My work is so visual I thought it would be nice to show the range of what I’ve been up to so here are 9 of my most recent productions from the last three years:
As the year draws to a close I find my time increasingly spent on writing rather than directing. In the same week I was asked by three separate organisations to write funding applications for them (one for £1.3 million). Meanwhile I’m redrafting two musicals, mulling over a short play for 2018 and researching my next full play (not to mention all the funding applications I write for my own company Metta Theatre). So lest the balance of creative writing be outweighed by funding application writing – suddenly a dangerously real possibility – I have taken up writing poetry again, just to tip the balance back towards artistry. Of course there is artistry involved in my fund-raising – it’s all storytelling isn’t it, all finding a compelling narrative, all sparking something in the reader’s heart, mind (and for funding applications – wallet). Still, it’s a different kind of craft.
So here is my offering for December – having spent a week (and many sleepless nights) with a poorly three year old. I shall endeavour to produce something once a month (Poppy loves a deadline).
SITTING IN THE SCREAM
Sitting in the scream
The wet cheeks
The endless moment
After, immediately forgotten
Like the memory of pain
But in the moment
You will not be held
Will not be consoled
I am here only to bear witness
Witness the raw mouth
And the pain
The compact of motherhood
Ebbs and flows
It takes you again
Unbearable we bear it
Unbearable the reminder
Of our own pain
Sitting in the scream
It takes you
Poppy Burton-Morgan, December 2017
Tonight is the premiere of my debut play Wondr. Now I understand why writers are such emotional people and so protective of their work. It’s a whole different kettle of fish from directing. You’re putting part of yourself out there – baring your soul.
Wish me luck…
The joy of 2017 (besides directing 4 shows, developing 2 more and seeing the world premiere of my play Wondr in Edinburgh) is that this year I have so many opportunities to support others. I’ve taken to offering emerging artists (free) guidance on their Arts Council applications and I’ve just spent 2 days facilitating workshops at the Exeter Northcott Theatre for a group of emerging SW based directors and theatre-makers. I love it! There is so much that I can share, and some many provocations I can give them.
There is a such a joy in realising you’ve reached a place in your career (life) where you have the capacity to start giving back to the rest of the sector and other artists. Though as I interrogate that thought – or my use of the word ‘opportunity’ – actually it’s just a choice. It’s a choice to feel we have enough capacity or headspace to help others. That’s in no way intended to make others feel guilty for not doing more – of course in every area of our lives there is always more we could/can do – and indeed that thought sometimes paralyses people into doing nothing at all. But I’m glad I have begun to give something back to the sector and the community of artists that have so nurtured and supported me over the last 12 years.
Now that the children both (mostly) sleep through the night is also a massive help.
I have started writing. This is new. Or at least, writing original plays, which is new for me. After a decade of dabbling in stage adaptations and opera libretti (easy when someone else has done the hard work of creating story and characters for you) I have finally taken the plunge and started writing my own plays. Not just one play but three, and counting.
All of them explore, in varying ways, my ambivalence about motherhood, and indeed the impetus to write them was born out of my increasing frustration with the dearth of mothers portrayed on our stages. Or to be more specific – the dearth of plays that explore motherhood (or parenthood) as a theme. Plenty of plays feature mothers as characters, hundreds in fact – family dramas are after all the mainstay of our theatrical canon. But very very few actually explore the experience of motherhood. Even ‘The Mother’ – which just closed at the Tricycle, which I had hoped might perhaps explore motherhood – that messy, complex, mind-numbingly-boring, wonderful, lonely, necessary, primal job that occupies around 50% of the human race at one point in their lives. But in fact it is a play about archetypes, not about motherhood at all, although Gina McFee does give a wonderful performance finding a precious vein of humanity in a very brittle and unlike-able character.
The newest of my theatrical writings – a solo piece written in rhyme/spoken word – I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago as a bit of an experiment. A non-theatre-mum friend had asked to read it and found it such an accurate reflection of her own experiences of motherhood that I wondered if other fellow mums might take something from it. The response was overwhelming, and overwhelmingly positive, so I thought I’d post it here – in an even more public capacity – in the hope that it can reach more mums, and dads too, and non parents – just more human beings with whom it might strike a chord.
I hope it may be staged at one point too, but even if that never happens it’s heartening to know that simply the reading of it is touching some lives.
Here it is – feel free to share:
I’ve recently directed a production of Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte which is considered by many to be quite misogynist (mistakenly so in my opinion). As with every piece of art that I make I set out to tell a more feminist story, as one reviewer put it ‘subtly feminist‘, though I suppose really I just set out to tell a human story where every character was a real person with whom we could empathise and feel some compassion.
