My first year of headship was a bit like trying to direct a repertory theatre company’s new play. When I first arrived they’d lost the script, some of the leading men and ladies were too busy being Prima Donnas behind the curtain to notice what was happening onstage and the audience had started to dictate what happened to the plot. They were in dire need of a Writer / Director with a strong vision and the courage to make drastic changes and so on I came like a cross between Mamet, Bennett and Fosse: pithy, human, down to earth and with just enough jazz hands to keep everyone happy.
We cracked on straight away exploring the teachers within us and finding our motives-never again would we stop mid learning objective and wonder ‘Why would my character say that?’ There were some casting changes, some major re-writes and one or two scenery updates. We promoted our play way in advance and seemed to get the support from our audience and financial backers .
Sadly our dress rehearsal got well and truly panned by the critics. They very nearly gave us an inadequate 4 stars but we persuaded them that 3 would probably do for now (the jazz hands really came into their own that day). They left with some notes that they wanted us to work into the script (they were already there in the subtext of the play but critics aren’t always the brightest spotlights on the stage so we had to make them a bit clearer so they would get it on the second viewing) and promised to return soon.
Rehearsals went on and although there were times when I would be sat in the wings seriously wondering why I was putting myself through this, I still maintain it was one of the most exhilarating years I’ve ever had. It was exciting because we were literally writing our own story, trying to work out how we could make sure it all ended with the most unashamedly happy ending possible. Damn realism-I wanted an ending that would make Billy Elliot look like a depressing anti-climax.
So along came September and this last week felt like opening night. It was, in my opinion, an absolute showstopper. Everyone was on top of their game and there was a real energy around the place. What I am most pleased about is that everyone seems to have completely memorised their lines – we are, as the cliché goes, all reading off the same script. And boy, what a real difference that makes. There is little room for improvisation – interpretation is welcomed and individual nuances, if effective, are celebrated – but we all understand how important the script is and we deviate from it at our peril.
The pressure for me is now ultimately worse. You’re only as good as your last review. While I am sure that the critics will truly enjoy the play when they next turn up unannounced expecting the best seats in the house, I know that this will in turn, only make them sharpen their knives for the sequel.