My Creative Process

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Hey everyone!

How are you?How was your weekend? 

A week or so ago I wrote a post about letting go of what used to work. whether that was friendships, lifestyle choices or your creative process, and ever since then I've been thinking about what does work for me. So today I thought I'd share a little bit of my creative process with you.

This is going to be mainly focused around my theatre work - especially when it comes to writing or making a show, but in many ways this process is the same way I approach most of the things I do. Whether that's producing a storytelling festival or writing a blog post, so hopefully there will be something in it that is maybe relevant to you, or maybe like me you're just a little nosy. Let's get on with it shall we.

1. Picking the theme

Sometimes, obviously this is given to me by a specific commission, and sometimes it will be as loose as 'I think I should make a show about working in a restaurant.' Truth be told, there is very little process to this. If it is a personal project then inspiration comes when inspiration comes. In my notebook and on my phone, I have a list of possible show titles, and generally speaking, I wait to see which ones i can't get out of my head before committing myself to working on them. For example I love the idea of making a show which explores different ways people around the world celebrate birthdays, but it isn't something I find myself coming back to over and over again. However, I've been talking about making a show about 'running away' for about 3 years now, so I should probably get on with that one...

2. Thought Gathering.

I'm not going to lie, this is pretty much 90% of my creative process and I know it would freak some people out a lot because most of the time it looks like I haven't done anything. This also overlaps with picking a theme, as generally I know that an idea is going to stick, when I suddenly get lots of ideas around it. This generally means pages full of questions I want to explore, or sentences of prose typed out into my phone. The best way I can explain it, is like I'm collecting jig saw pieces. Some will just be tiny fragments, a passing comment I want to make, where as others may be full blown, typed out stories - that while I'm not sure exactly where they'll end up in the show, I do know they will be there in some way.

This thought gathering can take me weeks, and it is the thing I find hardest to explain to other people that are looking in on my process. For example recently when working with a group of young people, their youth worker every week would ask me every week when we would start working on the script, because in their eyes they couldn't see how all the fragmented pieces we'd been working on fit together, but to me it seemed obvious... we were working on the script!

One of my favourite quotes is: 

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. Steve Jobs

That definitely describes my creative process. I like to turn over every single stone, find every single story and idea, and then see which ones fit together, and which ones maybe need to be put aside for another project...

3. Putting it all together

This is the part of my process which is the most vital, and also the one piece I can actually explain to you step by step how I do it.

I'm a very visual person, so I like to literally gather all my thoughts in front of me. That can mean printing off random bits of script, and photocopying pages from my notebook, or scribbling down set ideas all on separate pieces of paper. I then like to work in a big empty room, and put everything down on the floor, and gradually start to gather the bits that go together, and hopefully if I'm far along enough with my thought process start to storyboard it out, so I can see the story or the show coming together.

I come back to this process over and over again while I'm rehearsing and editing, so that I can track how the energy of the piece moves, especially if I feel some bits are feeling a bit flat, or if for some reason the story/stories just don't seem to flow. It's not enough for me to edit on a screen I like to physically move things around.

4. Rehearsing and Editing

Generally speaking, if I'm working on a show that I myself am performing, my rehearsal process tends to be pretty intense, as is the editing. However, this is something I'd like to work on, sometimes I spend too long doing all the thought gathering, and this last bit can be a little rushed. All been well, all that time spent thinking things through, means that by this point not much needs to be changed, but I have been known to rewrite entire scenes the day before a show - something which if it is just me is fine, but if I am working with other people and performers can be problematic!

I have also spent a lot of time in the past rehearsing alone, and something I'd really like to do in the future is have a much more structured rehearsal process, with an actual director. I think initially I'd find it difficult to hand over my show and let somebody else put their spin on it but if I ever want to reach that next level it is something that I will have to do!

A lot of people ask me how I manage to remember so many lines in my solo shows, and the truth is sometimes I don't. Because I write my own shows and because I spend so much time thinking about them, I know the story I'm trying to tell inside out, even if I don't know the exact words, and sometimes on the day I'll find a new way of saying an old line, which feels infinitely better than what I'd been rehearsing. Of course, I do learn off by heart the majority of my scripts and that just comes from years of practice, and even though I've had no formal training as a performer, I have been doing this in some way shape or form, since I was 9! 

5. The Final Product

The first time I perform a show, I like to keep myself busy in the run up to it. Maybe that's doing a final rehearsal, or fixing a prop, I like to deal with every thing that could go wrong before it happens. Obviously though, that isn't always possible and about an hour or so before the show, I always get this wave of calmness come over me, there is something reassuring about knowing that you've reached a point where nothing more can be done. So I'll warm up in my own way, which normally involves some sort of exercise to burn off a little bit of the excess nervous energy, and maybe a final run through. Then I guess I just go for it!

6. Afterwards

What I do after a project has finished is something I really need to work on. As you'll have seen if you've been around these parts lately, I usually get a good few weeks of creative momentum after I've completed a project, but what I'm not very good at is evaluating the project and making a plan of action for what happens next. I'm definitely guilty of telling myself that I'm simply going back to gathering my thoughts, when it reality what normally happens is I tell myself I deserve a break, and all that momentum goes to waste. And all those big plans? Don't really happen. I need to find a way of making sure each project feeds into the whole, rather than treating them like sporadic, seperate bursts of work. If anyone has any advice about evaluating and pushing forward please let me know! 

Right now I'm definitely trying to harness that momentum, by posting here regularly and holding myself accountable  but also setting myself a theatre-making related task each week. The first week was to make a dedicated list of show ideas I'd had, then this weekend I set myself the task of actually fleshing out one of those ideas, and next it will be to create a plan of action. around what happens next, and how does this show build on what I've done before. 

And that really is it. As I said a lot of this process applies to other aspects of my work, especially that thinking stage. I'm definitely someone who likes to let an idea breathe before getting stuck in! That's why I have a whole host of blog posts sitting in draft, and why my projects at work, often feel like there is weeks of not very much happening, followed by one day of putting it all together! What is your creative process? Would you like to see more behind the scenes stuff going forward? As always let me know in the comments below x

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