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Analyse Thou: The musings of a Zoom-based theatre director

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Having worked closely with YCT's producer and my co-writer, Jeremy Allen, since March on developing our script for Analyse Thou, our remit for this show was crystal clear. Based on the feedback received from mental health service users and providers throughout our collaborative writing process, it was our duty to offer authentic yet entertaining depictions of modernised versions of Shakespearean characters undergoing zoom therapy.

Since I'd never directed a play via Zoom before I was in uncharted territory, but to quote the Roman philosopher, Cicero, "the worst decision is indecision". And so it was that I dusted off a series of books and lessons from my own theatre training and sought out numerous new online resources in order to transpose my old, well-worn rehearsal techniques onto an untested virtual stage.

In April, I attended a three-week directing course with Cyphers Theatre. Since the course was provided via Zoom, it helped me to challenge and reconceptualize my existing approaches to directing theatre while gaining some much-needed practice with Zoom’s more advanced functions. However, since much of the course related to directing theatre for a physical stage it still didn’t offer me that eureka moment where all the pieces click together. I had always been aware that this would be a learning experience, but after re-reading Creation Theatre’s Online Theatre Toolkit, it dawned on me how many variables would be completely outside of my control. I realised that regardless of how many plans I put in place, we were setting sail in untested waters and adaptiveness would be the key to our show’s success. We also needed a strong crew.

One of the most crucial elements to directing a show successfully is choosing your cast and managing the time you spend with them. Fortunately, we were able to find three actors whose energy, talent and versatility matched the challenges of learning and rehearsing their dual roles within just a few weeks. I set a schedule for them in advance, and we were fortunate enough to keep to this timetable.

As a writer, there are few joys more sublime than the moment where a character who has lived in your head for months on end takes a breath and speaks their first words. Nevertheless, one piece of directing advice I had

held onto from my training years ago was to resist the urge to do a read-through straight away. I’m a strong believer that if you have a strong cast you should trust in their ability to live with the script for a while and develop their characters. (This is also a useful time for them to start learning their lines.) Interestingly enough, this advice was echoed in my recent online course, and so even though our time was limited I used the first few days of rehearsal to discuss thoughts and run improvisations relating to each character’s personal attributes, physicality and verbal qualities. This also encouraged the cast to work together imaginatively and intuitively on their character choices and to develop a camaraderie outside of our rehearsals.

Another more practical purpose of the first few days was for me to review the way in which each actor looked and sounded on zoom while performing in their chosen spaces. A theatre director normally has complete control over their cast’s surroundings, but when you have less than three weeks to rehearse, preview, rewrite and then perform a zoom production there is only so much you can say or do to affect the worlds of your actors.

Fortunately, we had written our scenes with these practical limitations in mind, and our cast members worked wonders with the basic tools at their disposal to not only define their characters’ emotional states and physical appearances but also their surroundings.

by Lee Woodward

Director and Co-Writer, Analyse Thou

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