Last night I had an argument with a friend.
More accurately it was the kind of argument that has you.
It was a bout of verbal sparring that can only happen at 11.30pm while you are walking home from an evening shift (on a day when you started work at 8am); when tiredness makes you a bit delirious, and you don’t realise that a notoriously toneless messaging app, that you are currently engaged in the back and forth through, is doing nothing to assist your reading of the situation.
Before you know it you are stood in the half lit street staring at the bluish screen of your phone not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Is this an argument? You think… Yes. Yes, it is.
This particular argument stemmed from me forgetting that a friend’s show is on next week (and only next week). Yes, this argument was about theatre. I had forgotten to write the show dates in my diary, the dates for my friend’s show were not in my diary. Not having the dates in my diary meant that I signed up for as many shifts as possible at work (directly clashing with each performance) and the one free night I had, I booked to see the latest new show by one of the companies that feature prominently in my ‘artistic lineage’ (a superbly w*nky term that, should you find yourself in arts based academia, you will hear more often than you could ever care to).
This is not a blog about the rights and wrongs of the argument. Essentially I was in the wrong for being a sh*t friend.
This is a blog about the questions raised by the argument. The argument questioned the importance and validity of choosing the new show by the ‘artistic lineage’ company seemingly over my friend’s show. This wasn’t the case – see the above notes: the error was I simply didn’t note the dates. But, to my friend, who was feeling hurt and neglected, it seemed like I was choosing something else over them. My friend questioned the importance of seeing another new show by this company whom I had seen several times before; they questioned the validity of me spending more time in an auditorium when I already seem to spend a lot of time watching theatre productions. My friend questioned what I was doing studying when in their eyes I am already the director I want to be. My friend also lamented the fact that I am extraordinarily absent from social occasions. The only stake missing from the argument was “you’ve changed”.
The questions spoke to my decision to study for an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice and what that undertaking entails, and to what end?
Why did I hold out the metaphorical begging bowl to EVERYONE to help pay for thousands of pounds worth of college fees? Why did I choose to study full time meaning I would need to work several jobs through evenings and weekends just to cover my rent? Why is home now a 3 hour round trip from college/work?
The answer is necessity and urgency.
It is easy for theatre to be seen as frivolous, inconsequential, without core substance. We learn this from a young age. Theatre is the fun thing we do as extra curricular to the important stuff: Science (the meaning of, and means of life), Maths (money) and Language (politics and rhetoric). But to me theatre is the meaning of life, the means of life, it is money (and the desperate lack thereof), it is politics, rhetoric and every other vital notion in the pursuit of achieving, and affecting change.
Theatre is necessary to me, and my passion for making theatre is urgent.
So, to the echo that I felt hanging over last night’s argument: I am changing. I have changed. I am taking theatre seriously. I am taking my career seriously. The choice to study full time and better understand the working practices of not only myself, but of my peers and artistic forefathers is to the end of being the best possible theatre maker I can be. A director cannot lead a rehearsal room with blinkers. I don’t want to be the kind of director who is myopic in their knowledge of current theatre practice. I want to be the kind of director who can engage in dialogue on how theatre can affect change both socially and personally. The kind of director who can assist in inspiring new artists, and existing artists in understanding the rigour of their own work, as well as my own. The kind of director who opens debate and empathy in others.
In an interview I had this week with the Executive Director of a major production company, and two high profile theatre philanthropists, one of the questions I was asked was “what have you seen in the theatre recently?” I spoke about a show I had seen last week. I spoke about the previous shows that I had seen by the same director. I spoke about how I felt the work of this particular director has developed and I drew parallels with my own career. I answered with rigour. The follow up question was “and what have you seen that you were disappointed by?” I spoke again, but this time with less rigour. Because despite the outward opinion that I see ‘a lot’ of theatre, the truth is I don’t see enough. I don’t see enough to balance my critical engagement in the art form that I am taking seriously.
The teaching on my MA has taught me to critically engage as an artist rather than a strategist (as I was in my previous life as a producer). My Masters degree continues to be a year of pressing reset on my thinking and practice. I am a director in the making. And that making has expanded my thinking beyond hierarchical and traditional forms to better understanding the process of writing and devising as a powerful tool in this arsenal towards empathy.
Another point that was brought to bear in this argument was regarding the company I have formed as a part of my final term of work. How does this help me to be a director???
This was perhaps the moment that stung most. Because The Fun Club has been born out of project work it is somehow seen as role playing… that the company is not serious. We are just playing at being grown ups.
As co-artistic director and co-founder of The Fun Club I share agency in the rehearsal room as a performer, collaborator, scenographer, writer AND director. I wear several hats in order to better understand the construct of the rehearsal room and creation of new work. And as such I am incredibly proud of everything that our Fun Club continues to strive for, and achieve. I’m not playing anymore. I will always be playful, but this is not playing, this is life. Being rooted in a theatre company which I have co-founded with two other brilliant artists will be the thing that keeps me anchored in the same way that grounding themselves in theatre companies has assisted so many directors, and artists who have gone before me.
My studying has gifted me all of this and more. Learning how to be a director could never be as simple as sitting with a script in hand and pointing to spots on the stage for actors to stand in. Learning how to be the director I know I can be was always going to be about smashing apart the world I knew, and rebuilding it anew.
A heart surgeon will observe, assist on and engage in as many surgeries as they can to be the best possible heart surgeon. I am as serious about theatre as a heart surgeon is about hearts. I am addicted to it in all its modes, and I will do everything I can to be able to make theatre.
As a result of this year studying I am in a dialogue with my career; I am becoming as necessary to Theatre as it is to me. My correspondence with Theatre has an urgency to it that is about the present, and being present. I am the artist, and I am present.
That’s why I chose this MA and why I chose this path.
Ps the argument ended with me making a cancellation in order to attend my friend’s show. Because theatre is important to them too, and I have to respect that.