‘Get out of the weeds’ is an instruction I give myself when I’m deep into rehearsal and starting to obsess about whether props are on stage left or stage right – or any other bitty minutiae that isn’t related to the trunk of the story tree but is easier to grapple with than life’s big questions. There’s a magnetism to those solvable tiny problems which can be a black hole for me – it feels productive but it drains my energy in the wrong way and takes my focus off the big picture.
In rehearsals for The Keyworker’s Cycle recently, I wrote down a list of global questions that were the threads of the piece, and taped it to the table at the front of the room. The amazing Jessica McKenna (assistant director) and I used it as a touchstone to bust us out of any moment our attention was draining into the small stuff. I asked her to give me a shake if she caught my brain in the weeds and demand that we get away from there! It was quite amazing to see how even if you felt totally cul-de-sac’d with something, you could spend a minute staring at a list of big picture stuff and solutions would appear. Even if the cul de sac had nothing to do with the big question.
Exploding the question. Jess and I did this over full English breakfasts in the caff. Write down or discuss everything you can think of about it. Words, phrases, ideas, pictures. Pick a rabbit hole to fall down and explore it for half an hour, or ten minutes, or sixty seconds. Sometimes I do this in R and D for new pieces in the form of 100 questions – you have to write down 100 questions about the world, characters and circumstances and you aren’t allowed to answer any of them until you’ve got to 100. It builds up creative energy like a pressure cooker!