I now have 3 clear strands to my working life – my work with Carolina as theatre O, my freelance directing work and my work as a freelance co/associate/movement director (the title changes according to the project!).
There is a lot of interest at the moment in ‘movement directing’, and I’ve been asked a lot about what it means to be a movement director, what a movement director is, how you go about becoming one etc. etc.
I find it a very hard question to answer for many reasons – some of those are personal and some simply due to lack of knowledge on my part.
The lack of knowledge is because I haven’t done much of it and I haven’t had much contact with anyone else who has. This combines with the fact that I don’t see myself as a ‘movement director’. What I mean is, that however it is people are trying to define the role (part of our constant need to define/explain everything), does not sit well with how I perceive what I do.
First and foremost I’m a theatre maker – this goes back to my earliest experiences of making work which, as far as having a creative input, goes back to when I was 8 years old (devised mask piece set in an invented aquatic world!). Since then, everything that I’ve done has contributed to how I go about making work – from performing throughout school, to studying Theatre and English at University and, most importantly, my 2 years studying with Jacques Lecoq in Paris and the work I’ve made with theatre O since. I’ve been fortunate and foolish enough to devise, direct and perform in a lot of that work, and by doing that I’m always developing a way of exploring what theatre is to me, and how to involve others in that exploration. Thanks to that experience, and the particular approach that has emerged as a result, I now get asked by other directors to bring that approach to their own processes.
But that can be problematic; they are asking someone to be involved in their process who has a strong and evolving sense of the work they want to make themselves. It’s been a fascinating journey for me – how do you subjugate and repress your own instincts in order to serve someone else’s? How do you allow little bits of your own practice to come out, without wanting to take control of the whole thing? How do you silence yourself when you are astonished by decisions being made in someone else’s room? Clearly these are questions about the difficulty of the role, particularly if you are used to making your own work. Of course there are also amazing things about being in that position; to be able to exercise your creativity without having to take responsibility for the whole, to be able to have ideas without having to censor yourself because of your awareness of all the other constraints that are at play, to be able to have a relationship with the performers that is not coloured by the fact that you are the one who’s in charge!
But because of all those questions, the role of movement director can only be defined according to the individuals involved – what are the skills, energy and personality you bring to the room? How do they differ from the skills that the director has? What is it that the director is actually looking for? Can you support the difference between your own practice and that of the director? How do you feel about switching your voice on or off depending on the needs of the project? And yet, from my personal experience, I find the work I do with other directors is very useful to me as a theatre maker/director in my own right. If I enter into a collaboration with someone who doesn’t also feed me, then there doesn’t seem much point in continuing the relationship. It can’t be just about the money!
I find it very important to be clear with new collaborators about all the things that I’m not. I’m not a choreographer, I’m not a fight director, I have no ‘movement language’ that I can apply to the work. I do have a wealth of experience in making work, in finding physical and visual expression for telling stories, for exploring character, I work with text, structure narrative and understand the dynamics of stories, relationships and emotions. In the best case I can bring all those things to the room because the director allows it, in the least inspiring case I can show someone how to carry a suitcase…
The best collaborations are the ones that you’re involved in from an early point, where you are able to exercise all those creative muscles from the beginning and where your way of looking at the world has a place in the vision of the whole. Sometimes there is no real vision and sometimes there’s so much that it’s hard to find your way in – part of your job is to see the gaps and fill them, sometimes it’s to be between the performers and the director, to be the fall guy, or the good guy, sometimes it’s to quietly help a performer find a particular moment that they’re struggling with. When I was typing earlier I wrote ‘moment director’ by mistake – maybe there’s something in that – as a movement director I direct ‘moments’ in other peoples projects – sometimes there are lots of those moments, sometimes very few, sometimes too many and sometimes not enough!
But that’s just me – as a director I wouldn’t use a movement director in theatre O, but I would use a choreographer – but interestingly I wouldn’t use a ‘text director’ either! So why this need to separate the two things? I think it says an awful lot about theatre training in this country – the fact that there are even courses for movement directors shows a cementing of the idea that the two things are seen as exclusive. Which of course they’re not.
So, from the point of view of someone whose priority is making and directing their own work, I find my experiences as a ‘movement Director’ to be incredibly valuable – it strikes me as a shame that once people start directing in their own right, they very rarely put themselves in a position of experiencing someone else’s process again – it’s such an amazing way of testing out your own ideas against someone else’s and, hopefully, keeping your own process fresh and alive. Maybe it does happen more often than I think, but only once have I met an established director who did an assisting job again in order to refresh her own way of thinking. I find that deeply impressive. For my part I feel lucky to have that opportunity as well, but the balancing act is to make sure it doesn’t overtake the most important strand, which is the making of original and personal work with theatre O.