The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Dramaturgy is a term used more and more in UK theatre. It seems to be very common in Europe but we are becoming more and more used to having someone on a production who is a breathing encyclopedia of expertise on everything to do with the play. Not only that, they keep an eye on the clarity of the text in relation to the story and what the author may or may not have intended.
Research is a vital part of the process. Personally, I also find it to be one of the most enjoyable parts too. We start by creating and collecting as many options as possible before beginning the creative process. I like to immerse myself in as much of the culture as possible when preparing for rehearsals: reading a lot about the subject matter; going to art galleries; museums; watch films; theatre; listen to music; visiting as many places that are significant to the play as possible.
On this production of Man to Man, our lead actress Margaret Ann Bain and I went to research the play in Berlin visiting many museums and theatres. We had the opportunity to work with the playwright Manfred Karge on the thought processes and situations for each scene as well as the etymology of the quotes in the play (the character quotes from several notable German works including the Grimms' Snow White, The Prince of Homberg and Goethe's Faust).
We then had a literal translation of Manfred's play done by Penny Black, who constructed options where there was no direct translation to be had and also did extensive notes on meaning and significance of phrases. Alexandra Wood - author of our new translation of the play - did a lot of her own research. She also consulted with Manfred and Penny during the creation of the new version of the text. Alexandra and I had met on several occasions and we shared a desire to maintain a feeling of the play being foreign - German in origin but also in a state of transition.
We wanted the language to remain rich and robust. We then consulted with dramaturg Clare Slater (executive director of Gate Theatre, London). I trust Clare's opinion implicitly and she gave us a few suggestions about where the play was not clear from the point of view of an audience member who knew nothing about it. All of this was incredibly useful when creating the piece.
Work with my designers to create a visual and audio reference box is also important as we are able to create a visual language for the production. This starts as a collection of pictures and tracks from various different sources. We discuss tone and throw lots of ideas into the mix, exploring the play from many different perspectives. Our designer Richard Kent is particularly good at interpreting my excited ramblings! He is a brilliant designer. He can reduce hundreds of dynamically contrasting images into one set that has the potential to achieve all of them to their fullest potential.
What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I have been lucky enough to have worked with incredible directors (Sam Mendes; Howard Davies; Richard Eyre; Deborah Warner) and would like to think the processes of those talented people have my own. While a structured approach can yield productive pre rehearsal preparation, the process of creating a piece of theatre is ultimately governed by the combination of people in the room and their relationship to that piece at that point in their lives. It is unique every time.
When visiting Germany on a research trip, Margaret Ann (Bain) and I were struck by the physical and muscular nature of the acting style. There was a clarity and theatricality to the storytelling but also a rawness and truth that was exciting and very human. We wanted to capture a similar essence in this production.
I try to read as many books as possible on directing to challenge my own ideas about it and to help me to develop my own craft. Brecht on Theatre has been useful for this production and dipping into Katie Mitchell's book The Directors Craft several times and for tips on research and preparation for rehearsals is always useful. Reading Frantic Assembly's book Devising Theatre was also part of my reading prior to working with my Co-Director Scott Graham (it would have been rude not to!)
Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
Collaboration is vital in creativity. Why settle for one imagination when you can have several? When you have a team of people, all of whom are experts at what they do and all of whom are committed to creating the best result from the source material, it would be foolish not to work with them and respond to their ideas and suggestions. Ultimately as director, or Co-Director in this case, you have to guide the production and have the ultimate vision for it, but the best days are when you combine with the team to create a piece of work that is far greater than you could have imagined by yourself.
Working with Scott and Margaret Ann in rehearsals was a joy too. It can be tough physically and emotionally when working on a one actor play. This play is particularly challenging given the muscularity of the production we wanted to create and the fact that there are no stage directions at all, so you have to create and explore all the time - liberating but challenging. There was a lot of laughter in the rehearsal room. It was also a very generous place to be because we all believed that ideas should be explored through to their conclusion. We also trusted each other enough to create several versions of each scene and see which ones worked best when we got onto the set (2 days before technical rehearsal). It was a test of nerve and ability but led to a show we are all proud of.
What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
You can learn a lot from an audience. Not only does it reveal more about the actor - they are given that extra adrenaline from knowing they are performing for a group of people who have not been through the rehearsal process and have actually paid to be there, it is a great way to know what is landing and what needs to be clearer or better.
During the first preview of Man to Man in Cardiff, Scott and I felt that we had overloaded the piece with too many ideas. We didn't see that until we had an audience in. We had a meeting for technical notes after the show and talked with the entire creative team about what worked for them and what didn't. Almost all of the suggestions made about the piece were implemented the next day. We came up with more elegant versions of scenes that allowed the text to do more of the work. We needed to trust it more so we did and we all felt the piece was better for that.