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Place

You may not ever really see them all [the details], but you've got to feel that they're there, somehow, to feel that it's a real place, a real world.” - David Lynch

In a meeting this past month, I said I wanted to make work that is rooted in place. Performances that reflect a community. At the time it felt like a woolly statement, but I've thought a lot more about it.

On these long trains back and forth to work with my Connections companies (one in Rotherham, one in Bideford – these places are not near one another), I have been watching Twin Peaks for the very first time. One of the most immediately remarkable things is Twin Peaks' topography: there's the mill in the middle of town, the diner with the great cherry pie further and, if you cross the river, there's One Eyed Jacks. David Lynch says that, “Every story has its own world, and its own feel, and its own mood”, and he creates that very efficiently.

One Eyed Jacks in TWIN PEAKS

One Eyed Jacks in TWIN PEAKS

Two of my favourite TV shows of recent years – Joe Swanberg's Easy and David Simon's The Wire – are rooted in real cities (Chicago & Baltimore respectively). Easy captures Chicago's culture in its craft beer, its local art and the parallel stories that reflect the city's different neighbourhoods & communities. Joe Swanberg said “I didn't want the show to be locked into a worldview of what I think is good-looking. I wanted it to be much more all-encompassing, in terms of what Chicago actually looks like.”, and so there was a process of scouting & discovering the parts he didn't already know.

The title card for one episode of EASY by Chicago artist Don't Fret (who is also fictionalised in the episode as an artist who designs labels for an illegal home brewing operation)

The title card for one episode of EASY by Chicago artist Don't Fret (who is also fictionalised in the episode as an artist who designs labels for an illegal home brewing operation)

As is well-documented David Simon worked as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, and the practice of careful listening he developed in this profession is crucial to The Wire's aesthetic. Scriptwriter Dennis Lehane said “When you hear the really authentic street poetry in the dialogue, that’s David, or Ed Burns. Anything that’s literally 2006 or 2007 African-American ghetto dialogue—that’s them.”

One of my favourite scenes from THE WIRE

These last two examples helped me think about how we can create place in a theatre, as opposed to taking a camera out on to the streets. Part is in the writing, like with David Simon's listening, in which you can discover that every place has its own poetry. And part could be in collaboration with local artists – as a nomad director, I want to look to local art, local musicians, and consider how these influences can integrate with the performance.

And then we come, finally but crucially, to actors. I want to work with local actors and local participants, and encourage them to be themselves rather than imitate something else. I've currently sworn off using faux accents in shows (my main note from Sebastian Nübling after he saw punkplay was that he genuinely couldn't understand why the company were imitating Americans) and, working with an international ensemble for Cuckoo's Nest..., this bore fascinating results.

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Frank Castorf

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Frank Castorf

About Frank Castorf's work, Joachim Fiebach said “Castorf lets the actors speak and act largely as in 'normal life'. They show their own personality as individuals on the stage, often out of the role. As performers, they comment on what they play and / or on important sociopolitical and cultural topics, sometimes on themselves as performers.” I would suggest that a lot of performers feel that they have to, perhaps from training, aspire to an 'ideal' of an actor (which probably translates to middle-class RP). To me, I want actors to speak & move as they would outside the theatre – to bring the outside to the inside. They grapple a text on to their own terms, and the performance is the product of that wrestling match.

That's what I meant in the meeting.