Directing and empowerment
Updated: Jan 4, 2019
When you are an aspiring director, the logical thing to do is move to London. The city is buzzing with opportunities but can seem overwhelming! Workshops are often expensive, the creative teams that work on large-scale productions seem inaccessible and everyone on the Twitter-sphere seems to being doing more to further their directing career than you are. It is easy to get lost in this industry before you've even dipped your big toe in.
However, this Saturday (9th June 2018), I participated in one of the most well-organised, informative and accessible workshops I've had to date. It was set up by the wonderfully charismatic Dr Cass Fleming (who teaches at Goldsmiths and runs classes at a variety of drama schools), and who is part of The Chekhov Collective. This is an organisation that fosters an exchange between practitioners in the industry who use Chekhov-based influences in their work and artists who wish to learn or develop more knowledge in this area. For this session, Rebecca Frecknall, director of Summer and Smoke that premiered at the Almeida in Feb/March 2018 (and is now transferring to the West End - cannot wait to see it again because it was just fantastic, BUY TICKETS!), led a workshop aimed to explore ensemble work and movement as a chorus.
Rebecca, sorry, Frecks, is one of the most humble, unassuming geniuses of our generation of directors. She was so open and willing to give advice and ran the workshop so collaboratively that it was a joy to be a part of.
I have never studied Chekhov's practice, but participating in this workshop showed me that I have been directing in this style for my whole career so far. So many lights clicked on in my head.
To paraphrase a very complex, brilliant directing style, here are my top points that I learnt:
- "The Actor is the Theatre". Ultimately, it is the actors who will be performing the play once you're gone and rehearsals are over. They deserve to go through the process knowing they they have equal ownership of the piece. Listening to them with empathy, being open to new ideas and changes and trusting the actors to do what they are trained to do is an incredibly freeing experience for a director - once you accept it.
- You can admit if you don't know all the answers. It's ok. You don't need to know everything.
- Commit to the present. If the director can promote an atmosphere of play and security, the actors will learn to react to the present circumstances and not get stuck in their heads.
- Do not do anything because you think it's interesting. That's not how realistic, truthful theatre comes to fruition.
- When you have an ensemble, there are two schools of thinking with this. Either they move as one, with one heart, one mind, one pulse OR they are individuals who have been brought together by a shared goal.
- The text is just another thing we have in the process. The text will come. Build feeling and emotions first. Improv a scene, explore the themes, create still images, THEN play with the text.
- A director must always have a really clear idea about why they are doing that play. You will have to put your foot down in certain scenarios because you have picked this play for a reason and you must remember that. Also, have an idea of the emotional arches you wish to see and feel from the actors.
All of what I have just written is what I have personally taken away from Frecks' workshop. It's not the only way to direct and it certainly isn't the right way to direct. I have just found that all of what we explored sits really comfortably within my heart. I direct theatre because of love. My own personal journey has been very exploratory and I am secure enough to allow Chekhovian techniques to quide my directing further. I think I know myself well enough to be the best director I can be with empathy, compassion and playfulness with the text.
There was a panel discussion shortly after called 'Directors as Collaborators: On Hierarchy, empowerment and kindness in the rehearsal process'. On this panel was Frecks, Emma Baggott and Francesca Castelbuono, a very strong panel with some wonderfully experienced women, all with the shared idea of kindness and empowerment within the theatre (and film). Hearing these women speak released this knot I think I have had in my heart for the longest time. They gave me the space to listen and allow me to believe that it is ok to be yourself.
Directing is a fierce industry and the competition is high. I have applied for 15-20 assistant director jobs over the past month alone and I've had 2 rejections. The others went unacknowledged. It's easy to get jealous and compare your progress to others. I know I certainly feel a very strong pressure because I'm not exactly where I want to be just yet. However, Emma Baggott said during this panel discussion that you must have the courage to exist in your life wholeheartedly and with vulnerability.
Let me just leave that there for you.
Have the courage to exist in your life wholeheartedly and with vulnerability.
Thank you, Emma, for saying this. No one has ever given such a simple statement that has lifted me higher than ever. Direct with compassion, introduce yourself to every person who works in the theatre, make sure everyone feels their part to play in any production is valued and valuable.
Emma also said (she really was on a roll) that the Latin roots of the word 'courage' means to tell the story with your whole heart. For me, that is why we do what we do. That is why I direct. I love people. People empower me, surprise me, hurt me but the amalgamation of all of that is what makes us human.
Everyone in that room was a director or creative. All at different stages in our careers, all telling different stories but joined together through kindness and generosity of spirit.
I am certainly not going to let any venom seep in to why I direct theatre and my career to come. Sometimes it's hard, but if these women can do it, this girl can.