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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  • 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 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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    During my time at Theatre Royal Plymouth, I have written blog posts about each production I've assisted on. Here are all the blog posts about my second production with the theatre, Monster Raving Loony:

    And Now For Something Completely Different (rehearsals, week 1)

    Carry On Rehearsing (rehearsals, week 2)

    That Was The Rehearsal Week That Was (rehearsals, week 3)

    Tonight Matthew, I'm Going To Be... (rehearsals, week 4)


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    During my time at Theatre Royal Plymouth, I have written blog posts about each production I've assisted on. Here are all the blog posts about my first production with the theatre, The Whipping Man:

    Meeting The Whipping Man (rehearsals, week 1)

    Talking to The Whipping Man (rehearsals, week 2)

    Surrounding The Whipping Man (rehearsals, week 3)

    Assembling The Whipping Man (rehearsals, week 4)

    Performing The Whipping Man (tech/production week)

    Watching The Whipping Man (performances)



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    I’m at least a week behind everyone else in blogging about Trevor Nunn’s upcoming The Wars of The Roses. There’s already a wealth of blogs out there on why the show’s casting (22 actors, all white, none identifying as disabled) is at best disappointing and frustrating, and at worst an unjustified and wilful exclusion of non-default performers in a high-profile production, helping to fuel a cycle that perpetuates homogeneity onstage. 


    So, I’m not going to try and compete with the many people who’ve written sharp and powerful responses to the casting. I’m more interesting in talking about a small detail of the announcement, the responses and counter-responses, that I’ve not seen discussed as much. Something I find troubling and important to note. 


    Equity’s statement on the casting concludes with something presumably meant to balance the exclusive nature of TWOTR casting: “We understand that the Rose is actively considering future productions which are overwhelmingly cast from under-represented groups.”


    (I’ll skip over “actively considering” and “will attempt to deliver”, but will say that - for me - where qualifiers abound, confidence doesn’t.)


    To me, this sounds like the Rose will somehow compensate for the homogenous casting of TWOTR by staging future productions with actors that are predominantly of a different make up of TWOTR’s cast. (This could be non-white actors, disabled actors - but there’s obviously other groups underrepresented onstage (and, I presume, in TWOTR) such as genderqueer performers; I don’t know exactly who “under-represented groups” is intended to mean.)


    I’ve talked about integrated casting in previous blog posts (and to anyone who - generously? unwisely? - gives me a conversational inch). For me, integrated casting is *not* about having a variety of actors side-by-side within a season’s programming. It’s about having a variety of actors side-by-side onstage. Integrated casting and diversity in the industry is (at least partially) about reflecting the world we live in*, contesting the idea that certain narratives can’t be told by/belong to minority/non-default groups** and encouraging an atmosphere where audiences can genuinely feel that their theatres are for them


    If, rather than individual shows with diverse casts, the implicit or explicit quota a venue or company has is reached by having separate shows comprised of two very different (and internally alike) casts, then these significant parts of what integrated casting is about are lost. It’s not a true - or at least, not a comprehensive - reflection of the world we live in; it still says some narratives are for this group, some narratives are for that group, and doesn’t wholeheartedly encourage an atmosphere of ongoing and constant audience ownership. 


    [Important note: I’m not trying to attack the Rose here (on any wider scale than intensely disagreeing with the Roses casting). I feel under-informed about their programming history and suchlike to judge their output and their approach to making and sharing theatre. So I’m not speaking from an intimate - or indeed, any - knowledge of how the theatre thinks about its shows and what it aims to do. They, and the casting announcement, are the jumping-off point for my wider thoughts.]


    Now, I know there are likely multiple exceptions to things I’ve said above - a few hundred words will never capture the entire complexity of the issue and the vast number of factors at play in what/who makes it onto stages - but I think that the above distinction (let’s say ‘diverse casting vs diverse programming’) is an important one to make. 


    *And the world we lived in.


    **Or that certain narratives can only be told by/belong to mainstream groups - the latent Philosophy student in me is saying there might be a difference there…

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    [Below's a blog post I wrote for A Younger Theatre in the run-up to A Doll's House's relaxed performances. Had I just been writing it for my own site, I probably would've got a little bit more emphatic about the importance of such performances, and a little more angry about those who ignore/deny it. Just imagine those elements.]

