I’ve just spent an exhausting and hugely enjoyable six days working on TaniwhaThames with Shaky Isles, prior to our 3 work in progress showings at Camden Fringe and building toward our show at the Oval House Theatre in Nov/Dec.

This is what I learned this time :
– actors write great scenes when encouraged to write and given lovely exercises to help us all do so (thanks to Matilda Leyser for the Lynda Barry work she shared when we taught Improbable’s Making It Up workshop last month.)
– there’s a huge joy in having an opera singer in the room who only lets his voice out in support of others and helps everyone be more gorgeous
– making stuff up is very tiring and very thrilling
– the Taniwha is in all of us and sometimes it’s eating at us. That eating might feel like kisses. (Might be kisses.)
– 9 heads are better than one and I never want to have to be the kind of director who needs to pretend they know better than everyone else. (Except for when I do!)
– making work/devising work in Open Space is pretty much the sanest way of making work I know.
– even when we’re making it up as we go along, taking time to have a think about what we’ll do next, or what we’ll do tomorrow, is really useful.
– that the Oval is a very welcoming place to work.
– having spent some of this year saying, and meaning, that I’d be happy to support someone else directing this show, that I didn’t want to assume I’m directing if someone else feels more right for it – and then found that no-one came forward wanting to – I’m really happy to be directing it. This kind of group-made work feels ideal for my writing/impro/leading/directing skills, for bringing together everything I can do and making it available to people. This week also came at a very good time, having just taught Improbable’s Making It Up workshop with people who are friends, who I work with in Improbable, who have also been generous (as in both kind and piss-taking) mentors to me, I came armed with a whole bunch of brand new exercises and ideas to share. I do love being well-fed from others’ work and then bringing it to play in mine.
– sharing with friends, other writers, interested parties, making rehearsals open so anyone we meet might find themselves invited, brings us the best people to do the work now.
– being as open as possible is also hard work. And worth it.
– we love London and it makes us angry and happy and sad and delighted. That’s in the show too.
– if you work in Open Space and believe in ‘whenever it starts is the right time” no-one has to arrive upset, flustered, angry that the tube/train/puncture has made them late. They can they start work the minute they arrive, not having to waste another hour calming down and feeling ‘ready’ to get on.
– there will be water involved
– I might be in the show, somehow. This is scary to me, because I only occasionally perform these days (book readings are a type of show, but not quite the same). This is also exciting.
– when London is your home but you come from somewhere else (in the case of our cast at the moment, from NZ, from Barrow-in-Furness, from Suffolk, from Samoa, from America, from London in the 1960s, 1970s – certainly another country!), you can sometimes feel the pull and sometimes feel the push. The Thames feels it too, it is tidal and fresh, it flows both ways.
– perhaps because most of us come from other places that have more water, more coastline close to the city, we all love the Thames. It brings the sea to us.
– having the designer (and her 6 year old) and the lighting designer (and his ropes) and the marketing/publicity people in the room, working with us, whenever they can, makes a massive difference. It means we all know what the show is becoming, all the time, and no-one has to translate or extrapolate, we’re all part of it, and all of our ideas matter.
– it’s incredibly brilliant to have your friends who make music/soundscapes in the room, the whole time you’re working. What is even more wonderful about this is that I had assumed they were too busy/not necessarily up for it/not interested. And then I asked. And they said yes. Moral – always pays to ask.
– making a show is as much about dreaming it as getting up on our feet.
– we know we want some funny in it as well as heartfelt and esoteric and serious and real and imagined and magical. (And that all that other stuff – ‘hooky stuff’ as my Dad would have said – is much better when it comes of the prosaic and ordinary.)
– and conversely it’s sometimes about doing the same damn thing 5 or 10 or 15 times in a row to get it ‘right’.
– it’s great when the designers and marketing and production people do the writing games/impro exercises too. (12 heads are better than 9 …)
– showing your last-afternoon, very messy, stuff to the theatre’s marketing people is both brave and useful. Where they just look confused is useful, where they smile is useful, where they said they felt a shiver is hugely useful. And that they now know as much as we do about the show is brilliant.

So – it’s ALL wonderful then. Eek, can only go downhill from here …

This is very end-of-first week stuff. We are still far from knowing what our show is, we have three nights at Camden Fringe to show what we’ve got so far, and then a couple of occasional days making/talking/rehearsing, before coming back for two solid weeks to work again at the Oval, before we open on 15 November. I’m too tired to do anything more than smile at the great things we found. I know that in another week I’ll start getting scared again, the short making time, the trusting to fate we always have to do, even with scripted & traditionally made work. I’ll have sleepless nights thinking wouldn’t it just be easier if I simply wrote the thing. (And yes, it might, it might not be better though.) And we’ll have that awful bit, a few days before opening, where it feels there will never be enough time. There won’t. A two-month making period might feel like luxury, but I suspect, come tech and dress, I’d still feel like there’s never enough time.

We asked the show that is TaniwhaThames to show itself to us. There’s something coming out of the mist.