Through the Looking Glass: a director turns writer

Rebecca Manson Jones b&wWritten in Brockley

Design reference
Design reference

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At the end of 2010, when I decided that 2011 should be a year of Alarums and Excursions exploring Optimism, I set myself a challenge to experience 80 new forms of cultural endeavour.

This might consist of visiting new venues, cultural institutions/establishments, experiencing the work of new companies and artists and/or seminal productions I had never seen.

This all came under the Just Jones & mantra inspired by Laurie Andersen and my grandfather’s view of life: “new is interesting… is like being awake”.

In a year of optimism, I felt that a self-made project: ”Around the world in 80 new Experiences” would be a good way to go.

Writing a blog is onesuch – and this will take the optimism project into 2012 and beyond.

The one unanticipated experience and perhaps the most significant took place on 29th September at the Albany in Deptford. Three actors, a dramaturg, a set/costume/site-spec designer and a lighting designer let me swap the director’s chair for the writer’s chair and listen to and observe a reading of the first very rough draft of my adaptation of Ibsen’s A People’s Enemy.

A strange thing happened to me physically. I started the day very organised, money for the actors and receipts all prepared. Tab for coffee set up at the cafe. A very warm welcome from The Albany staff and big smiles all round. The actors arrived. I was in my element. Then I handed over to my friend and dramaturg, Sarah Dickenson and alice-like I felt myself shrink and all the actors seemed a little over-scale. I knew the draft I had given out was already partly obsolete in my head, like a software release, there were already changes I wanted to make. It was a curious disembodying but not entirely unpleasant sensation.

The actors and non-actors were great. The play read fluently. Sometimes I could see the characters moving around and sometimes they jolted and got stuck. Some of it was funny. Some was frankly terrible but hearing it aloud helped me know what has to be fixed and how. Mostly it’s just too long, too many ideas, one of the actors kindly says it needs space – but we/I knew that.

Funny how, despite all the readings I’ve played midwife too as director, I’ve committed so many of the errors I help other people avoid.

The actors left us at lunchtime and the creative team carried on talking. Fuelled only by the ideas, we forgot lunch and ploughed until dehydration drove us from the unseasonally hot room. It was an extraordinary day I shan’t forget. All directors, actors, designers should find this feeling out for themselves  at some point. Even borrowing Mr Ibsen’s format, characters and ideas, I still feel very protective of my characters and want the world to be as interested in them as I am. I want to do those characters justice.

At one point I thought my brain might pop.

It took a long walk on the beach in Hayling to talk it all out with my designer-partner. I’m beginning to realise how much physical movement is part of my process both in the rehearsal room and outside. I used to have some of my best ideas at the Almeida Theatre on the walk up Upper St from Angel tube to the production offices. I often write copy or snippets of scenes on the tube or the bus. Looking at scenes in 3D on the floor with actors helps me see the innate animal choreography of all that we humans do. Currently my commute is erratic and irregular. I need to do some more walking to find this play. Thank you blogmeets you’ve helped me find an answer to a question.

I wonder if the alice-feeling will return next time we read together or if that’s a one-off.








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