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  • Things I've learnt in the past ten months 16 June 2016 | View comments


    [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.


    ‚Äč*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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