Dramaturgy in Dialogue: a smith

Notes on a conversation with a smith (Andy Smith) – co-director for Tim Crouch and writer / deviser / performer of his own work.

How does what you do as an outside eye reflect itself on your own work?

The work we make together comes from Tim. It’s a collective thing. The work I do alone I make alone but I’m not really on my own. I don’t really make anything on my own. I have this feeling that I’m never alone. There are many people that are invited into the process over time, the last and most important of which is the audience. Aside from them, the chief collaboration is with myself. There are many discussions I have with myself, as the writer, as the perfomer, as the dramaturg. I think you need to use this sense of yourself as many collaborators. There is an interesting tension that occurs between the different selves. When I work with Tim he is a writer and a performer so it is different again. Both Karl (co-director of Tim Crouch’s work) and I can often end up asking: Which Tim Crouch are we with now? Are we with the writer or the performer? Sometimes we refer to one of him as if he isn’t there. For example: Is anyone going to phone the writer tonight? Can you tell him we are going to cut this? If we don’t have the capacity to be frank, then we will not be able to move the work forward.

Do you think ‘the capacity to be frank’ could be in a dramaturg’s job description?

You have to be I think. But luckily we don’t have any arguments. I am thinking about the devising process at the moment and how it works for my PhD at Lancaster University. I graduated at a time when Forced Entertainment were emerging. I am reading Alison Oddey’s book Devising Theatre at the moment. Writing about writing for my PhD, and I’m thinking about how I have never written for anyone else. I’m interested in writing in a way that works with someone else. Processes feed each other and a future comes out of it. It informs ideas we’re having together. I often talk to Tim about texts. We talk about texts.

How do you share the responsibility of co-directing? What does the hyphen do?

I have been asked what does it mean to direct before and I think there are many ways to be a director. You could ask me what does it mean to be a co-director of Tim Crouch, I know what that means, I know what it means to direct him. I try not to be an authorative figure, but sometimes I have to be in rehearsal. I try to think of myself as a daily audience member. I talk about what I have seen. Then we talk about what we can do with it. We constantly question, it is an interrogation, to remove any obstacles from the reception of the work. It is diluted by the hyphen and multiplied at the same time. We are many audience members not just two of us. I don’t know what it would be to work without Karl. He was an actor and an Assistant Director in a traditional context. I come from an experimental context. We often say that Tim is the meeting in the middle.

Does it dilute the process or does it mean there are more of you to work with?

I think we compliment each other. Karl comes from a more text-based place. I come from a place where the performer is an artist. The theatre maker as artist. Karl sees text as a script. I see it as an open narrative. That’s how I used to think about it when we started work together, but now I’m glad to say that I think that there is very little difference between us. Now we’ve worked together on three shows. We often simply say that what we do is help Tim put on his plays…

Did you say you help to put on his clothes?

No, but it is similar I suppose! I have written something about directing where I refer to the role of a director as similar to that of a caretaker. I’ll send it to you.

I’m looking at the role of the ‘outside eye’ in contemporary performance. I wonder if you could offer a description of what a dramaturg could or should be to me?

We don’t have a tradition of that in this country. When I was at university I read about this idea of being a dramaturg and I thought I would like to be a dramaturg but I didn’t understand where the opportunities were. Maybe at the National Theatre. It’s just not the done thing in this country. Outside eye is a funny phrase. Whenever I’ve worked with other people as an ‘outside eye’ I’ve thought: What does that actually mean? What they needed was for me to be their director. So sometimes I think we use this word when we don’t want to call someone a director because it sounds more egalitarian, there is more a sense of a process. But we don’t necessarily have the language or understanding of what it really is. I don’t really ever think of myself as an outside eye.

You mentioned this idea of the dramaturg as an outside/inside eye on my blog

I like this idea because we often find ourselves inside and outside of a process. It maybe connects with the notion of one other versus many others. It goes back to the question: Who are your audience? Where are they with the work? You know when I was a student we talked about this ‘shared experience’ of theatre and I think this was interpreted as 100 people all having the same experience. But there are 100 ‘outside eyes’ or 100 pairs of eyes that are seeing that differently. Do you want your audience to have the ‘capacity to be frank’? Do you want to have a clear reception? Then ask yourself ‘Does it help? Is it needed / necessary? It’s about removing obstacles but sometimes I think theatre should be putting a bit of noise into that channel. The main question we always ask is ‘Does it allow the audience to experience whatever it is that we want them to experience?’ Does it let us tell that story? The story we want to tell. If there is a story to tell.

It goes back to Matthew Goulish’s question of ‘How does a work work where?’

It’s about context. Tim works in both traditional and experimental contexts but the irony is that Faber wouldn’t publish his play An Oak Tree because they didn’t consider it to be a proper play because there was always someone different in it.

To be continued…

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  1. Pingback: Welcome the New Collaborative Writer Forum! « The Blue Plate Special

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