"Wednesday was a day of contrasting approaches to process. Our discussion with director Bijan Sheibani recalled some ideas from last week and the session with Paines Plough Artistic Director, George Perrin. Both George and Bijan have approaches that were fairly different from the actor-focused play that we were doing with Kristine. The discussion raised many questions for me. What protocol allows a writer, director, actors, designers and many more to work together? Is it about total collaboration? Or is it always a question of hierarchy? What is the difference between a leader and an authority?
I know how I feel ideologically (and artistically) about these things – ever mistrustful of the idea that some pre-ordained hierarchy exists, sceptical of any sovereign authority – but I know that even with the best laid plans, theatrical ‘collaboration’ can fall flat. Bijan succinctly put it down to one thing – chemistry. I realised that the protocols, however convoluted or prescriptive, are the director’s way of letting chemistry do its thing. We might have completely different foundations or processes, but we do need a foundation: something on which to build a common language, and let theatre happen all by itself.
It’s like football: the rules are not the game, but the necessary limits which allow the game to be played. And it’s not just about the director and her or his foundations; it’s about the tastes and preferences of the actors. When Kristine and Bijan discussed auditions and casting, this issue of actor-director chemistry came to the fore: after all, you want to play and be creative with people who are eager and willing to play with you. An audition is the place to find that out – from both the actor and the director’s side. Do we get on? And do you like my protocols (which are, after all, part of my personality, my way of seeing)?
After this afternoon’s work, I saw quite quickly how chemistry and protocols needs each other. At lunch, on pure gut instinct, I suggested that Jen and I co-direct a short play that she had brought in. We both wanted to work with the same actors, we both got on, she showed me the piece, I loved it – and it made sense to do it together. The actors, Haseeb and Umar, were a bit apprehensive at first – too many cooks can spoil the broth (!) – but Jen and I laid strong foundations to explore the piece, and didn’t just rely on our chemistry or enthusiasm. We planned our afternoon rehearsal, detailing each improvisation and placing them in a logical order. I insisted that we define our working relationship before we started. Jen was the lead director who would guide the actors; I was like a dramaturg/support, who would lead a few improvisations and add detail. Because we had this protocol – and this good relationship between the two of us and (I feel!) between the actors, the rest of the rehearsal felt like we were flying. With the foundations in place, we could push ourselves, the actors and the piece into new places.
And the experience of this afternoon has clarified some of the debates of the morning. It’s not that being a director means you are claiming the rights or supreme knowledge of a text or an idea. Rather, like Gilles Deleuze writes in the introduction to Difference and Repetition, a director, like a teacher, says ‘come with me; do with me’ not ‘do as me’. She encourages play and participation, not imitation. It is about being sensitive and responsive to the here and now, to the elements in front of you, not the imaginary or desired visions in your head. It is together that we make things; a director is just that person who lays out the first parameters – so that the company can go beyond them."