    When I was younger, the term ‘accessible theatre’ meant something far different to me than it does now. Being told that a show was ‘accessible’ conjured up images of actors spelling out Shakespeare’s bawdy puns in near-explicit mime, or classics hastily infused with pop culture references. In short, to make theatre ‘accessible’ was to, in some way, make it ‘easy to understand’. (I can’t define the boundaries of ‘easy to understand’, but at school there was a default assumption that all this olden-type-speech was certainly beyond them.)

    Now, however, when hearing that a show – or a company’s work – is ‘accessible’, my first response is: in what way? Can wheelchair users physically get into the venue? Is there captioning or BSL interpretation for those with impaired hearing, or audio description and touch tours for those with impaired sight? Are audience members who struggle to sit still or be silent welcomed into the stalls? How likely is the ticket price to prevent people from being able to come?

    There’s making the meaning of a play accessible to people, then there’s making the seemingly simple acts of buying a ticket, getting inside the venue, and watching it actually possible. What’s the point of performing open-heart surgery on a play so that its raw, striking truth lies bare, if no one’s there to witness it?

    Of course, usually there are people watching. It’s just that, without physical, practical and financial accessibility addressed (my own hasty phrases – I welcome better terms if anyone has some ready), those in the stalls are a pretty narrow group. Some of these may seem like minor concerns, but when faced with statistics like one sixth of the UK population suffering some form of hearing loss, it’s apparent that thinking through all the potential meanings of the word ‘accessibility’ is important if we want to make theatre for more than a small slice of the population.

    So, how? Some ways of making shows accessible pose the eternal problem: money. My own company is only able to offer a captioned performance during an upcoming run due to the immense generosity of those who donated to a crowd funder campaign dedicated to the cause. It’s for this reason I’m focusing on relaxed performances – not because accessibility for any other groups is any less worthy, but because, without the financial issue, I can’t think of any reason for companies not to stage them.

    Some can think of reasons. I was surprised to read in The Stage recently that ATG’s head of learning and access said some productions were unsuitable for relaxed performances – specifically, ‘quiet dramas’. But deciding that certain plays don’t lend themselves to relaxed performances renders those texts off limits to those for whom relaxed performances are essential to attending the theatre. (If you’re not familiar with relaxed performances, I won’t define them here, simply as Jess Thom does a great job of doing so over at her blog.) Coincidentally, my company’s first relaxed performances will be of the kind of ‘quiet drama’ referenced, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which just makes me all the more excited for them.

    This is the first time I’ve directed a show that’ll have relaxed performances – a decision that was spurred into action by a R&D discussion that showed me how few barriers stood between staging a ‘standard’ show and a relaxed one.

    Ask your venue if you can stage a relaxed performance. (In my case, the brilliantly supportive Space, for whom this is a first as well). Have a clear explanation of what ‘relaxed performance’ means at the point of booking – whether online, on the phone or in person. Preface the show with a short speech reminding the audience they’re allowed to make noise, leave or re-enter at anytime. Talk to the ushers and box office staff, so everyone knows to deal with queries, helping people in and out of the show, and suchlike. See if you can have a quiet chill-out space somewhere in the venue. Adjust the lighting and sound if necessary (to avoid loud, sudden noises or brightly flashing lights), and leave the house lights slightly up. If possible, provide a contact email in case people want to ask about specific needs, or the show in general. That’s about it. Honestly.

    The biggest step, really, is simply deciding to make relaxed performances a part of what you do – once you’ve committed to that, it all feels remarkably straightforward. Ultimately, any problems thrown up by the above paragraph can be put right by doing one thing: talk to someone who’s staged a relaxed performance (they’ll want to help support more of them).

    Staging a relaxed performance costs nothing except a little time and thought, which is a pretty good price for opening your work up to more people, and welcoming an even wider audiences through theatres’ doors. That way, once it’s been figured out how to make that Shakespeare ‘maidenhead’ gag really land, an even wider range of people can have a giggle at the Bard’s sex jokes.

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    [I’m writing this on a train. How good are trains? I’d forgotten how lovely writing on a train is. Anyway, on with the point and all that…]


    I want to write about music. So I’m going to. I want to because, for the second time, I’m using copyrighted music in a production rather than composing music myself for the show (and it’s the first time I’ve not had to cover the PRS costs myself, so I’ve not had a financial angel on my shoulder whispering to me to restrain myself). 


    So, why decide to use copyrighted - and easily dated - music for A Doll’s House? Especially when I’m so keen on setting the show neither in 1800s Norway, nor modern London but in some unspecified time and place? I admit that does initially look self-defeating. But, without a specific time or place to draw upon when initially developing ideas for the show, it was music that became my entry point into thinking about exactly what my take on it is. 


