“From conception to birth – The DIY Handbook to Making (Love) Theatre”
Bryn Holding, 16 September 2012

When the sessions were called this morning, I looked around the room and thought ‘what a wealth of information and range of expertise there is in this room!’. There were those who had created work, those who had helped others achieve their potential, those who had produced work and those who are starting out on a journey of creation. I sat there as an Actor/Director, but also as a man who wants to create work and create a company. I felt that if I could pool other peoples ideas, experiences and tips into ‘the DIY handbook’ then it would have been a successful gathering.

I cannot promise that this ‘Handbook’, if that’s even what it can be called, will produce the desired results – but it should make for a good read.

As with Open Space, I did not profess to have any of the answers, neither did the second person to join the circle who immediately stated “I don’t have any of the answers, so you know!”

What became apparent throughout the session was just how suitable an analogy I had chosen, that there were direct links between to making theatre and creating life – appropriately, we even had a Midwife join the group!! Making the point that these really are the RIGHT people and the RIGHT time.

I apologise in advance for the continual pregnancy/maternity references as the analogy unfolds.

What became apparent, very quickly, was the need for energy and drive to make an idea into a living piece of theatre. On the whole you don’t intend to have children unless you want them, you also have to think that you have the inbuilt energy to handle being a parent and nurture them. The Desire, persistence and want are essential to even imagining a successful birth of an idea. As I will discuss, later, there is a question of ‘with whom?’ - do you as the individual have enough energy and drive to make this happen? Or do you need a partner or even team around you? How big will that team be and do you all share the collective energy and drive to pull this off? Once the idea has been conceived and you wish to go ahead and not terminate your thinking there and then – then you have to be sure this is what you want and that I will be worth it – as many, who spoke from experience, pointed out it will cost you a lot. Not necessarily just the financial cost but also time, sleep, energy and sometimes closer relationships!

A re-imerging phrase or sentiment was this:

“Don’t be afraid if you fail” Some went on to suggest that ‘failure can be your greatest success.’

In previous sessions that day there had been discussion of a ‘Festival of failure’. There seemed a desire amongst those in the room to see things happen, for failure to be the best learning curve. ‘The Producers’ were cited as an example as was Samuel Beckett's well known quote

“Ever Tried? Ever Failed? No Matter. Try again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

One person said “What could go that wrong? No one is going to die!” and in the words of Braham Murrays book about founding the Royal Exchange, Manchester, “The worst it can be is a disaster.”

Then came the argument of ‘Don’t talk about it – make it”. There is real benefit to the act of creation, of getting work on, of showing work early. A bit like the first baby scan of a pregnancy. It all suddenly becomes real and you begin to see it clearer! Advice was given that you must work to a deadline (a due date!) By having that marker set you have a destination in time to plough your energy’s towards. One member of the session recommended the use of scratch work nights, the value of showing people and the feedback you may or may not get. As one freelance director said “ You don’t know until it is in front of an audience”. It was suggested that you should make a piece of theatre everyday – this was well received by all – the term ‘piece of theatre’ is clearly open to personal interpretation. There was a call for the process to be full of pleasure, for you to have as much pleasure as possible, for there to be non stop play and for you to get a new perspective on things to open up new ideas. Clearly, a good working method in the rehearsal room, one that encourages the creation of and showing of work is healthy for you to realise you place along the gestation period between conception and birth.

Then came a return to the failure/fear argument...:

“Don't be afraid to make an idiot of yourself.”

As one person pointed out “it I easy to make an idiot of yourself, what’s hard is not

being afraid of it.

As had been discussed in other sessions that day, there were references to ‘company’ and ‘ensemble’ to European working methods and to the decline if not almost absence of ensemble in this country. It was felt that an ensemble working environment is healthy for the development of art and the creation of work. Finding the right people, though, was said to be tricky...! Returning to the notion of giving birth to an idea or child...we reflected on just how many people it takes to raise a child? The family, the god-parents, the friends, the absent parents. This creation of a secure family/network around you became a crucial ingredient in the success of an idea becoming reality. It was also noted that certain family members, contacts, are more useful for certain things than others and this should be recognised.

I raised a question on ‘how and when do you take your work to a larger theatrical organisation, such as the Sherman or the NTW?’ What took me by surprise was the view that ‘Why bring the big guys on board? Surely you must look to cut out the middle man?’. There was a call for us to trust our own instincts, to have faith in our vision and to make it possible through our own determination and resourcefulness. Yes, a bigger organisation can be part of the family network, but there was a concern that we shouldn’t sell the idea of a piece of theatre away to them – don’t give it up to adoption – hang on to your work and your ideas.

A number of members of the group urged people to see lots of other work and to have a wider engagement of art. It will aid your creation – like the wider reading of parenting manuals! See the work of others, find out about, or experience, if you can, their process and learn from it.

Even when an idea is born it still needs a great deal of nurturing. And when is that birth? Is it when it is first performed in front of an audience, or in front of a paying audience or when it is ‘all singing all dancing’. Perhaps you need to get your ideas walking and talking before you introduce it to the playground.

Between conception and birth comes a working method – find your way of working, take inspiration from observation and be realistic...NOTHING HAPPENS BY MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION – it takes a lot of time, energy and determination but if you really want it you will do all you can to make it happen. Knock on doors, pick up the phone! Talk to people, explore, make!

And throughout your journey Self reflect. Evaluate. If it doesn’t get from the conception to birth, if it goes away, look at why. If the idea is still there but has never coming to birth yet - look at why- what is holding you back?

Of course, there is an element of luck thrown in, which we all need but this we cannot do anything about...

Someone suggested the following books as reading “ Engineer of the imagination” and “Eyes on stalks” – by John Fox, Founder of Welfare State.

The journey from conception to birth is a mysterious unknown period. But as with any birth, there will always be an unpredictable element...But we must keep making theatre if that’s what we believe in.


devising, Theatre, creation, company, theatre, ensemble, producing