Opening Night – The Seen Space

Tonight was the opening night of ‘The Photographer’, which I have directed as part of This Year It Will Be Different at Theatre 503.

The show runs until Saturday 7 January 2012, and you can buy your tickets on the Theatre503 website.

A couple of days ago I wrote a piece about the rehearsal room and the ‘unseen work’ that goes into creating theatre.

This is a subject that theatremakers can talk about for hours on end – or at least until last orders are called and we are finally thrown out of the bar. The ‘process’ is our bread and butter. Like any artist, we relish the chance to talk about our work, our approach and our theory. Like any craftsmen, we take every opportunity to draw back the curtain and reveal the method in our madness.

It strikes me, however, that we are less keen to talk about the ‘seen work’ – the performance itself, and the spaces that we share the work in. Perhaps this is because to all intents an purposes, this is less important to the theatremaker. After all, once the work takes to the stage our work is virtually complete. Bar the odd note, and a nudge in this or that direction, our involvement in the piece is minimal.

We are in the hands of the audience. The director’s control of the piece drops to zero. The ownership of the piece is handed to the performers. Part of their role is serve the text and the director’s vision, but above all else they must present their story with truthfulness and honesty.

At Theatre Delicatessen, we refer to the place where this happens as the ‘shared space’ between audience and performer. Our aim is to explore how we can manipulate the space to open up new depths of the text or expand the experience of the audience by immersing them in the world of the play. By breaking the boundaries between audience and performer we hope to understand (and exploit) this relationship.

The truth is, however, that all theatres capture this essence of shared space. It is in this chosen venue that we will present our work to the audience. This is the tantalizing, terrifying moment when all are welcome to observe, share and experience the performance. We hope that they will be moved, amused, engaged and, on occasion, enlightened. We fear they will be left cold, alienated or even bored by the experience. The only thing we can be sure of is that the work will be judged and criticised.

The performance space suddenly becomes very important. This is more than the practical considerations of whether, where, when and how the work is staged – although these are vital. What we are looking for is a space where we feel happy to share the work, where we can feel brave to take risks, where we know we will be supported even when we fail, where criticism will be considered and constructive. Most of us are in this for the long haul, and whether this particular work succeeds or fails, we want to be able to grow from the experience.

Once upon a time I was shortlisted as a director for the JMK award, which was then based at BAC. I never won, but through a little persistence was granted an audience with Tom Morris, then artistic director. Arranging the meeting over the phone, his PA explained to me that Tom either wrote ‘coffee’ or ‘beer’ next to his prospective diary dates. This would dictate when and where the meetings would take place.

I was a beer.

So, on the appointed evening I made my way to the old BAC bar. As I remember, Tom was delayed and I was introduced to Louise Blackwell, then producer at BAC. We sat in the old booth bar and as we talked about theatre and the incredible work that was being created there. I remember looking out of the window and watching the lights of the trains snaking their way through Clapham Junction and thinking, this is exactly where I want to be.

Every so often I am reminded of that feeling, and tonight at Theatre503 was one of those nights. Sometimes you just feel that artistically you are at home – albeit temporary. The enthusiasm is palpable and you can sense that everyone there, everyone involved just really wants to make it happen. That is the buzz, and it is fantastic to be a part of.

Jethro Skinner in The Photographer, Theatre 503 (c) Flavia Fraser-Cannon