Those of us who create know what happens when a show comes to an end…there is a sense of “What will I do now?” So many many hours focused on one play, a group of actors, writers and producers, stage managers, designers, assistants. When it is a new group of artists together for the first time we have to negotiate ways of working. How do we create an environment that nurtures the artists, satisfies the producers, appeals to there writers and fit in with the designers? Yet somehow,despite so many relationships, we do it. That is what we do.
And each time we do it, we learn new ways of becoming. New ways of operating within the rehearsal room. The rehearsal room is like a microcosm of the real world: intense relationships, deep connection, glorious ideas, mini explosions, all going around and around. I always walk away from a show so much richer, having learned more about myself in 8 weeks than the whole year. What triggers me, what amuses me, what breaks my heart, what makes my heart sing.
I am in love with actors. I know that. Their willingness to go where others will not. They open their hearts, they surrender to their role and they give as much of themselves as is humanly possible. My question is always “How can we keep actors safe?” “How can we ask so much of them and make sure they are stronger and more nurtured on the last day of performance?”
We tried, through the weeks together, to create rituals that would hold the actors in good stead, tapping, checking in, checking out, warming up together, “balls”, looking after one another. Once the show is up, a director has little control of what happens ritual wise, and I hope that this team of wonderful artists looked after themselves, and each other. Every night they entered the emotional landscape that “Hedonism’s Second Album” demanded, complex, intense, electric.
Claire Christian and David Burton gifted us with a beautiful new script after working with Dramaturg Michael Gurr, one of my favourite Australian playwrights. The script explored the landscape of young manhood and friendship in comic and tragic ways. The pressures, pleasures and seductions of fame. The politics and behaviour around acceptance of difference, in this case the character Michael’s homosexuality; preconceived ideas of motherhood and fatherhood (the character Chimney is having a baby and the perceived effects this will have on the band); betrayal within friendships and the working environment and how subtle and not so subtle it is; what women have to do to make it in a man’s world (the character Phil’s approach to leadership is shaped by the world she finds herself in…she has to give what she got). The character Gareth is committed to fame and success and growing it in whatever way he can. And finally Sumo, the naughtiest of them all, who says things without thinking of the consequences and yet at the same time whose heart is so big, so loving and so generous.
These are the characters who danced with us in all the rehearsal rooms we worked in. I watched them grow and thicken. I nurtured and shaped in the way that directors do. I think I lost it once, when I thought the cast ‘phoned’ their performances in, a fabulous expression I’ve always thought, though in reflection it could have been more about my unrealistic expectations than their individual performances. Once, when I was performing in a show a couple of years ago, my partner Bill said to me afterwards “There is no electricity in you anymore” and in a split second I understood what was missing. I was not giving my all. I was saving some for I don’t know what. Did i feel unsafe? I am not sure. But it only took seven words to turn me around. So was that what i witnessed one early evening with this ensemble? Perhaps, and perhaps not. That is what i love about reflection. It causes one to pause. To reflect on what went before in order to grow what is to become. Perhaps the lesson for me here is to see clearly what is before me, rather than wanting to see something that I imagine is the ideal…
As a director I know I have little control once the show is up whereas as a performer I continue to shape the piece a little bit at a time. The actor is “inside”, whereas the director can only ever be on the “outside”. I think that is one of the biggest adjustments I have had to make. Stepping away from the performer’s shoes and realising that the director can only do so much.
And then the actors take over: and take over they did. Their audience loved them, adored them, despite their naughtiness, their inappropriateness, their political incorrectness. Because, when things descended into dark chaos, they were there for each other. Perhaps not forever, is there ever a forever, but at least for now. And really, that is all we have.
So we move on to the next play, but always bring with us our learnings from the one before. “Hedonism” taught me many things. I can’t put all of them into words yet, but i am satisfied that the many weeks spent thinking only of this play made me a richer artist. And a grateful one.
I now move on to He Dreamed a Train, at Brisbane Powerhouse in October. A big challenge. One where I shall stand in the shoes of a co-director (with Ben Knapton, someone I have been wanting to work with for many years…his ability to create metaphor through image and space is a worthy thing) as well as a performer (with Travis Ash). I am nervous, anxious and strangely excited about this next move.