Glory (written by Nick Ahad & directed by Rod Dixon) Photo credit: Andrew Billington
I left a career in science to pursue the arts later in life, and I was at a point creatively where I wanted to make work that focused on live performance, rather than digital/analogue landscapes or man-made environments. So, I decided to head back to the theatre *dusts off the old Drama GCSE from a long time ago* that would have actors/non-actors rolling through the space and still allow me to be based in the North West.
The Dukes in Lancaster were offering a free playwriting workshop in the Summer of 2018, which was a good way to check out any (paid) opportunities they had. Luckily, they had a spot coming up for someone to be part of their annual Christmas show (Peter Pan) for 3 weeks and learn about the process of putting on a production. I interviewed for it and got the gig.
I specifically wanted to learn from Sarah Punshon, who seemed to have the best job (directing work in-house and programming interesting shows for an arts organisation. Their Spring Season was THE BEST). Sarah was really generous in terms of teaching me some basics about directing actors and making me focus/question the work I wanted to make. When the 3 weeks were up, I began looking for grants to support me in a way that would allow me to continue working with actors via The Dukes.
The RTYDS Three-Month Placement was suggested by Sarah, an initiative that I wasn’t even aware of initially. The placement ended up being a great chance for me to continue working at The Dukes and get some experience on a production that was going ahead in early 2019….a really ace, in-yer-face, topical new play called Glory by Nick Ahad.
It’s difficult to articulate what I learnt during the RTYDS – as directing means having a pulse on everything as a whole, whilst iterating a story in bit-size chunks, and knowing that the quality of it all is often determined in pre-production (castings, R&D, design meetings, tour plans, marketing and rehearsals). One of the key findings for me was understanding the role of the movement director. This came off the back of watching a brilliant fight director on Glory, and the choreographer who developed the dance numbers and stylised fight scenes on Peter Pan.
I am now much more aware/appreciative of non-verbal ensemble scenes and kerfuffles on stage/screen, highlighted during Glory rehearsals where I watched the actors block the rather restricted space – in and around a wrestling ring – as they heard their lines multiple times over a speaker (s/o to Rod Dixon, Artistic Director, Red Ladder Theatre Company for introducing me to the Whelan Technique!). I don’t necessarily want to become a movement director, but knowing how to work with one and understanding when you might need one are really important takeaways for me and I definitely want to develop my skills at directing complicated, multi-person, messy scenes…
Part of the RTYDS training is to understand how an arts space like The Dukes runs day-to-day. As well as getting to grips with how they worked as an organisation (they are an arts charity, to be precise), I was situated in the Creative Centre for Learning (CCL) – a very inspiring space where theatre-based projects are delivered to various local community and youth groups, often devising new plays as a cohort.
Whilst at CCL, I had a great time working with the Dukes Young Company who showcased snippets of plays from the last 200 years of theatre – plus a
devised piece – in time for a performance set for the original Brexit date (with a great title, Empire to Exit). A sound designer and I was put in charge of an short Absurdist piece (inspired by Samuel Beckett’s play, Act With No Words II), which turned out to be quite poignant. As a result I am more inclined to develop work outside – as well as inside – of the professional setting that is of high quality, making work that resonates with participants and audiences, an ethos that I also encountered workingwith the excellent Red Ladder Theatre on Glory.
Next steps are the usual, right? Apply to more jobs/make art as I temp for the $$$! Super grateful to The Dukes for designing a brilliant, jam-packed (!) placement for me and RTYDS for the opportunity!