March/April 2018 – NCF & Fresh Milk Emerging Directors Residency Programme
Levi’s Artist Statement:
I firmly believe in the power of a good story to capture an audience and provide much needed catharsis. The work I most connect with is work that asks an audience to reflect on how any situation could affect any of us. It asks the questions, what if this was me, how close to home is this, what would I have done differently, what can be done about it. I believe that the onus of societal change is on society, and whatever problems individuals face that they can do something about, they can find the power to do it.
As a director and theatre artist, I operate on the firm belief that we have the same capabilities here to tell our stories as anywhere in the world. Using the magic of theatre, and collaborating with a team that is on board with the vision you have is integral and fantastic. Making full use of these opportunities and telling our stories to appreciative audiences, makes the whole process worth it.
In the field of directing, my non-professional work has explored themes such as abuse, childhood prostitution, student and teacher sexual relationships, gender and re-examining societal norms and taboos. One overall aim I have as a director is to examine Barbadian and human culture from the interpersonal perspective. To explore issues that relate to the everyday person, while exploring ways to challenge our current perception and handling of these issues. One very important message in the work I do is the re-enforcement of the idea that Barbadian stories are just as important as any other and can be told on the same level of production value as stories from any other culture or market.
The importance of open-mindedness in the process of directing
So, I began this residency last week, and to be honest I was anxious, never mind the constantly cool exterior. I know what piece I want to explore, I know the areas I wanted to improve (or thought I did), I knew to some extent the approach I wanted to take. I knew all this, but I still felt woefully unprepared, and it scared me. Then in my research process (reading some of the many books at Fresh Milk), I came across a statement in the book Scriptwork: A director’s approach to new play development about open-mindedness. In that moment one thing became clear. I was, up to that point, not being as open-minded as I needed to be. It made me immediately relax.
I know that a director has to have a solid plan, and know every detail of the work they are about to do. I completely overlooked the part of the work that also requires a director to be open-minded. Open-minded to the possibilities that the work can open up to you. Open-minded to ideas different than yours on a project that may actually work better than your own (but not so open-minded that other people end up directing your work lol). Open-minded to the process and all the dimensions and directions it can open up. The stage is a blank canvas, the script is the paint, the set, the technical, and performers are the brushes. Together, they can form a masterpiece.
In my realisation that I needed to be more open-minded, I abandoned the fear of my own failure for lack of being adequately prepared. I abandoned my fear of not being good enough to produce something of quality. I abandoned my feeling of needing to have every single aspect of this residency under complete control and began to refocus. I am now more open to the process that is learning through mentorship, when I didn’t realise I was closed off before. Though I still have much to learn, now I am more prepared to be open to learn it effectively. I look forward to the mentorship with Sonia Williams.
Here’s to week one, where by confining myself to a desk in a room, restricting my actions to reading for research purposes, I was reminded to be more open in my approach to the residency and to directing as a process. On to week two.
So when taking on something as important to your development as a first residency, it is easy to overlook some things. Having spent some hours this week speaking to my mentor Sonia Williams, I came to a conclusion. I was so focused on details, that I was not giving the right focus to the whole project. In the conversation, my mind started to go where it usually does; following the trail the words are creating til it comes across something seemingly unrelated, but which pieced together well in my head. It went a little like this:
Mentor: *asks a basic question expecting a simple answer*
Me, an intellectual: *responds with long winded thing that is barely part of the answer*
Mentor: *asks same question again*
Me, clearly not intellectual enough: *dials it back and sees the actual question being asked, tries to answer that*
Then we move on.
This process basically took my ears and wrung them, dug into the file-o-fax in my brain and produced a saying I saw or heard somewhere a time ago: K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple Stupid. I was missing the forest for trying to look at each tree, I was missing the whole painting for looking at each brush stroke. I wasn’t on the wrong path entirely, but I was making it harder for myself than I needed to, because I wasn’t asking myself the basic questions I should have been.
I wasn’t keeping it simple. By keeping it simple I don’t mean abandoning any intricate details of what I envisioned. I simply mean that I was leaving out some fundamental basic things that would strengthen the work I was doing. I had to revise my approach to these fundamental aspects of how I was working and keep it simple. In this case, keeping it simple meant, for me, not to overlook the fundamentals.
My lesson this week was about these fundamentals, even though the conversation was about Grotowski, Brecht, Boal, Stanislavski, working with actors, and going through the script. Damon Wayans said in a performance (and I’m paraphrasing from the show My Wife and Kids), “Don’t forget the fun-da-mentals, because that’s what makes da mentals fun.” So lemme go forward and do de rest uh dis werk. Til next time ppls
Third week curses
So, I heard one time that productions are sometimes plagued in the third week (that is, productions with a four week rehearsal time). This means that in the third week it looks like things are about to fall apart, much like the mid-point of a screenplay.
