Right now London feels like a bloomin’ brilliant place to be. The Olympics did not bring the chaos, disappointment or unprecedented disasters that were promised. Instead we were met with an underground without engineering works, crowds of enthusiastic supporters and 29 gold medals. With Team GB celebrating their greatest medal haul in over 100 years, we wonder how much of their success was down to the famous home advantage?
For our Olympians, the fact that they were able to have their Weetabix in the morning and run in mild, damp British conditions as they have done for the last four years, might have meant that they felt able to perform to their best. The atmosphere in the stadiums, described as electric, was always going to push some to greatness and overwhelm others. Performers, whether sporting or theatrical, will always have a relationship with their environment.
Over the next two weeks we will find ourselves moving between two very different places, as we develop our next show from scratch. Our first week is being spent at The Hunt Theatre, in Felsted, a rural part of Essex in the beautiful grounds of a boarding school. Here we have been given the run of the place: use of lights, the workshop and even offers of overnight accommodation. This feels like the perfect venue for us to try out all the ideas we have doodled in notebooks, on receipts and chatted about for weeks. However, it is important to identify why this situation works for us. In this early stage of devising we allow ideas to fly. This means trying out lots of things in the space, with plenty of materials on hand to make set and props, helping us establish the tone and direction of the work. The Hunt Theatre gives us the opportunity to attack this undisturbed, without time constraints and with the freedom to make as much mess and noise as we like. It is liberating and right now, a hell of a lot of fun.
However, next week will be very different. We will be heading to the heart of London’s Olympic epicentre, being based in Stratford Circus, to conclude this initial research and development process. Likewise the work we will be doing will have a different emphasis. Instead of searching for freedom and creative inspiration we will be starting to refine and improve the show for our audience. Being in a busy theatre, and surrounded by other professionals, should help focus our minds and work with greater precision. The beautiful studios at Stratford Circus will also frame the visual creations from the previous week.
This project is an exciting step for us – thanks to Grants for the Arts we are able to spend two uninterrupted weeks doing exactly what we love. This intensity has enabled us to really focus on what we are creating without the distraction of other jobs or projects and (much to our delight) our productivity has been quite remarkable so far. We are already ahead of schedule.
So what is necessary to breed success? Dave Brailsford, the British cycling coach extraordinaire, has attributed much of the success of his team to producing the perfect conditions in order to enable his athletes to perform on the day. He has not shared his magic formula, but we are sure that creating the correct environment to train in will undoubtedly be high up on the list.
Artistic creation cannot necessarily be as easily formalised – it is the nature of the beast. However we do feel that through trial and error, it is possible to find the right circumstances for you to create to your best ability. This might be in the centre of a buzzing city or out in the European countryside. This, in itself, does not matter. The proof is in the product. Nevertheless we do hope that some of the positivity that has been pouring out of the ground in Stratford recently will flow in our direction.