For the first time in a long while, I've been in a rehearsal room all week, working on a new play - Comfort. Because I work predominantly with young people I very rarely get the luxury of a full time rehearsal process - most of the time it's about finding tiny snippets of time here and there and cajoling cast members (and their parents) to ensure everyone turns up at once.
So it's a real delight to be able to gather a small number of young people in a room and work in depth with them. Last year we realised that Year 11 students were perfect participants for more intensive projects: they all finish exams in late June and have at least 2 months of nothing before going back to school. So we got together with the Rosemary Branch Theatre and created the Young Theatre Innovator Awards - the winners of which got to take part in a 3 week intensive project at the Rosie. That project became Fifteen, a show about being fifteen created with a cast of, you guessed it, fifteen fifteen (and sixteen - sssh) year olds.
This year we've got a much smaller cast and have just finished our first week of devising with them and the playwright Hattie Naylor, a woman whose generosity and quiet confidence has helped build a lovely thoughtful atmosphere in the rehearsal room. Working with a smaller group is a joy - at times last year managing fifteen became more about crowd control than directing - and it's enabled us to work in a very deep and collaborative way.
A big theme for us this year - outside of the actual work we've made - has been parents. I've lost count of how many conversations we've had with our young people who've been struggling to manage their relationships with their mums and dads, and those whose dads just aren't in the picture. So that became my starting point for this project, especially as time, history and legacy have been such a driving force behind our work this year.
Hattie came with something very different - a desire to explore the objects that we collect in life and that ultimately outlive us. And so we combined our ideas and this week have been talking nearly non-stop with the young people about the objects that mean the most to them and the events that made them so significant - particularly in relation to their mums and dads.
Something else that Hattie has brought to the room is a fascination with how we talk: the ticks and quirks that occur naturally whenever we speak. That's led us to start creating a play which is almost entirely verbatim. A play that exists in the pauses, hesitations and hesitancy of spoken language.
We've never made a verbatim piece and it's been incredibly challenging for our young company members, five out of six of whom had never come across it before. But there is something quite magical when they copy each other's speech patterns: little details emerge which you might never otherwise have noticed.
Doing that is very hard and, full time rehearsals or not, we've only got a week now to put the whole piece together. So I'm not expecting a totally polished piece, or even a slightly polished one. But I am really excited about creating something raw and experimental that I hope will be ever-so-slightly extraordinary and moving.