There are several ways I could frame the experience of being mentored by Alan Davey (Chief Executive Arts Council England): the meetings we’ve had, the performances we’ve seen, the people I’ve met with or through him, the music we’ve introduced one another too.
A good place to start is, rather than the beginning, is a concert we attended recently: Birmingham Symphony Hall, CBSO conducted by Andris Nelsons ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (all three Acts). It was my third time at the Opera, so I didn’t know very much what to expect (I’d listened to a bit of a CD recording that Alan had bought me for preparation). It was absolutely magnificent. Walking home down Broad Street afterwards, I kept hearing bass clarinets in car motors, or top string sections seeping out of clubs- no lie. I was also thinking about someone we’d met, Sir Brian McMaster (who formerly ran the Edinburgh International Festival) and a list that I’d excitedly scribbled on the back of an envelope- a list of ‘really really good’ theatre directors, a plan for shows I needed to catch.
Or maybe, returning from watching Complicite’s Master and Margarita at the Barbican, after a mentoring session at the Arts Council offices in Westminster, just towards the end of the second term this year at Birmingham. I caught the train that got in around half one, I think, and had to meet up at 8:30 that morning for a performance of Dolezalova Playing Fields for my Drama course that I’d directed. Inspired, exhausted, I had a fantastic day performing our piece and watching other groups’ directing showcases. The next day a book arrives in the post: The Meaning of Art by Herbert Read, I’d picked it up, almost accidently, in Alan’s office and have been fascinated by the overview of, as you might expect, the meaning of art in the first chapter, but had left it at the office, and mentioned it to Alan later: he’d made sure I’d got it as soon as possible so I could use it for an essay on Hip Hop that we’d been chatting about in depth for some time. On second reading, it was just as insightful.
Perhaps these instances give an impression of how the ALMP scheme has been working for me and Alan. The conversation about directors to watch out for is one I’ve been having with Alan for a while, had continued with David Lan (who runs the Young Vic) the week before we’d gone to Symphony Hall, and is something I’m thinking about a lot. The week of the Complicite show I went over to Stratford-upon-Avon a couple of times to see The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, and met up with the Associate Director there, David Farr for a wee conversation about directing: as has always been the case with the meetings with directors that Alan’s initiated, he was really friendly and open and we had a good natter about how to go about starting out on a career as a director. As usual, the show I say (Twelfth Night, which David had directed) was fantastic: with brilliant uses of stage space, fantastic ensemble energy and strokes of light and shade, which conveyed the depth to Shakespeare comedy.
So, where do I stand now? Alan and I are still devising a plan for this summer and next year, involving trying to get a placement in a theatre, probably in London, to watch what’s happening in rehearsals and get involved in any way I can, apply for funding to travel and see/work with theatre groups in other countries- keeping my perspective as broad as it can be. That’s perhaps, so far, what it’s really been about, and what having a mentor in such a unique position of overview and engagement, and as generous as Alan, has afforded me.
Alan’s also making sure I see as much Pina Bausch this summer (at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells) as possible. I cannie wait!