This is the first in what may be a series (or a few, or two!) blogs about making a new show. Today was our third day making together. It was great.

Today I went to work on TaniwhaThames* with no plan. I was, as ever, nervous about having no plan, have had a few sleepless nights about having booked in a show for which we have no script and only 3 weeks rehearsal time to fully make and execute a group-devised, group-created, piece (of theatrical loveliness!).

In one day, our third day’s work (spread over five months), we have emerged with two new co-makers, two potential songs, the beginning of a dance, delicious design ideas, a variety of show openings, a clarifying theme, and two solid pieces of physical work we will bring into the whole piece. We also looked at bringing together scenes scripted by four different people, not working together, but working to an idea. All of us working together – in the room if we’re available, elsewhere if not (one of us is sending material and ideas from NZ) – working in Open Space.

I have worked in many ways over the years, with authoritarian theatre directors who think they know everything, and with ones who think they know nothing, and many in between. I have worked with people who get every idea they possess from the company and then claim auteurship on the opening night. I have worked with people who deny their own brilliance and say it was all down to everyone else. Open Space doesn’t let us do that, it only exists because we come together and agree to be there. And there can be a real fear in working in Open Space – the real fear of having to let go, of having to honestly not aim for an outcome. (Actually, I do have the hope of a good show as an outcome!, but in the process, on the day, working in OS, we never know what we want to achieve by the end of a day’s work, and yet it gets done … it always gets done, what needs to be done is done.)

So I’m putting this in a blog to remind me, next week, or next month, when I’m worried about the show and I get scared that it won’t all come together, and frightened that perhaps in order to make it work I need to lead more (I don’t want to lead very much at all, I’m working with brilliant people, at what point could I ever assume I know more than all of them put together?!), that I can trust that the process works, and we work, and all I need to do to ‘lead’, if I need to lead at all, is to be present. All I’ll need to do to ‘lead’ when we get into the theatre is be present for those needs, they’ll be different needs than the one in the rehearsal room. My only job is to be there, which means readying the space, getting my bits and pieces ready the day before, bringing the tea and coffee and the biscuits, boiling the kettle, and letting it be. (Bringing Play Doh and coloured pens and flip-chart paper helps too.)
Note to self – just be there.
Other note to self – it’s fine to be nervous. Making work is scary as well as exciting.

*The theatre piece I’m making with Shaky Isles for the Oval House Theatre in Nov/Dec this year – and for a work-in-progress showing for the Camden Fringe in August.
Here’s a piece I’ve written that explains the show – a bit! It’s evolving, we’re calling it up, calling it into our work, calling ourselves and our own Taniwha into the show, as well as the one that really is in the Thames. Oh yes.

The Taniwha lives in the Thames. It comes from New Zealand/Aotearoa, from the water, of the water. It is interested and mischievous and also autonomous. It does not need us, but it likes our attention, feeds on our interest.

Maybe the Taniwha followed one of Captain Cook’s ships back to England, maybe it came with the spirits of those shrunken heads they stole and put in the British Museum, somehow it slipped back into the water. It stays in the water, it is of the water, though it might shape-shift a little too. The Thames dockland walls may have blocked it in, the Thames Barrier certainly has. It swims the culverted Effra, Fleet, Peck, Neckinger, Wandle rivers, the rivers of London hidden and exposed. It swims over and under, and sometimes through the tube lines, especially the closed, secret tunnels.

It is a ‘sea monster’ and a shape shifter, and it knows the many others of its kind; Nessie, the Queen Rat of the Thames, the Selkies of the Orkneys.

It is the pull that keeps you in London when you think another land is your home, and makes you hungry for London when you’re away. It swims the Thames calling you back to the centre, the richness, dirtiness, full life of this excessive city that drives you crazy and yet you can’t get enough.

You know that feeling, when you’re crossing Hungerford bridge and you think how easy it would be just to jump in? That’s the Taniwha.
You know how it is, when you stand on Waterloo Bridge and watch a fat summer moon rise in the east and your heart aches both for the beauty of the city and a yearning for home, that other home, your first home? That’s the Taniwha.

You know how you will never again feel fully at home in one place or the other? The place you grew up or the place you now live? That nostalgia and yearning for a place that is gone because it was linked to a time that is also gone? That’s TaniwhaThames.

It’s here and now and there and then at the same time. It’s the hidden places brought into the light and shying away from exposure, yet feeding on our attention too. It’s secrets and winks and little looks and sly glances. It’s a feeling in the dark places, quiet corridors, long alleyways, knowing that someone, something is just … over … there. You think you’ve seen it, from the corner of your eye, and then it’s gone.
But it’s watching you still. And its intentions are not always good.

A show made by us, from our interests, based on the TaniwhaThames ideas. Created in Open Space, using our own strengths and those of anyone else we want to play with, made of our devising, writing, sharing, gathering, pooling work. Designed while it’s being made, making while it’s being designed, light and colour and shape and texture being as integral as words and form.

A show about home/not-home, belonging/not-belonging, land and the water that runs between, beneath, around.
A show that is physical, musical, lyrical, magical and narrative.
A show that looks great AND has a story (maybe more than one).

A Shaky Isles production, from the very first splash.