    I’m not sure at what point I remembered Stevie Nicks’ cameo on American Horror Story, which included an acoustic version of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon, but remember it I did, as a track which *somehow* linked in to what I wanted the production to be. Some Youtube surfing later and this song hit me like a ton of (staggeringly beautiful and heartbreaking) bricks.


    For slightly ephemeral and tricky-to-define reasons (beyond the sentiment of the lyrics and into the tone of the song as a whole), Landslide captured A Doll’s House for me. Suddenly I had something that I could look to as a touchstone for what I wanted my production, in some way, to be like. (Fleetwood Mac’s music’s become a bit of a theme, with 3 of their songs featuring in the show.) Music gave me a way in that was experiential, about atmosphere and feeling, rather than about facts or timelines or concrete objects like set and props (all legitimate in-roads into a show, just not the ones I was looking for this time). 


    Other songs included in the show have come from various different places. Noticing I had an Oasis track called Songbird lingering in my iTunes, I listened out of curiosity, and it immediately cemented itself in my head as Nora and Torvald’s ‘song’ - somewhat genteel, pleasant and almost safe, expressing love but with the ever-present reference to one of Torvald’s many infantilising nicknames for Nora. I remembered the melancholy, desperate lyrics of a Springsteen cover performed by Laura Marling and Eddie Berman at a show I worked on in 2013 - and after listening to the original, played at a far more upbeat tempo, I was determined to include Dancing in the Dark in the show too. 


    Of course, this may sound like music for music’s sake: I like a song, so I wedge it in, whether it truly fits or not. But the music’s limited to apt moments, and it’s still been a conscious decision as to when to include it. Noticeably, I’ve held off including copyrighted, lyrical music for the tarantella in the show - one of the few moments where music is explicitly mentioned in the stage directions. I’ll admit to having spend hours - HOURS - on Youtube, searching for the perfect track to underscore this moment. The closest I came was Sing by Blur. But then I found out it was part of the Trainspotting soundtrack and, not wanting to risk people suddenly being transported to that film mid-show, I reluctantly let it go. (So you’ll just have to wait and see what’s happening there…)


    There’s also a conscious decision re music to open the show with. It was seeing Bull at the Young Vic - the brilliant, thrashing, blood-pumpingly-aggressive anthems blaring out before the action started - that I knew I wanted music playing as the audience enter the space (and I think I might simply to want to always do this, now) and so put together a short, specific playlist of what music to kick off the whole thing with. 


    I guess, when it comes to the 1800s Norway versus 2015 London issue, it was more important to me to make a statement of the show not being set in the former, which the music helps to do. It’s the combination of the music and the set, costume, lighting, and selection of international accents in the cast, that (hopefully) helps to avoid the show seeming to inhabit the latter. But, almost equally as important as the use of music as an element of the performance itself, was how important it became in helping me develop my own ideas of the show and its details - including character-specific playlists of a wide, potentially baffling array of songs. It’s been really interesting working on a text without doing typical ‘text work’ - timelines, backstories and suchlike have barely figured in rehearsals - and I can easily see myself doing this again. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend prep time just listening to brilliant songs? 


    [It seems apt to end with another song. But instead of something else from A Doll’s House, I thought I may as well plug my favourite band: Fight Like Apes. One day I’ll make a show based on their music and it’ll be f-ing ace. Listen here.]

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    So, continuing the theme of ‘writing blogs that coincide with international days’, here’s a blog post for World Autism Awareness Day (and, I suppose, for the start of World Autism Awareness Month). I thought I’d share a few thoughts on relaxed performances, and why, come the run of A Doll's House in June, I’ll be directing my first-ever ones. 


    If the phrase ‘relaxed performances’ draws a blank, I probably won't be able to define it better than Jess Thom of Touretteshero, so feel free to take a detour here. (Blog posts are so much easier to write when you just use other people's, don't you agree?) It's worth being totally clear (particularly given the context in which I've already put this post): relaxed performances are for absolutely anyone - whether the relaxed rules and atmosphere caters to a particular need they have, or simply caters to their preference for a more informal and lively experience.


    I've little experience with/of relaxed performances myself. However, calling a session at D&D10 on how to make shows for audiences who aren’t content with sitting still and being silent got me on the way to understanding them a lot better. (In true D&D style, exactly the right people did come and I was able to pick the brains of such brilliant and lovely people as Jess Thom and her Backstage in Biscuitland other half Jess Mabel Jones.)


