BEING AN EMERGING DIRECTOR FOR ON BEAR RIDGE
Izzy Rabey, Emerging Director on ‘On Bear Ridge’, and recipient of The Carne Trust Emerging Directors Bursary.
I’m still a little self-conscious about describing myself as an ‘Emerging Director’ – it makes me feel a little like a tiny, screaming diplodocus hatching from an egg. Perhaps that says a lot about my own self-perception, but I am getting better at using it as a term, I promise.
Having worked on the fringe theatre scene in Wales for the last seven years making and self-producing my own work with my theatre company Run Amok and as an Applied Drama Practitioner and musician, On Bear Ridge was the first main house, full-production, directing job I’d aquired in my career. I dedicated my third year of university to directing the work of Ed Thomas, staging House of America in a crumbling house on the university campus, where we could only have seven audience members at any one time. Not the most commerically or economically viable of concepts I know, but I had a blast making it and having other Welsh students contribute fresh welshcakes for each performance (as an initiative to keep the audience in there: it was December and there was no heating!). This ignited my love for Ed Thomas’ writing; I loved how anarchically absurdist it was, and his play ‘Flowers of the Dead Red Sea’ was the first proper funded tour my theatre company did in 2014. My obsession with Sarah Kane, debbie tucker green and other playwrights from the Royal Court gave me a deep love of text-based theatre very early on in my career.
So when I saw the job opportunity come up for Emerging Director for On Bear Ridge, a collaboration between NTW and The Royal Court, co-directed by Vicky Featherstone (Artistic Director of The Royal Court) and Ed Thomas, the sheer perfection of it made me apply with an arms-length, objective-as-hell emotional distance I’d never had with a job before. It so ecapsulated all the reasons why I’m a theatre director in the first place, I couldn’t even envision it as existing properly.
…But here we are! On Bear Ridge opened in the Royal Court last week, and I’m back in Cardiff getting to grips again with various music and Applied Theatre projects that I’ve had to put to one side whilst taking part in the process of bringing this show to life. What has been brilliant about the entire process was how valued I felt my voice was as an Emerging/Assistant Director in the space. Vicky Featherstone works in a very inclusive way with her company, creating continuous opportunity for us to voice our thoughts and creative ideas. Alongside her practice was Ed’s non-preciousness about his own text; we continuously did cuts, edits, additions and swapped sections of the play in a liberal way I had never experienced before as part of a rehearsal process. There were some days in rehearsal where I felt I was part of a devised piece, which was incredibly exciting and playful; creating a process which was always dynamic and full of dialogue. In terms of my own input, I was surprised how my Applied Theatre and music work came so much to the forefront during the process (I often keep all three very separate) – introducing the company to the music of Bragod (which became the central musical themes of the play – arranged by John Hardy and Tic Ashfield beautifully) and a recording of the Oasis World Choir being featured in a moment in the play where Vicky and Ed were keen to have the sound of a ‘community of voices’ singing. The Oasis World Choir (founded and ran by colleages of mine Laura Bradshaw and Tracy Pallant from Valley and Vale Community Arts) are a weekly choir meeting up in the Oasis Refugee Centre on Splott Road in Cardiff. The choir is made up of local community members and refugees from countries ranging from Congo, Iran, Honduras, Tanzania and more. In a play dealing with the loss of children, cultural identity, war and language, for me it made complete sense to include the Oasis World Choir in the project (they also were able to attend the production during the run at The Sherman Theatre in September.
Working not only with the immense creative forces of Featherstone and Thomas but with a company of actors who were all so generous and playful with one another, was inspiring to watch in the rehearsal room. Thomas’ work specialises in the agility of poetic absurdism, like Spiderman swinging and leaping between buildings; the awareness and responsiveness of the actors to both one another and the text was a joy to watch them cultivate. We were blessed with a brilliant ensemble of actors which made every day of rehearsal amusing, heartbreaking and suprising. The complete lack of ego in the rehearsal room, alongside the joy shared between individuals from design to stage management to directors to actors who deeply loved their work and the project; made it an incredibly precious process to be a part of.
I really hope we can continue to build partnerships between theatres across the UK and our National Theatre. Thanks to the incredible generosity of people such as the Carne Trust Bursary for Emerging Directors; so that young directors such as myself, who may not have had a conventional path in terms of career progression, get the opportunity to work with deeply respected creatives and historic organisations such as The Royal Court. It was a life changing job for me, one which not only taught me so much about directing, editing text and collaboration, but also made me feel like my voice mattered in the rehearsal room of a large-scale project. At a time where Welsh voices run the risk of being further marginalised due to budget cuts, partnerships such as this can be a brilliant defiance, re-igniting a pride for the poetic absurdist voice we all have within us.