On Tortoises | In Praise of Flexibility

(Re post of an old blog)

During some brief moment of reflection whilst sketching giant tortoises in the Galapagos, Charles Darwin scribbled down that it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives,  it is the one that is the most adaptable to change. Though not quite attempting the long hard slog from single cell amoeba to gruff homosapien, we have found that flexibility and an ability to battle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, has characterised our first year as a theatre company.

When we mention having spent a year making You must be the one to bury me, some gasp in a show of shock and semi-pity, imagining all our summer days and winter nights to have been spent sweating away in the studio. The truth is we spent six days in early 2013 in research and development around an idea. The idea excited us; we had created great material in our R&D, we had cultivated a great partnership with a venue who wanted to support our work and were offering us rehearsal space. A few days into rehearsals in the space, one member of our, already compact, company came down with an infection and biomechanical training was replaced with brain scans and whizzing round a hospital in regulation wheelchairs.

Once fighting fit we returned to the venue with the cheeky offer of using their annual sojourn to the Edinburgh festival to get ourselves a nice little August residency (this is a tip for theatre makers out there, if you can dare to avoid Edinburgh over summer, rehearsal rooms are yours for the taking!) A week before the residency began a serious bike accident once again meant more brain scans, less rehearsals. Rather than waste the residency, we capitalised on the multi-disciplinary nature of our company and I worked with Jo to create some material for Rea’s character, which she would learn later on in the process and go on to imbue with her unique, vibrating energy. Our luck continued as our first performance at The Place coincided with Boris Johnson playing toe-to-toe with the Transport Unions, so we faced the possibility that our 300 strong audience would be stuck somewhere down the Essex end of the Central Line (this proved to be some mild catastrophising on our part). This leads us to now; post Place performance, propelled by positive feedback and fresh ideas and arrested once more by medical circumstances.

Were we born under a blighted star? There have been moments over the year when I have thought so; when I felt that all that was in my control seemed to be slipping away into uncontrolled chaos. But the truth is this year has been utterly representative of human experience. It is a myth that hard work, focus and great planning can be relied upon. There will be curve balls sent our way and the lessons we have learnt this year have shown us how we might turn adversity to opportunity.

Unable to work physically in the rehearsal room, we have spent the last two weeks drawing detailed timelines and storyboards for the longer version of You must be the one to bury me and we are now starting to scribbled away at snippets of text to work on when we resume bouncing off the walls. The absolute necessity of this work has revealed itself over the two weeks. It’s essential for us to tell our story with all its shifts in time, perspective and imaginary worlds, in a way that is clear for the audience, but still requires them to put a bit of leg work in to make connections, draw together images and metaphorical strands in the piece. However, I know that if we had been able to rush into physical work these two weeks, we would have done so, and without the clarity that we have now.

So, if your appendix bursts just before opening night, your grant doesn’t clear before you need to buy materials, your arch enemy steals your Olivier award-winning idea, take a moment to consider Darwin and his tortoises, take a breath and adapt.