Reflections on Nurturing a Garden in the Arts

As days progress and swallows fly, I draw nearer to what seems to be (for now) my last performance of Rain Pours Like Coffee Drops. This project has been my gateway and first raindrop into the professional world of theatremaking following graduating in 2021, a year of vast uncertainty. And yet here we are in 2023; still with a sense of limbo; still facing days where hope feels sparse; still in a world where purpose clouds over. But, to take a birds eye view, I can certainly say that the support of collaborators has helped me navigate wins and losses, understanding more about the key questions of how we make. This is what I hope to share.

Rain Pours explores burnout and feelings of facelessness in work. This is born from personal experience, observation and the imagination of another version of myself, dressed in a suit, running continually in mirrored glass and going nowhere. He looks tired, he looks alone. So, alongside making this show, I wanted to learn more about uplifting practice. A quick note in that this was not a linear journey but was born from not knowing, conflict and failures as well as nourishing conversations and smiles. I hope now, that I can curate space that connects more and listens more to individual needs. I am still learning. Here are fragments of thoughts, flowing from brain to keys:

Boundaries build the trust necessary for freedom.

What has become apparent is the need to set boundaries and align intentions before a project begins with core collaborators and… be paid for this time! Through boundaries we get a deeper understanding into how each other work and it can let us communicate more openly. In one instance, I did not communicate my boundaries which meant that my actions were interpreted differently to how I may have intended them. This created a noticeable gap between myself and a collaborator, a moment I still deeply regret. Honesty and openness early on in the process builds trust, which is vital to successful collaboration where you can understand each other.

The director can often fall into solitude.

As I research deeper into loneliness for my next project, I have found deep resonance between social isolation and the work of the director. I spend around 80% of my working time alone. Before entering a space, it is likely to have been preceded by about 6-9 months of research, making it difficult to enter with a blank canvas. Again, communicate this. Let people know what the journey of the piece has been so far and share your enthusiasm for their contribution in this next phase. Each voice matters in this orchestration. If possible, find space along the way to talk about creative ideas. This can feel scary as our creative ideas can often be very vulnerable. We can feel ideas are not quite ready to form. But please, keep connected. Set your boundaries for your personal space but also ensure that you are truly sharing space and connecting, even if it is as simple as making someone a cup of tea and asking how they are and listening (actually listening).

The Artistic Whole.

I am still trying to understand what leadership means. How can leadership exist outside of a traditional hierarchy? The most useful analogy I have come to recently was considering directing as being a football captain instead of a manager. The captain has certain responsibilities to ensure the team stay aligned and together. They may encourage certain plays or give critical feedback. But importantly, they are on the pitch too. They are adapting to the offers of their teammates. Passing as well as being passed to. So, an idea of being on the pitch with as opposed to a distanced entity. This reflects on the idea of the whole. The actor, dancer or performer is not a material to be manipulated. This perspective is objectifying and degrading and should be abolished. Awareness of partnership is key. Again, I am still trying to figure this out. In Rain Pours I had a poor experience where I was directing in a way that felt completely detached from myself. I was putting on a mask of what I thought a director was instead of being my authentic self. I had a image I was dedicated towards and wanted to manifest it, becoming frustrated when it did not work. Bruce Lee’s “be water, my friend” feels like an appropriate quote for such points. Be open, generous, offering as well as receiving. Reading Dare to Lead by Brene Brown for more on this.

Creation should never be destruction.

There is a degree of stress appropriate in creative periods I believe. In sport science, they call this Eustress. This is when we are exposed to something challenging that leads to a growth and deeper understanding. For example, self-producing a show is a form of stress and by doing this with support from mentors, it becomes a growing experience. Distress on the other hand is exposing to stress that does not bring any growth. It is negative. This could be hateful arguments, overworking or rigidity in vision (this links to the earlier point about wholeness). In these moments, re-evaluation is necessary. Is there a possible path for us to continue working together? Is the most appropriate thing to stop? What can we change? What can we build that resonates with both of our interests? Where can we prioritise restoration, reflection and rest? Is there a joy here? A joy is not necessarily fun, but a pleasure in doing. A state in which you are resonant with purpose.

Consider the Motion of Creation.

As you may have clocked, a lot of what I am saying intertwines. The motion of creation regards how theatre is rarely a fixed object, unless it is a rather unsettling commercial theatre that is about exactness. Perhaps there is a space for this theatre. I am more concerned with the experimental, the live, the responsive theatre. In these creations, it is important to explore the potential for change. What are the core concepts? With Rain Pours I have performed it in English, Welsh, with subtitles, in traverse, end on and will be performing it soon in a dance studio in the semi-round at The Dance House in Cardiff. The core concepts of stillness, weather and reflection interweave these. There is a certain flexibility as we learn more in the process. Perhaps if I was with the show longer it would find a more consistent rhythm but I doubt it. Because the rhythm of venue, of self and of society is constantly shifting.

Moreover, in creation, the director has a responsibility to make decisions as well as receive feedback and be disagreed with. The balance of this is important. If you have a vision, it can be difficult is someone completely shifts it. It can often feel like a personal attack. However, in these moments it is often useful to engage in a conversation and find a mutual ground. Perhaps dig deeper into justification and consider if the recommendations can align with your own vision. It is certainly difficult, but I think these are important conversations to have. If we are scared to not stick up for what we believe in, we cannot create work that speaks to us. However, if we are too possessive of our perfect image, we cannot create work that speaks to others. Art often requires a harmony between self and other as it is an exchange, a sharing of space.

A few seeds. Again, these were written without any proofreading, as a stream of thoughts. I hope they give an insight into the continual journey I myself am on and I hope the words offer something to someone else one day when they stumble on this article. For now, I will keep gardening with the hopes of finding a practice that uplifts myself, others, the planet and audiences.

Keep dreaming,


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