Devising work makes the job of a producer a bit different. Normally you can decide beforehand with the artists what they will need during the process; facilities, time, resources. With a devised piece of work because what you are going to make is largely undetermined, you need to be more fluid. This inherently makes the role of Producing more creative. If you can be proactive it presents opportunities; to suggest things that help create an infrastructure to inform experimentation and the work. Instead of creating a space for them to make something, you are creating a space for them to make anything. However, there is also a downside in that at times you are forced to have to be reactive which can be consuming.
For example, one day I found myself arriving at work to find that all the things I was going to do were going to have to be put on hold. We needed to scramble to find a rehearsal space for the end of the week to do ‘fan and fabric testing’, which also meant we had some fairly exact specifications to deliver to. Cue a morning of internet research and emails followed by lunch (need to refuel) and a flurry of phone calls. Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this endeavour, I had Dawn, the project’s Producer who is also better connected than a switchboard. So, when we had exhausted all our options, she called in a favour. We pulled it off.
Crazy as that day was, it led to one that was one of my favourite days at Tortoise in a Nutshell.
That Friday I enter the rehearsal room to a picturesque setting. The designer has laid out a dozen long swathes of white fabric in varying textures across the stark contrast of the black floor. Part of the experimentation of the day also involved blowing hanging fabrics with electric fans, so there were also long white lengths of fabric hanging down from the (lighting bars) obscuring the back wall so that upon entering you are greeted by a landscape of flowing fabric gently listing from the breathe of the room. It was like I had walked into a room decorated by Jean Claude and Christo.
We spent the day experimenting with a variety of fabrics, heights, fans and lights variety of effects. I say we, I was mainly there so the producing team could keep abreast of any developments so that we could anticipate any upcoming issues or opportunities and be proactive. Observation instead of participation. Cue conversations about oscillators, solenoids and kabuki drops with me subtly (hopefully!) googling things in the background to keep up with the conversation. There were several things that we first tried in that room that day that ultimately made it into the show. Even though my remit for the day was observation, being there at the conception of those ideas, feeling even a small part of that built for me a real sense of fulfilment from and investment in the work, which as a producer is a really important thing for me to be able to do my job well. This is something that only happened because experimentation was part of the process, part of the devised process.
At the end of the day, we were trying to decide which combination of fan, height and fabric offered the best artistic interpretation of a set of rushing waves. This led to a moment with four adults standing around a piece of fabric intensely watching it being blown by a fan. And something struck me, this is a moment that any random observer without context would have called ridiculous, and they would have been right, but not because it’s silly or inane, but because of how great is it. How great is it that this is our jobs, that through the lens of imagination and creativity these are the things we have to pay attention to, to intensely consider.
A day spent imagining, reflecting and technical problem solving, that’s devised theatre and Tortoise in a Nutshell, in a nutshell.