Will they be able to do it? Can they overcome the obstacle?
Well this third week was challenging. On good advice from my mentor, I had to recast a part in the production. Finding someone was a challenge, but I finally was able to get someone to agree to be part of the production, which comes with its own challenges. How will I fit all these schedules into a workable rehearsal schedule. I have no idea. Then I start to worry about whether I’ll be able to get the actors to work well together, will I be able to get them to the places the material will take them to and bring them back? Questions, questions, questions, problems, problems, problems.
I hadn’t spent much time at Fresh Milk due to other challenges, but also because I only have so many hours and can’t spend all of them just reading.
So I have my actors, I am confident in their abilities, I am hopeful about mine, I still have challenges with scheduling (to be honest this is one of my weaker points that I need to work on, I am good at organising myself and my vision, but need help with production management and stage management).
Will he be able to rise to the challenge?
Challenge… accepted? If there is one thing this residency has made me confront, it is some of my weaknesses, and I know one residency isn’t what I need to fix every issue I have as an aspiring director. It also has made me realise two important things, this third week slump:
- I began to focus on all the problems I was having and went from a state of merely whelmed, to slightly overwhelmed.
- I forgot one of the most basic pieces of advice I give to everyone else in my life. Focus more on solutions (not politically affiliated), especially in the middle of the problems.
I had to remember to be solution minded. Couldn’t get the situation to go mostly how I wanted it, so why not just roll with the tides and be glad for the fact that there is momentum until I can figure out how to make that momentum faster (Shout out to Luci for working through a slight issue I had today, shout out to Rosette on that convo this morning for giving me that strong reminder).
So I’m still in the process of figuring it out, granted this is what it’s all about. It’s taking it to questions, questions, questions, solutions, solutions, solutions.
Still anxiety though.
Till next time folks.
Tune in next week for…
Big man, who is you and why you all up in my blog?!
Third week blessings.
Weaknesses, Challenges & Adaptability
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin
I had plans. Like, nuff nuff plans (nuff means a lot, to whomever may be reading this blog but is unaware of the particulars of Bajan syntax). I had plans for how I was going to approach this residency. I had plans for how I was going to arrange the time, and even gave some thought to how I was going to handle any contingencies… I was still not fully prepared. One thing that makes a difference in any situation, is one’s ability to adapt to challenges.
In light of the plans I had for myself and this residency, circumstances had different plans for me. As is usual with anything requiring more than one person, where one or more of the people already have daily commitments, scheduling was hard. Admittedly, this is one weakness I have; I can organise my own time, but not other people’s. Still, I had to make it work. I had to recast an actor two weeks before we were supposed to show. Another had a situation with work that made their participation seem unlikely at the time if I wasn’t able to work out a different date. At the time that occurred, I was already too close to the date to recast as the character played by this actor is central. I had just one rehearsal, and halfway through my mentor arrived and gave me copious amounts of notes and things to think about and change. Needless to say, anxiety grabbed me from behind and put me in a full nelson hold *arms flail helplessly*. There were other challenges as well, but we don’t have enough time this episode to cover them all.
“In the face of challenges, you are met first by your weaknesses.”- Levi King
So I saw just my weaknesses, focusing on planning in the wrong areas, needing a different approach to my rehearsal process ( I was doing what I knew instead of challenging myself to really experiment because I was afraid of not having enough time). I froze for a bit when the challenges with time and recasting came. I actually thought for a minute that I may have had to cancel the showing because it would not have been ready. I had, for a few days, a crippling fear of failing. I felt overwhelmed a bit by the challenges, but challenges come with every endeavour in life (life, we gotta talk bout this, can it not be easy sometimes? Everything does gotta find a point to stress ya out at?). Many of my concerns were handled after meeting with Katherine Kennedy (Fresh Milk) and Janelle Mitchell (NCF) and discussing the challenges that I had. We came to arrangements.
Most crises averted, I still have work to do though.
“In the face of challenges, you are next met by opportunity.”- Levi King
Fortunately for me, I was able to call on people I know to assist (that’s all I did for the whole process lol). With the actor that had to leave the project, I was able to call on another actor I know to come fill in the position. My mentor Sonia has this way of working, where she makes you confront yourself and overcome the issue facing you in an encouraging atmosphere. This was instrumental, since all she had to do was mention what she was concerned about, for me to look at it differently. My S/O, Luci, also a professional theatre practitioner, was able to offer invaluable observations when she was at the first rehearsal.
