to the audience members, since everything was co-ordinated/timed with the recording of me. Giving a tissue to someone when they began to cry became an instance of freedom or responsiveness within the show.
     
    - I don’t know how well suited I am to a show that requires so much in the way of stillness, patience, silence, etc (all qualities I am famed for across the land*). How ‘difficult’ performances felt differed a lot - likely a combination of how well I knew audience members (which ranged from people I know well to total strangers), how clearly I could tell they were affected by/responding to the piece (certain kinds of breathing/crying were the only real tells), and imperceptible/subconscious signs. It's been a relief, to be honest, to have such positive post-show feedback and know audiences enjoyed their experiences, but having to be present, yet not active in really overt ways, during the performances themselves was a tricky experience for me.
     
    - If you make a show where you have to uncover, position and write on a pop-up card one-handed, there will inevitably be a performance where you actually get the card caught around your finger and are furiously attempting to shake it off before the audience member opens their eyes back up.
     
    - It’s very hard to be silent. Particularly at the end of a performance, where you kind of want to break the silence, as the audience member stands up, gathers things and suchlike. From the moment the audience members were lead into the garden, to the moment they left, I didn’t say a word and it felt hard to do that and for it not to feel super forced. 
     
    - There are few things more sweet than an audience member walking just out of sight, then offering a little applause for the show as they walk down the street. (Trust me, this makes total and lovely sense, given the nature of the piece and venue for it.)
     
    - Each audience member to the show received a handmade pop-up card of the bench where the piece is performed (benches are a big deal in the show…) as a thankyou. This came about because of an R&D I conducted at Theatre Royal Plymouth that looked into how other forms of live public entertainment could be co-opted for theatrical use, or elements adapted. Myself and the actors involved got talking about how you say thank you to people - often I guess we think of performances as the gift, applause as the thanks, but it felt right to thank the audience members in this piece, and it’s definitely something I want to continue with future work. 
     
    - No matter how much you prep a ball of wool to be tangle-free for in-show knitting, it will *never* remain tangle-free during the performance. 
     
    - Whatever joke I put in at around 10 minutes (I haven’t gone back over the recording yet) works. At least I’m hoping there’s a joke there. Everyone let out little audible laugh-breaths at that point at least…
     
    - There are variables in the show I hadn’t even considered as variables - how far away someone sat from me on the bench, for instance, or whether I wanted to hold someone’s hand before the recording would ask if they’d hold mine. I'm surprised in how seemingly simple a set-up, the number of things I had kind of taken for granted or failed to question - thankfully nothing so huge that it broke the show/damaged someone's experience, but significant enough to be noticed by me.
     
    - I’m shocking at knitting under the pressure of performance. Thank god I specified in the recording I'm not amazing at it.
     
    - The use of recorded sound feels pretty integral to the show (the idea of things that are impossible to say out loud being central to it, with the recording pitched as a compromise to allow these things to be said) - what I want to figure out is how to utilise recording but not in a way that then feels restrictive to me, pre-determining what I have to do and when. What I also want to create the freedom to do is respond more to individual audiences - some people were very much focused on simply listening to the story and more interaction would’ve felt like an interruption to this, whereas it felt like a lot more could be done with other audience members. It’s a shame there wasn’t the flexibility for that during this first incarnation. But there’s always the next…
     
     
    [I’ve also just finished a 10 month contract as Resident Assistant Director at Theatre Royal Plymouth. Going to write up a ‘things I’ve learnt in the last 10 months’ blog post soon, but might take a fraction longer to process…]
     
    *Land in question may be Opposite Land.
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    Next month, I'm running a week's R&D exploring how various forms of live public entertainment - anything from stand-up to spectator sports to pub quizzes - might be co-opted or adapted for theatre. I'm interested in both finding unexpected and exciting combinations of form and content, and investigating how different kinds of entertainment create different performer-audience relationships. I'm looking for three actors to generate, build and test ideas with over the course of the week - details below:

     

    Dates: 4-8 April

    Times: 10am-5pm daily

    Venue: TR2 (Theatre Royal Plymouth's production and learning centre), Plymouth

    Fee: National Minimum Wage

     

    I am looking to work with local actors who are confident with improvisation and have experience of performance involving audience interaction; beyond that, all that’s needed is an enthusiasm for experimenting with form and an interest in some kinds of live public entertainment beyond theatre (though the scope of this is very wide - anything from cricket to karaoke counts).

     

    If you would like to be involved please get in touch at chloe.mashiter@theatreroyal.com by 10am 19th March, with a CV and short paragraph on why you’d like to participate in the R&D.

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