One of my favourite details in Alan Harris's play, A Good Night Out in the Valleys (Go as You Please), which opens for preview on Thursday, is that everyone and everything 'doubles up'. The idea came about in two ways. When we were running a workshop in Ammanford Miners Institute (with the fabulous Mess Up the Mess youth theatre) as part of the research for the show, we noticed that a lot of the local shops seemed to be doing a 'two in one' kind of business - the first one we noticed was selling underwear and accessories, but then we saw a lot more - DVDs and laundrettte combined, a taxi firm where you could arrange carpet cleaning, etc. Alan felt this was a really interesting idea - combining unexpected things in order to survive.

Later, when we went back to a lot of the institutes and groups where we'd run workshops and showed people the half dozen ideas we'd had for shows, we got an unexpected response. Rather than choosing a favourite story, people generally wanted to mix them all together; in particular they liked seeing the actors playing a range of different roles - 'doubling up'. Working on the play, Alan started to have a lot of fun with this idea. He's created a world where everyone and everything has to 'double up in order to survive' - from the characters and places in the story, to the actors themselves who play up to five parts each! It's been a challenge for me as a director, because I need to make sure that the audience can follow what is going on, and that the many stories each have their own emotional arc. However, it's work I've really enjoyed doing, and I think it's one of the things that will make the show particularly engaging.

Perhaps I like the idea too because it's a bit of a metaphor for my role. This morning (Sunday) I have a moment to breathe - the set and lighting being installed in the theatre (and I'm not much help with a screwdriver I'm afraid), and yesterday I actually caught up on all my 'Artistic Director' emails and messages - the stuff that's to do with running the company, rather than directing the show, and which, during rehearsals, usually gets done in the evenings. So I have a moment to blog again!

Men aren't supposed to be much good at multi-tasking, but I think directors have to be. A large part of the role is about stimulating other people - actors, designers, etc - to go off and do exciting things, and then filtering the results and combining them into a coherent whole. You have to be aware of so many things going on, and pay attention to many different conversations in order to make the right connections.

The ultimate example of this is 'tech' or 'production week' where finally all of the elements of the show - actors, set, lighting, sound, etc are in one space together and the balance and rhythm of the whole needs to be found. I love tech - I imagine it to be a bit like being in the cockpit of a plane (though I suspect that this is a daft comparison as planes are pretty much flown by computers these days). Still in my fantasy theatre-plane, messages are coming at you from every different direction - how does the nuance of that actor's performance fit with that angle of light and the timing of that music cue.... Ultimately, as director you have to decide, but in a way that is going to allow the production and all of its elements to breathe. You are aiming for a tight, rhythmically assured piece of work, which nonetheless can embrace every audience in a new way, and remain responsive to new imaginative leaps by the performers. Not much of an ask then!

So, Sunday morning before tech on Monday. A moment of time off from the multi-tasking and time to breathe, walk, think, before the theatre plane takes off. See you up there!

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Comment by Tom Beardshaw on March 9, 2010 at 15:00
I once looked into the research on gender and multi tasking, during my work on fatherhood. It's fascinating. Apparently, people are much more likely to multitask naturally when they're in an environment that they feel in control of. People generally focus on single tasks when they feel like a 'helper' in the situation. There's no difference in men and women's natural ability to multitask, but what is interesting is that the place men and women are most often together - the home - is a place where women tend to feel in charge of the tasks and men often feel like helpers. And it's in the context of housework etc that you tend to hear more comments about men's 'inability' to multitask. But you just have to watch a man in control of a situation to watch men juggle things about. Directing is obviously your domain, no wonder you can handle many tasks at once in that situation.

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