    I've not previously directed a show with relaxed performances (although I've long had a fondness for lighting audiences in sync with the stage, and a close friend's claustrophobia - coupled with my apparent fondness for working in underground tunnels - means I've always been fairly open to people leaving and re-entering during performances). However, at one performance of my show Object Love, when a group of objectum-sexual people (some of whom had helped to make the show) came to watch, I felt like I gained a tiny insight into the effect of relaxed performances.


    Half of the objectum-sexual group were autistic and that, combined with the personal involvement some had had in the show, and the fact this was a rare instance of them being represented positively in public, prompted reactions unlike those of the rest of the audience and created a totally different atmosphere in the space. They were more vocal - I didn’t just hear moments of laughter, but moments of recognition, moments of agreement, moments of sadness and sympathy - and also far more moments where they acknowledged *each other*, rather than wearing blinders to the others sat next to them, as can so often happen. It was an atmosphere I liked. 


    The discussions at D&D10 both demonstrated to me how important relaxed performances are (if we genuinely do want to welcome people into our theatres and open shows up to as many people as possible) and, moreover, how there’s not really a reason to not do them. In the case of the relaxed performances for A Doll's House, we’ll be making a couple of small alterations to the lighting and sound, arranging a chill-out space, ensuring the ushers and box office staff are briefed in advance, making the nature of the performances clear in publicity and also giving a short speech before the performance, again just clarifying that the audience are permitted to make noise and leave and re-enter as they wish. We’re also providing our company email so that anyone with questions can check things in advance. But it’s really a minimal amount of work to make the show accessible (also thanks to the support of The Space, who’ve never staged relaxed performances before, but are really supportive and enthusiastic about these). 


    I'm partcularly excited that A Doll's House is the play I'm cutting my relaxed performance teeth on. I was quite surprised when I saw, in a recent Stage article, that an ATG rep (I think for education and access, but I've lost my paper copy and have no idea of my login details to reread the article online) had said only certain productions were deemed suitable for relaxed performances - ‘quiet dramas’ not really being suited to the format. I'd wager A Doll's House falls fairly firmly into the 'quiet drama' bracket being pictured there.


    But that feels an awful lot like demanding the audience fit the show - and consequently deeming certain kinds of plays/productions off limits for whom relaxed performances are essential or highly preferable. Personally, I'm excited to share A Doll's House with people come June, and I want to do what I can to share it with as many people as possible. 


    So, come June, I'll be staging my first relaxed performances - no doubt the first of many. 




    *Yes, this concept is to be taken with the *biggest* pinch of salt in the world - different shows/venues/etc encourage or prompt different behaviours - but I think this idea is recognisable to most people who’ve been in a theatre.

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    So, Happy World Theatre Day everyone! (Yeah, I had no idea there was a World Theatre Day until a couple of days ago.)


    The obvious thing to do today would be to rant on about how much I love theatre, what I think is brilliant about it, the wonderful experiences I’ve had at shows…But that seems not just obvious, but also a very insular approach to a day that’s meant to be about the world celebrating theatre. 


    It’s also part of a problem that spans (surprise) beyond the 24-hour confines World Theatre Day. The more I work in theatre - the more shows I’m involved with, more work I see, more scripts I read, etc - the more embedded theatre becomes in my life, the less it feels like some separate ‘thing’ that I can easily define my connection or relationship to, and the harder it becomes for me to think outside of my own experience and know exactly why other people like it, or what other people get from it. (It may often be the same things as me, but who knows? Must be careful not to slip into Wittgensteinian philosophy here…)


    So I thought I’d focus on people other than myself, having recently discovered a postcard I’ve had since a workshop at the International Student Drama Festival in 2012, which lists exactly what someone else at the workshop liked about theatre (and hopefully still does):



    It’d be incredibly convenient if I had more of those floating around, but it’s just the one. However, continuing the theme of words/etc that are not mine, I thought I’d also share some of the audience responses to a unusual piece, Faithful, staged a while ago. As people arrived for a night featuring a variety of work, they were given a small bundle of love notes, written to give the impression of a very one-sided relationship. They were invited to write a response to these messages, which I then used as the basis for an improvised short film (similar to one half of a Skype conversation), which was filmed, edited, and screened that evening.


    Everyone received very similar notes, but responded with brilliant and wildly different messages. Some people chose to be poetic:



    Some chose to be, um, ‘hard-hearted’ (yet in a way generous?):



    Some chose to devise their own melodramatic narrative:



    Some chose to devise a slightly less melodramatic one:



    And some chose to be rather touching and straightforward:



    (I don’t think I could necessarily shoehorn these messages into some idea of why other people like theatre if I tried, but thought it’d be nice to share these massively different ways in which they took part and responded to the opportunity to participate.) 


