Process is God. How do you make new work? What are the radical new ways we might do that in the future?

Jon Spooner, 5 October 2012

note, not essay, form...

thinking out loud on a keyboard really...

remembering the conversation as I do and working from some notes that I made listening to all the other people that were involved in that conversation...

The work that I make with our company (Unlimited) is all about how we as a group of artists make new work (most often for live performance) collaboratively, with shared ownership in/of the creative process.

We are as interested in the social and political processes of creating a space/place/environment in which this can happen as we are in the ‘artistic’ processes. This is difficult. And there is a lot of effort, time and care required to ensure that we reach a sincere CONCENSUS, rather than ever feel (individually or collectively) that we have COMPROMISED our selves, our values or the work.

And approaching the process of making this happen is, we feel, at least as important (if not more so) than the outcome of that process - the ‘product’. The end of the process, of having “made the show” isn't, of course, the end - it's just as far as we have got with the process at this point of coming out of process and turning the process into the “thing” we set out with the ambition of making. Which may well be very different to what we have actually ended up with.

Does that make sense?

And the process is different for each project, depending on who is involved, how many people are involved and what we agree we are ultimately heading towards making/presenting at a set point in the future.

So we know, roughly, what we hope to achieve and when. And the process is then, in honesty, a case of making it up as we go along.

Our preference is, generally, to give ourselves 18 months before the end point. Over that 18 months we might spend 8-12 weeks dedicated to that process before arriving at the end point. We enjoy short periods (1-2 weeks) of intense work with ‘rest’ periods in between - time to pit the project in a drawer, reflect, let the ideas and work settle, respond to what we discovered and plan the next stage of the process in response to those discoveries. So we might have set out thinking we needed 6 dancing horses in the ‘show’ but know now that actually we don't but rather we might need a dog that can balance an orange on its nose.

So the time allowed in the process and the attention paid to the outcomes from it are important not just to the quality of the discovery and the development of the ideas or story, but also to the production process - of making decisions as you go about what we will ultimately need to resource the ‘show’ with.

There is always the potential for transformation.

How do you make new work? What experiences do you have of ‘process’?

Mark said that in the work of Mike Leigh you can “taste the process. Audiences can feel it and that is when it becomes valued by audiences.” How do audiences taste/feel it? “The process is very owned by the actors who are inhabiting it in rehearsals and in the moment of performance. It is AUTHENTIC. And it's a process that he as an artist with the people he has travelled with have developed over a long period of time.”

The importance of CRAFT (experience?) couple with process because otherwise there's the danger that process will just become indulgent ‘play’.

Play is important, said Steve. And the actors are the centre of that process, for him.

The PEOPLE are the focus of that process. And those people might be of many different types of ability, levels of skill or experience and the process needs to pay attention to that. No one ‘system’ will suit any/every project.

Peoples tastes and preferences for what sort of ‘theatre’ they are making is obviously wildly different and will require different processes.

Build the process around the people invovled and identify the people with particular skills yuo need at different points to lake part in that process.

Leadership is important. Clear agreement about who is responsible for leading different parts of the process.

Make the process public. Do it in public. “Iterate” your process often, invite responses. Make sure you have sincere, useful questions that you want to ask, listen to, HEAR and then choose whether to respond to the answers.

Chris siad he feels like we live in a “product driven environment”. Everyone agreed BUT...

There is also a sense that this is shifting - that there is an increased interest in process
and a focus on trusting the process (rather than making a full proposal for what a
project *will* be and not deviating from delivering that). Example of Frank Cotterill
Boyce's description of the process of working with Danny Boyle on the Olympic
Opening Ceremony;

And the challenge was made to that assertion that actually “audiences aren't sold on product alone... people love to gather as part of an event” and that authenticity is always felt/understood and admired

Also, there are increasingly visible shifts in the way theatres are programming to a more “festival” style of curation ref; Transform as a development at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The experience is part of the ‘product’ and the experience is a process that the audience are active participants in contributing to.

So, what are the possible radical (whatever that word means) ways that we might make new work in the future/ Here's a few outline thoughts that came up:


- Start with the audience “What *aren't* they getting”
- Don't make any assumptions about your audience
- don't assume everyone shares your understanding of what theatre is or *should* be - allow who the audience might be to infect the work. Take care and consideration in allowing the work to be shaped by who you want to experience it
- and what you want to achieve with them
- make the work with the audience
- write your ideal process including the difficult, esoteric, idealistic, impossible parts of it into contracts with your collaborators and partners
- Look to Big Business - some of the most successful and resilient businesses are increasingly (and sincerely) focussing on how to (beyond financial rewards) create enjoyable, creative environments for their employees to work in which they feel valued and want to stay working with them (talent retention)
- Leadership - be better leaders. Be AUTHENTIC. Share leadership, recognising strengths.
- create Trust - everyone in the process is trusted - artists, producers, audiences...
- always have animals in the rehearsal room and show