Laura Attridge joined us for The Collective Project. New to working with us we did our best to prepare her for life with The Pensive Federation. She explains how she got on!
100% new to The Pensive Federation, I couldn’t quite believe my luck when I snapped up a final spot on the list of directors for the 2014 Collective Project. Sworn to secrecy about my participation, in order to facilitate genuine surprise at the first gathering and prevent artistic preconceptions, I had already been impressed by the few insights I had gained into the company and the projects. What stood out for me in particular was not only the desire to make new and exciting work, but also the attention and care paid by the core team to fully support all of the artists, practically and creatively, to facilitate the very best work from everyone involved.
So it was with excitement and not a few nerves that I walked into the first meeting, the grandly (and accurately) titled ‘Inspiration Session’. Over the course of the evening, writers, directors and actors – some friends, some strangers – played games, improvised, bonded, got very silly and very serious, and generally got familiar with one another. The exercises were designed to enable everyone involved to get a sense for their colleagues as artists and to see the potential for the creative work to come. At the end of the evening, the two collectives were announced, and I found myself a female minority in the ‘Male Bias’ group, paired with the writer Sherhan Lingham, who went on to choose the collective noun we would be focusing on: Faculty.
In the space of a day, Sherhan somehow provided me with a fantastic, fully-realised script, which provided a great basis for me to discover what in particular he was interested in dramatically: rather than read or workshop the script itself, I tried to break it down into its themes and components, using the actors to explore each of these individually. That weekend we spent four blissful hours playing, workshopping, sharing experiences, talking, challenging one another, and exploring the shifting of human power, with a particular focus on a classroom scenario. Some particularly cruel anecdotes about tricks played on teachers came into play – of course, we had to re-enact all of these!
After reading a wonderful new draft of Sherhan’s script, enriched in so many ways by the work we’d done over the weekend, I arrived at the script read-through to be told that he had, on the advice of the artistic team, ‘made a few changes’. And he had indeed: a significant and crucial change, made within 48 hours of sending his draft to the team, had revolutionised the script and brought everything together into a fine final project. That evening, the casts read through all eight of the new scripts, each wonderfully diverse and individual, and I got my hands on the play I would be directing: Dan Nixon’s ‘Bouquet’, a subtle and witty story based in a family florist shop with a shady secret.
My six actors and I were reunited at the weekend to rehearse ‘Bouquet’. The group had clearly bonded well, using one another’s energies and making instinctive choices on stage, making my job a lot easier. It was incredibly valuable to have Dan at the rehearsal to observe and advise as we brought his script to life. We haggled over the musical track to be used at the end of the piece, and I found a brilliant operatic aria about a poisoned bunch of flowers which perfectly suggested the subtle violence and power underscoring the piece. Four hours was all too short, and I had to trust my wonderful actors to go away, learn their lines and remember all of the things I’d tried to cram into our session.
I saw the show on the second night, and was absolutely blown away. The trust I’d had in the actors had been entirely justified, and they all excelled. It was particularly special to see my own direct input in two of the pieces (‘Faculty’ directed brilliantly by Artistic Director Neil J. Byden), and to witness the results of the hard work everyone had put in. It was evident from all of the performances – from my collective and the ‘Female Bias’ collective – that a great deal of fun had been had, partnerships and friendships had been made, opinions and ideas had been challenged, and exceptional, collaborative art had been made.
Photo of Laura by Serena Haywood
Cast photo by Dave Curtis