I can say it now of course but I’m afraid my heart sank a little with talk of The Collective Project. Collaboration? Against the clock? I’ve worked collectively before, most notably with my friends at Crow Theatre, but over a period of months. They try things, play, go down blind alleys and take wrong turns maintaining a stress – and pretty much deadline – free environment. The exact opposite of what was being proposed. How on earth would it work? I did vocalise my concerns and was told, with a knowing that hinted The Pensives expected them from me, that all would be fine.
So to a first ‘kick start’ evening where team building games combined with more specific exercises which saw me – Mr Script – engage in improv and survive. The evening ended with a slightly guarded writers meeting where we ‘pitched’ our early thoughts. There was a spectrum between “blank sheet of paper” to “fully realised idea.” I was in the middle with an “opening image” in my head. But we left with our collective noun and title selected and awaited news of the director allocated for our first workshop.
I know Nick Myles well as a darned talented writer so a slightly odd experience having him in director mode, but what an excellent choice. We agreed I’d take nothing into the workshop but ten to twelve line character monologues. He would lead improvisations and magic would happen. I’ve never felt so unprepared for anything in my career. But foolishly I’d forgotten good actors don’t sit around waiting for writers to provide for them. Four hours of expert improv flew by. At the end, I had a cast of wonderful fully formed characters, but also a glorious hinterland of wives, husbands, jobs and mothers and a past of friendships, lost loves and missed opportunities. I had my play.
All I had to do, in a sleepless blur, was put it all into twelve minutes and, it turns out, a ridiculous structure. My play Bevy hung on the countdown to a photo being taken. I’d made it difficult for everyone. A repeated 5,4,3,2,1 countdown is, yes, a short cut to pace and tension, but it gives actors repetitive staccato dialogue to learn. They were very kind to me, but I’m sure they were cursing me under their breaths. If the actors had a reason to dislike me, so did director Cat Robey. It soon became clear the script was a puzzle. It required huge amounts of clear thinking, logic and will power to get on its feet. I had been, I fear, a tad ambitious, but genuine heroics were achieved in the last four hour rehearsal. (Four hours, I know crazy, right?) The more I think about it, the more impressed I am.
The run was a blur, but there was a definite arc. New things were found in all four plays over the week – subtleties played out and depths were found. Proof The Collective Project had created no mere sketches, but plays with relevance, meaning and heart. Imagine our pleasure, when a rather wonderful review from Everything Theatre said pretty much the same thing.
So I learnt something. Collaboration is not all about exploration. The model adopted by devising companies is great, but there is another way of working. You could call it the “Blind Panic School of Theatre” which is why it will probably never catch on. It’s all about trusting the people you work with and going for it. I’m proud of Bevy and the whole Collective Project. I hope everyone else involved is.
“Could not have done it without you” has never been more heartfelt.