    There’s one last message to share, though (from another piece, Fortress, which involved me inviting people into a tiny box fort and sharing biscuits and stories with them) - one which does actually suggest someone else’s reason for liking theatre:



    Now, often theatre isn’t necessarily comforting; I sometimes go to shows specifically because I know they’ll make me feel uncomfortable - they’ll rough me up, give a much-needed shock to my system and spit me back out into the world with my head spinning. But I like the idea of a ‘comforting space’. For me, there’s always something more comforting about experiencing something with people, being in their presence and having some communal element to an event (even if this community is only two people), than experiencing something on your own, in the absence of other, actual people. But that’s twisting things back to what I like, what I get out of it. I’ll just shut up now. For a bit anyway. Have a happy theatre-y day. 

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    So, the first of this slightly odd two-parter was about Red Bastard - these posts are by no means comparing the two shows, it just happens that the things I wanted to say about them happened to be about instances where real life is the basis for a performance. Good. That’s clear. Onwards.


    Working on Object Love as writer/director was my first experience of staging a show that dealt with people’s actual experiences and lives. From my perspective - even including scripts that have related to real-world events, or where there’s clearly an element of biography - everything else I’ve done has concerned imagined figures in an imagined world. Even though the interviews that formed the basis of Object Love were conducted via email (some people desired the anonymity that offered; some simply lived overseas), they still went into very sincere, heartfelt territories and I was initially overcome at how open some people had been.


    For a while, it was relatively easy to still isolate the script, think of it purely as fiction and separate from any true stories or experiences. To not think of how closely it was linked to actual people and their honest testimony. (It felt, to an extent, necessary - otherwise I would fall into endless second-guessing and uncertainty.) It was pretty impossible to do this, however, once I knew that a small group of objectum-sexuals, including people I’d interviewed, were definitely coming to see the show’s final performances.


    As much as I’d staged the show with good intentions, I was still terrified that the group would feel misrepresented, exploited, disappointed - that they’d be unhappy with the show and regret ever supporting it. The show was about them, had relied on some of them sharing stories (which, for some interviewees, they’d shared with barely a handful of other people), was trying to represent their experiences and so they were the only audience members who could really deem it a failure on its own terms. 


    Thankfully, their reaction to the show was overwhelmingly positive - some were speechless afterwards, others immensely animated and talkative. Something that particularly sticks in my head is one member of the group explaining another’s excitement - ‘it’s just because she’s never seen herself, people like her, onstage.’ Even for those not as hyperactive, they’d found the new experience of watching a representation of themselves fascinating, and heartening to know that’s how they were being presented to others.


    Looking back on the performances they were present at (having come slightly late to the matinee, most of the group stayed until the evening to watch the show a second time), no longer quite so blinded by fear, their engagement with the show was different to other audience members. They were more vocal - not just laughing, but murmuring in agreement at some moments, mumbling comments at others, nodding along with observations. Now, this isn’t solely related to them feeling represented onstage - I’ve no idea how often they typically visit the theatre (so they may not be used to the default etiquette that seems to encourage thoughtful silence over more audible engagement), and I know that some of the group were on the autistic spectrum, which may have contributed to the nature of their response.


    Regardless of the specific factors that may have added up to it - the atmosphere for that performance was different. More lively. Not distracting or detracting from the show - enhancing it, supporting it. For me, it showed how different people’s behaviour during a show (or their attitude to the theatre in general - one of the group had flown in from Berlin to see the show, not a move typically taken) can be when they feel a part of it. Object Love’s the thin end of the wedge when it comes to shows made with people, rather than by artists, for audiences (to steal a distinction made by Stella Duffy during a discussion at D&D10), but there was that link to actual people, and putting something of them onstage, which for those two performances changed the feeling in the theatre entirely. 


    Feeling responsible for transferring people’s actual stories to the stage with respect, turning them into something more theatrical or augmented yet still staying true to their experiences, was at times terrifying. But, thankfully, the responses of that group - both during the performance and afterwards - were a reward well worth it. 


    I also remember being pulled out of one particular moment of pre-production stress and exhaustion by an email from someone halfway around the world, saying how moved they were that their love for their partner (as described in an interview) had inspired the trailer for the show. I want more moments like that, so - in some way or another - I want to do more stuff like this.

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