The most powerful therapy for me has always been theatre. I suppose that’s possibly a pretentious statement to start a blog with, but let me explain myself slightly. As an audience member, theatre for me has always been about escapism, but also about growing as a person, coming out of a show with a different view or with a new perception about the world or about myself. Now that I’m involved in creating theatre, the experience changes significantly.
Working as a theatre producer or running your own company can be as draining as it is invigorating. If my aim as a practitioner is to offer this escapism and life-changing power through my work, the standard I have to set myself is incredibly high. This striving for theatrical perfection can be a pressure. Perfection in theatre is something that none of us can ever achieve – it doesn’t exist. I can’t realistically expect to achieve anywhere near perfection with the restrictions on my budget etc. However this self-inflicted pressure, as well as pressures in other areas of my life, has created a creative block that I’ve found incredibly difficult to get over.
Over last weekend I simply could not find the inspiration to crack on and write, or even to do any other work, and this made me feel burnt out creatively. So how do I, with deadlines looming and things that have to be done, actually sit down and be creative? Creativity surely only arrives when one is feeling free and is therefore able to feel inspired. At the beginning of this week, this just wasn’t happening.
I agonised over how I could find this creativity again, and suddenly the answer was clear: I had to get out of my office and find inspiration, I had to get myself fresh again. So I headed for the West End. This week I’ve been to two Masterclass sessions at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and have seen three very different shows.
The first was Greenland at the National Theatre, which attempts to make issues around climate change accessible to a wide audience. The second was Clybourne Park which I chose to see after reading Eleanor’s review, which satirically analyses racism over the past 50 years. The final show I saw was The Invisible Man at the wonderful Menier Chocolate Factory. Each of these shows affected me in very different ways.
Greenland is a fascinating concept, but one that didn’t really make me feel anything when presented on stage, I didn’t connect with it. The set and the design are absolutely breathtaking, but for me the play fails in its aims to make climate change accessible and moving. Frankly, it didn’t make me even slightly interested in the issues, and instead I spent the entirety of the performance watching the design, which although fascinating, did verge on the gimmicky.
I agree with some of Eleanor’s review of Clybourne Park, but the show has clearly developed and settled down between the first preview that she saw. Almost all of the performances are close to pitch perfect, particularly that of the spectacular Stephen Campbell-Moore. I look forward to press night, and the reviews that will follow.
Finally my visit to the Menier Chocolate Factory. This was when the real therapy hit. As you may or may not know, the Menier company dosn’t have understudies, and on Thursday night a female member of the cast was unwell. The only option was for the director (Ian Talbot) to step in, drag up, and read in for her. Although this fitted with the style to some extent, it was still an obvious change, and the ensemble would clearly suffer.
As with any understudy announcements, the audience are automatically affected by the news. They no longer have the same open mind, they are already expecting the piece to be below the standards they were hoping for. The atmosphere in the theatre changed, and that’s a tough house to play to.
But never in my (albeit short) theatrical career have I seen an ensemble pull together and pour so much energy, commitment and love into a show. The Invisible Man isn’t particularly emotionally deep, it isn’t moving or overly powerful, but of everything I’ve seen this week it has touched me the most. This wonderful company knew that they had a full house, a paying audience, and that therefore they had to pull a truly special performance out of the bag. The Invisible Man is packed with pace, rhythm, specific timings and theatrical tricks. It’s a tough show to perform, very physical, with quick changes in tone, atmosphere and costume. The energy that this cast mustered, and the huge success of the performance, reminded me exactly why I work in theatre. Theatre is a living and breathing thing, and every single performance, every single moment of a show is unique.
I got home and immediately started writing an application for a Grant for the Arts. It suddenly clicked why I care so much about theatre, and why FreeRange matters to me. It certainly isn’t about the money, nobody in the company makes a penny. It isn’t to boost my ego or for any personal gain. It’s to do something special, it’s to grab an audience and drag them along on a journey with us. This journey isn’t just about us growing as a company, and about me learning through experience, it’s about the living, breathing power of theatre, about harnessing it and using it to change lives. Maybe I can’t do that much, maybe our work won’t ever change somebody’s life, but that’s what we have to strive for, and that’s why I do it.
This week FreeRange Productions can announce that we are booked to perform two shows on Saturday 30 April at Leicester Square Theatre in London. I will of course post when tickets go on sale, and when I can talk more about the productions, but for now my key advice for anybody in my position is not to despair. Despair in theatre is a crime! We’re the generation which is working under harsh arts cuts, and the next 20 years aren’t going to be easy. But stick to what matters, and remember why you love theatre. Rise above the ridiculousness of the cuts, and of any other pressures, and focus on what’s important. That way, creativity won’t get blocked, and maybe, on a personal level, theatre can truly be therapy.