A MANIFESTO FOR THE CREATOR OF THE THEATER OF THE 21ST CENTURY

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Based in the UK, Russell Lucas’ multi-faceted career has involved writing, designing, producing, acting and directing.

A recent show – The Bobby Kennedy Experience – created in Cambridge in the spring of 2022. An evening without Kate Bushco-created with and featuring Sarah-Louise Young returns to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

His work has been seen in London, Edinburgh, the West End, on tour and Off-Broadway and he is also a qualified speaker. His experience in fundraising and creating theater outside of more “traditional” channels led him to write 300 Thoughts for Theater Makers: A Manifesto for the 21st Century Theater Maker, published by Nick Hern Books. Each of the 300 provocations offers practical or motivational tips and tricks for current and future theater makers trying to maintain their artistic practice (i.e. pay bills and make ends meet).

Russell talks to BroadwayWorld about his unique perspective on theater in the UK, his desire to write the book and the future of the “director”.


In the introduction, you describe yourself as “neither famous nor prolific”. How would you explain your position in British theatre?

The clearest term for me is “independent director”. I’ve never been funded by an outside source, and I don’t come from any money: no one in my family is involved in the arts. But for some reason this annoying kid – me, the youngest of them all – was like ‘I want to go to the theatre’.

If I had to put the job titles in order, it would be director and performer on the same kind of [level], because they go hand in hand and I am self-directed. The producer comes on top because I have to produce the work to make it work [stage]. In the past two years, I have become a writer. The book is an example.

You have your own vision of what a “director” is: how do you use this term?

I have an article in The scene next week on this terminology. Some time ago, David Hare asked himself ‘what is this European term, director?’. I felt the need to push this point back and explain what it is: to recognize that the [theatre] business has changed. I run a YouTube channel where I interview people who [performers] just hanging out in the streets doing their job and they are neither known nor famous. Last year, a young student tweeted that the last term of her degree was about self-production, so I put her on the channel, and we talked about being able to claim the term “director”.

It’s free for someone like her. It’s fluid and it’s freedom. If you’re passionate about creating your own work and do whatever you can to do it…you’re a theater maker!

Much of the book gives the impression that it aims to give people permission do theater. It’s quite sad this aspect of the arts, where some just have the impression of taking up space.

Alan from [the theatre company] Slung Low, at the beginning of the book, says that the spaces are “reduced”. When he said that, I realized that was where my instinct [to write the book] came from. The industry is classified into different categories. You are either commercial or financed, for example. But most people don’t live in any of these spaces. You might flirt with them occasionally. I started to get a little more political about it all: talking about the fact that the pool I’m swimming in is doing very well, but it’s not studied.

Who is the book for?

The book is made up of provocations that are definitely aimed at students, teachers and professionals. It’s a bit for everyone, but I’ve always had this mantra in my head that I want it in the hands of young people, and I’m going to try to make that happen. I realize it’s a slow burner because I’m neither prolific nor famous. But the book will speak for itself.

[Some drama schools] begin to think about how to evolve with the changing nature of the craft – how students might design theatre. I know there is no other book like this. It’s so straightforward and fact-based: it’s not about telling how to do theater, but rather asking people to think about what works and what doesn’t instead of a didactic approach which explains What to do.

The sector is divided, and its walls are so strong. Ultimately, you want the performer or creator of the theater to avoid all of that. Come on: I live here. I don’t need validation; all i need is my applause. I just need to do good theater to get those applause and sell tickets. It’s a different game. I just felt it was necessary to say this game is here, and that’s how I played it. And if you stay, how do you play?

When people leave the theater it is often because they are exhausted by the conditions in which the actors in the theater work. How to avoid this?

I was interviewed by Lyn Gardner a few years ago – we both worked for Digital Theatre. She said, “Russell, you are where you are because of the bloodthirsty spirit”. What I thought was the best thing ever. The world is still in incredible flux with everything we’ve been through, and especially in our craft. I still have these moments of impostor syndrome and thinking about how to handle money etc. So I know it’s important to keep something creative in mind. We can still dream – we don’t need finances to validate this dream. You have to keep the space open and it depends on the entrepreneurial spirit.

You can get lost trying to pay rent and bills. But I remember that I am a business. If I have to invest in my business, investing is all it means to me. This could mean borrowing money to keep me afloat for a period of three weeks while waiting for a bill [to be paid]. If I need to have three days off with nothing keep going – I’m going to invest in that time. I will tell everyone that I turn off my phone for three days and I go around London and discover the city which is so beautiful.

[Speaking as a woman in theatre], do you think there is an element of privilege in succeeding in “alternative” ways of working? I’m just thinking about how “bloody spirit” can be used against some people.

I mean, you’re the one answering that question! I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s like that in every profession – there’s an element of male energy (and I can’t speak for all men) that’s going on for sure. This happens in so many professions.

I think I thought of this question because you reframe How? ‘Or’ What we could redirect the pressures and labels we face in the industry: how to channel them into work.

I talk in the book about ‘labels’. I’m classically working class (but I wouldn’t be now if you put me on paper) and labels change so much. I don’t come from the money; I come from Clacton-on-Sea which is still one of the poorest towns in the UK. I never think of myself like that. I’m also gay – and I don’t call myself that. I am just me. But I see systems in play, and I just ignore them and raise my finger because I know How? ‘Or’ What do theater. It doesn’t come from going to Oxbridge.

What do you think of the nature of contemporary theatre? The desire to use these labels to create it.

There is an element [in theatre] where performers can use the stage as therapy for themselves. I understand, but I think it’s going to be short [game]. The funding model is dictated by the funding organization. The artist, whoever he is, wants the money and often goes to them and has to behave in relation to the checkboxes. Labor can be the product.

I wonder where people go if they don’t go to see tributes, don’t like musicals, don’t want to see another Noel Coward? What is the theater for this group of people? I’m passionate about the idea that there is another way, which the book explores.

And after? Another book?

I’m writing another book about directors and acting. I’ve met many directors who don’t really understand what actors are – so that’s my reaction to that.

I will also try to put my money where I speak and create some kind of theater or school network. It will be partly virtual and/or will travel across the UK. The idea is that the school would travel around the UK to different cities, and we would use artists and performers from each city to lead the workshops. Cut costs so people can take a one-day, one-week, or six-week course. It’s just the beginning, but it’s about how the term director is here and we have to respond. So I answer!

300 Thoughts for Theatremakers: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First-Century Theatremaker is now available.

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