I had to look at each challenge as an opportunity. The recasting, an opportunity for new collaboration. The rescheduling of performance, an opportunity to explore handling challenges with corporate bodies. The scheduling issues with actors, an opportunity to collaborate with the cast in solving the problems we were facing together, instead of dealing with it alone. Lil depression, an opportunity to instill some of the discipline required to succeed in life.
With each opportunity, you strengthen your adaptability. In theatre, as much as the responsibility for how the show works is on the director, it is still a team effort. As much as the director has to adapt, so do cast and crew (and they really did cause my next rehearsal was hype). The NCF and Fresh Milk adapted to the challenges and worked with the team to make everything easier. It feels like the team and I may yet make it through. So I look to the next week, which is my last in the residency, with determination. I have shaken off most of the feeling of being overwhelmed, but I am still keeping some because you know what people say about growth happening when you’re uncomfortable. I remain grateful for the challenges, because they make me stronger. In a world of corn flakes, I am still learning to be porridge when I feel like warmed over tap water.
“Mi will move mountains with less than faith
Mi nuh frighten fi food, make the restaurant wait
Porridge badder than cornflakes…”- Hold It, Vybz Kartel
Trust the process
To be honest, I struggled to write this blog. Not because it is the final blog for the residency process and I’m overwhelmed with emotions and separation anxiety and stuff (cause I’m not, I’ll miss it and the wonderful people who took this journey with me, but I’m not). Nah, I struggled because I knew what I wanted to express but I didn’t know what to say.
I wanted to speak about how my process of learning began even before I set foot in the Fresh Milk residency space. How I had to learn a way to write a proposal, just to apply (I really needed to spend time with making proposals). Fortunately the proposal was accepted and I was chosen.
I wanted to speak about how choosing the work was a difficult choice, then I chose a piece that brought with it its own learning curve. I chose a piece that I felt I was able to use the space most creatively with. I chose a piece that had a story and themes I felt we need to explore in Caribbean media (childhood prostitution, poverty and cycles of abuse). I chose a piece with heavy subject matter. I had to do some cutting and editing which took more time than I anticipated.
I wanted to speak about the books I read which really gave me an insight into some techniques and styles which relate to directing and some acting.
I wanted to speak about how I chose most of the cast before I even applied (they don’t know that though, I chose them before I even asked). I was fortunate they said yes.
I wanted to speak about how I had trouble setting a rehearsal schedule because even though I knew the actors were right for the process, all our times constantly clashed. I had cast one man and three women. One man was unable to continue after the first rehearsal. I had to wait a week to recast. I recast. He played the part great.
I wanted to speak about how I spoke with my mentor. and from the beginning, she was upfront about her concerns and her support. Sonia Williams was fully supportive and fully honest throughout the process. Sometimes even just a simple suggestion, question or non-verbal expression was all I needed to know that I may have other choices to pick from that may be better.
I wanted to speak about how my rehearsal process kept evolving with each rehearsal and each conversation with Sonia.
I wanted to say that I was at times unsure I was making the right choices. That I had fluctuating confidence in my ability to deliver what I wanted to deliver. Not because I wasn’t able, but because I faced several personal challenges during the residency.
That there were challenges that arose at points, not my personal challenges this time, that in my mind threatened to halt the process.
That Janelle Mitchell was great at navigating those challenges with me.
That Katherine Kennedy was also great at navigating those challenges with me.
That actors Kim Weekes, Dy Browne, Melissa Hunte and Asha Elcock and my mentor Sonia were all great at navigating those challenges with me.
That at one point, I felt it may have been best to stop because I was becoming too stressed about what I thought was my inability to finish in the face of the challenges (yes, me, stressed).
That I learned so much more than just how to cut a script and find the story, how to work with actors with this kind of material and how to handle production meetings.
That I was grateful every day i was able to work on this.
That the feedback given was invaluable and deeply appreciated.
That I can be a little more forward in my approach as opposed to laid back, and I still need to work on how I communicate my vision to people who aren’t myself and actors.
That I was glad everything worked out in the end.
I struggled because there is lots I could talk about. There was so much that went through my mind during this process. The biggest lessons I learned weren’t academic, they were personal and professional. The reaffirmation of my love for directing was priceless to me. Being able to learn from a director that I respect and whose work I admire, was great. Even though I had struggles throughout, I was happy.
The biggest lesson I learned, or re-learned was simple…Trust the process.
Till next time
Your friendly neighbourhood rastaman.
This project is a collaborative initiative, funded by the NCF Barbados