I’ve had some time to reflect on DirectorsLab North. In many ways it was a unique opportunity- when would one ever get to sit and listen and reflect with another group of artists in such a way? When do we get to focus on nothing but theatre together? To question its constituent parts? I’ve never had the time to reflect on the practice of directing collaboratively before.
I asked a lot of questions on the lab. I came away with even more. But I think that’s theatre’s job and more specifically that is the job of a director: to look for the useful questions without dictating the answers. I’d like to talk about one of those questions here.
The question of the week was about art and activism- do we have a responsibility to be artists as well as activists? It’s a question that’s animated my entire career. I nearly didn’t become a director because of that question, because I wasn’t sure whether I needed to be an activist instead. To critically engage with the outcome of your work allows you to touch in with why you do it. This should be a constant process throughout one’s career. I was grateful to spend one week doing it.
One of the first talks we had was from an Artistic Director who had recently begun engaging with diversity at his building. I found the talk and the ideas he expressed frustrating because I felt that they were reactive rather than proactive. Waiting for the problem to become too big to ignore, rather than proactively making sure the problem could never arise. Out of my frustration and the conversation, I did learn something however. I am an activist. By wanting to create a more equal world, by actively working towards that in my theatre practice, I am working towards a political outcome. I believe all art is political if it tells a story about the world because stories create cultural narratives. Our actions in the world are based on the stories we know- bees have stung people and so we avoid them. Stories make the world.
"We must all take responsibility for our art because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum"
This is what became clearer to me at DirectorsLab North. We must all take responsibility for our art because it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. By choosing to tell one story, we are choosing not to tell another. By representing one group more than any other, we are leaving people unable to see themselves reflected on stage. Art is activism, whether we like it or not. Once we know that, we need to start asking hard questions of others and ourselves. What is the purpose of theatre? Who do we make work for? Asking these questions together as artists, taking the time to step back and re-evaluate collaboratively, this was the gift of the lab. I am grateful for it.
Anthony Simpson-Pike is a theatre-maker and dramaturg whose directing credits include Over to You (Tamasha Theatre), Dreamless Sleep (Bunker), Loyalty and Dissent (Tamasha Theatre/Rich Mix/ National Archives), Welcome to England (Young Court, Royal Court), Detox (Artistic Directors of the Future), Pandora (Peckham Pelican/Zedel/New River Studios), Coma (Southwark Playhouse), Something to Say (St James Theatre), Plunder (Fresh Direction, Young Vic), Camp (Etcetera Theatre/Bussey Building), One for the Road and New World Order (Site- specific).
His credits as assistant director include Parallel Macbeth directed by Caroline Byrne (Young Vic), Father Comes Home from the Wars, Parts 1, 2 and 3 directed by Jo Bonney (Royal Court), Much Ado About Nothing directed by Matthew Dunster (Shakespeare's Globe) and Ear for Eye directed by debbie tucker green (Royal Court).
Anthony trained at National Youth Theatre, and through the Young Vic Director's Program and was a finalist for the JMK award in 2017. He is the Associate Director at the Gate Theatre.