Last week I was lucky enough to get tickets to the press night of Maria Friedmans’ production of High Society at the Old Vic (my husband Will is the Associate Lighting Designer) and it felt very much like she had achieved a similar thing. It’s a gorgeous production in so many ways – full of the kind of clever, playful and imaginative theatricality that I love – but more importantly it completely humanises the characters, especially the women, in a way that makes the piece unexpectedly emotionally powerful. It would be very easy to simply enjoy the glossy silliness in such a piece but, and this is also testament to Kate Fleetwood’s astonishing performance, Maria has created something much richer, more emotionally complex and human with all the female characters (even the chorus, especially the chorus) presenting them all as strong, powerful women. Sure, they still have sexy, swooshy skirts but hey this is 2015 feminism – we’re allowed to wear what we like, right?
Female artists by no means have a monopoly on compassion and there are plenty of male theatre directors who are adept at that same humanising – David Mercatali is a great example. But it strikes me – perhaps because there are fewer female directors working at the top, in opera and musical theatre particularly – that we have an amazing opportunity with such productions to tell these subtly feminist stories and reach the kind of audiences (especially young audiences for whom musicals are often their entry point into live performance) who are perhaps less likely to make a trip to a fringe theatre for some bra-burning rant. Of course I also love those bra-burning rant-y shows – do they even exist? – and there is definitely a place for overt Feminist theatre (note the capital) but as with Political theatre with a capital ‘P’, there can be a danger of preaching to the converted. What’s so exciting about these subtly feminist productions is that you’re not being hit over the head with it – so here’s to seeing more women artists at the top, getting the opportunity to re-tell the old tales with subtlety and humanity… and a glitter drop.
I’ve been delighted and overwhelmed by the response to some of my recent blogs about being an artist and a mother and that particular juggle (sometimes struggle). I’ve also been surprised by many recent conversations with fellow artists who are new parents or contemplating becoming parents and don’t realise how many of us there are already out there doing it. So I thought I’d name and (what’s the opposite of shame… celebrate?) err… name and celebrate some brilliant theatre-making mothers, some of whom had their babies over 30 years ago, some of whom had them within the last 30 days.
In no way exhaustive and I’ll continue to add to it as people admonish me for all the ones I’ve forgotten (thank you for all the Facebook shouts), but I thought it would just be a reminder that although it’s hard sometimes to keep all the balls in the air it is possible as all of the women below have demonstrated:
April De Angelis, Playwright
Carolyn Downing, Sound Designer
Carrie Cracknell, Director
Clare Whistler, Choreographer & Movement Director
Daisy Drury, Circus Producer
Daisy Heath, Lead Producer Young Vic
Dani Parr, Director
Deborah Paige, Director
Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director RSC
Es Devlin, Designer
Flavia Fraser-Cannon, Producer
Imogen Kinchin, Executive Producer Lyric Hammersmith
Jade Dunbar, Artistic Director Pirates of the Karibena
Jane Claire, Executive Producer English Touring Theatre
Janet Bird, Designer
Jemima Levick, Artistic Director Dundee Rep
Kate Cross, Artistic Director Egg Theatre
Kate Flatt, Choroegrapher
Kate Lane, Designer
Kate Yedigaroff, Producer of May Fest
Katie Mitchell, Director
Laura Wade, Playwright
Leyla Nazli, Producer Arcola Theatre
Leyla Rosa, Circus Director & Choreographer
Libby Purves, Theatre Critic (of course criticism is part of theatre-making)
Lina Johannson, Artistic Director Mimbre
Lyn Gardner, Theatre Critic
Lyndie Wright, Founder Little Angel Theatre
Mandy Travis, Puppeteer
Marianne Eliot, Director
Matilda Leyser, Writer & Director
Maxie Szlawinska, Theatre Critic
Melly Still, Director & Designer
Molly Davies, Playwright
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Playwright
Paule Constable, Lighting Designer
Rachel Tackley, Artistic Director English Touring Theatre
Sharon Clark, Literary Producer Bristol Old Vic
Sue Buckmaster, Artistic Director Theatre Rites
Sue Emmas, Associate Artistic Director Young Vic
Stephanie Sirr, Chief Executive Nottingham Playhouse
Vicky Featherstone, Artistic Director Royal Court
Yvonne Stone, Puppet Designer
Who else have I forgotten…?