“As a director I enjoy analysing text and seeing the play as a whole; solving problems; and developing ideas collaboratively with actors to draw out light and shade, story, tempo and arc of the whole piece.”
My most recent professional directing work was performed at Brighton Fringe 2014…
A Passion for Rationals by Sara Harris (Friends Meeting House Brighton)
My second collaboration with an emerging writer, A Passion for Rationals was a high-Victorian comedy, and I was drawn to it not only for its comedic Oscar Wildean writing, but also its political nuances of class, privilege and early suffragetism. The production was site-specific – a Georgian hall with a balcony – and I took full advantage of the space by staging it in traverse and using the balcony for key courtroom scenes. I worked with an exceptionally talented cast and enjoyed working with the writer/producer to solve some key dramaturgical issues and the rather limited lighting possibilities. In the end, Victorian standard lamps came to the rescue!
The production received a 4**** review:
“Director Emma Bird makes clever use of the Friends Meeting House, sending actors up to the balcony to lord over their peers and arranging the opposing factions at opposite ends of the central walkway… It cracks along at the brisk pace the comic tone demands … Funny and free-spirited, it’s the kind of work it’s rational to be passionate about”Richard Stamp
How I cut my Teeth!
My first commission as a director was for Bully Free Zone, working with a group of young people. The charity wanted me to work on a summer project to help devise and direct a play that addressed young people’s concerns with bullying, and to empower participants and audiences to challenge bullying should they face it themselves. The inspirational practitioner for this approach is Augusto Boal, the Brazilian director who created Forum Theatre. With my guidance and direction the group shared their stories, which I then crafted into the play Sticks and Stones.
Sticks and Stones toured schools and youth clubs in Bolton where it had great impact on audiences. I re-visited this topic and style of theatre with a different group of young people in West Sussex years later, devising, directing and touring Sticks and Stones (2).
I gained a lot of experience as a director during my time teaching drama in schools. I directed numerous productions with large casts of young people – including Kes, Road and Teechers, amongst others – and found I was drawn equally toward plays that were imbued with some political nuance as well as comedic plays. I was directing ensembles of large casts and incorporated physical theatre techniques, projections, and experimented with different staging ideas. Road was performed as a promenade performance and I loved designing the space as individual environments – I even suspended a shopping trolley from a lighting bar! Kes was staged in the round and I developed a physical choreography with the ensemble to represent the bird in flight. During this period I developed dramaturgical and staging skills, I began to understand text as a whole arc and developed and devised creative ways to express this through the medium of theatre. This was an entirely different experience from being an actress, where my main concern was how best to bring my role to life.
Other Directing Work By Emma
Blackout by Davey Anderson
(Upstairs at Three and Ten Brighton – an award winning venue in Brighton & Etcetera Theatre, Camden.)
The play was originally written for the NT Connections festival, and its visceral writing intrigued me instantly. I worked with emerging actor Jack Boyle to perform this challenging role, and also collaborated closely with composer Max Wilson to enhance the tone and atmosphere I wanted to communicate. I intensely directed the piece to bring out the light and shade of this extended monologue. There were many problems to solve in realizing the text: how can we show the multiple voices within the play? How can the balance be struck between exposition, rage, hurt, and redemption? During rehearsals I drew inspiration from Stanislavsky’s acting method and Jack’s performance in the end was extraordinary, brave and rightly received good reviews :
“[this] true-life tale … really came alive in the hands of talented young actor Jack Boyle … [with] an atmospheric Max Wilson score … [it was] captivating theatre”thelatest.co.uk
The Boutique by Richard Blanco (The Marlborough Theatre).
This new play focused on issues surrounding trans-gender. A two-hander cast played multiple characters, both comedic and moving. It was received well and I enjoyed solving the various characterisation, staging and set issues. I was working with a new writer and we had many dramaturgical discussions about the text, cutting it down to the essence of the stories and highlighting the dramatic highs and lows of the characters.
“Emma was a brilliant director to work with. Fantastic staging ideas and suggestions for changes to the script which really helped bring it to life and up the dramatic tension. A rigorous approach to rehearsals and a great way of working with the cast to bring out the best in them and their performance. And an energetic, can-do attitude without which the production would have never made it to the stage let alone been such a great success. Couldn’t have done it without her.”Sara Harris
“Working with Emma you get the benefit of her incisive intellect, her vast knowledge and experience of theatre and texts, combined with her facilitating a space for actors to play and explore, and lots (and I mean lots) of constructive laughter…”Gina Kawecka
“Recently I worked for the first time in a professional company in the Brighton Fringe Play ‘A Passion for Rationals’. I found Emma’s creative input very clear and positive whilst allowing the actors space to contribute their own ideas. In a short time she helped to create a great team with high standards for themselves and expectations of each other. Emma displayed a light touch that was a joy from beginning to end.”Kevin Cherry