A Creative Manifesto - Releasing Your Creativity
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Something that crops up a lot, both in my coaching work with writers and in my own practice, is the tendency we have to self-edit our ideas before they have had a chance to fully form. This is particularly the case for those of us who might be termed ‘theatre makers’ – meaning that we are normally actively involved not only in the creation of a project but also in the producing of that project. This brings with it many challenges, not least the tendency to filter our creative ideas on the basis of whether we think they might be producible or not.
Something I’ve realised over the past few weeks is that, with the massive uncertainty surrounding theatres at the moment, the producibility question has essentially been nullified. Now that I have no idea whether anything is producible, I might as well free my creative mind to fully embrace the ideas that truly excite me. The irony here is that those newly liberated ideas are not necessarily vastly more expensive than the previous one and would actually make a far more compelling funding application as well! So, by fully embracing our creative instincts we might actually find that we are creating work that is more producible not less!
The same goes for writers who are not necessarily involved in producing. Have you ever stopped yourself from writing a scene because you’ve thought – ‘but that couldn’t possibly be done on stage’ or ‘but we could never do that in the sort of theatres I’m likely to get this play performed in’? I have two responses to these questions which might be helpful in freeing your creative instincts:
1) Let the director worry about how to stage it! Whilst writing, focus on creating a compelling story that excites you. Whether you approach that through character, narrative, location or something else altogether, get it out there on paper. Follow your instincts – there will be time enough for critical thinking later. If you’re also directing your piece, try to think of yourself as two separate people. If those doubting thoughts come in, treat it as a discussion between two separate creatives. A director won’t attack a writer’s ideas and tell them their ideas are completely unrealistic and unworkable (a good director wouldn’t anyway!). The best directors would see this as a provocation, a challenge to get excited by. Similarly, the writer will allow space for the director’s ideas and interpretations – not trying to provide all the answers in one go. In other words, treat each of your separate creative roles with respect and give them their own space and permission to be stimulated by what the other creates. [I’m reminded here of a stage direction that writer, Katherine Rigg, put in an early draft of our Cyphers Theatre Company production of Northanger Abbey. At one point, she wrote simply: ‘You’ll do something Cyphersy here.’ As a director, I loved this. It was both a challenge and a vote of confidence. She was saying: ‘Over to you - I trust you to make this work.’]
2) Let the play dictate its own scale. There’s a hugely understandable tendency to write pieces that you know can be staged in a small studio theatre, or above a pub, or with a small cast. The problem here is that you’re immediately filtering out all the ideas for plays that might have actually taken you to mid-scale or large-scale stages. A piece of work made for a room above a pub is only ever likely to exist in a room above a pub. A play that is true to itself, that writes the characters, locations and events that it requires to tell the story in the best possible way, should work anywhere. (Especially if you’ve got a good director on board). To some extent this links to the above statement – if you’ve written a large-scale piece but only have a 50 seat venue to perform it in, let the director worry about how to stage it and only make changes if absolutely necessary. But it actually goes much deeper than this. It’s about being true to yourself and the work you really want to make. It is your unique voice that is going to get you noticed as a writer. If you’re constantly editing, filtering and adapting your ideas to fit small spaces and small budgets, then you put yourself in the same small-scale/fringe theatre scrum as everybody else.
So, I’d encourage you, while it is unclear when theatres will reopen and when your work will ever be produced, to use this as an opportunity to be brave and to embrace your creativity fully. Let down the barriers and filters, and bravely pursue those ideas that excite (and slightly scare) you. Who cares if it seems far-fetched and utterly un-producible, because even the simplest piece of theatre is un-producible at the moment!!
One thing that I have done recently, to help me stay true to this idea of freeing my own creativity, is to write a short Creative Manifesto. It’s worth a try, as it is a great way to remind yourself why you write or make creative work in the first place. Just grab a piece of paper, a pen and set a timer on your phone for 3 minutes. Then write any and every word you can think of that would describe the work you really want to make. Write down literally every word that comes out – complete free writing. By the end of the 3 minutes you’ll have a mass of words and phrases that describe you as an artist. (You may be surprised!)
Then, circle 5-10 words or phrases that really leap out at you. Turn these into short, punchy and active statements of what you can be or what you can do. Make them positive and affirmative and write them out somewhere you will regularly see them – could be at the front of your notebook, on the desktop of your computer or on a noticeboard in your room.
I recently wrote in the front cover of my notebook my own Creative Manifesto. It lays out the ideas, approach and ethos, that I feel are central to my work. By placing them at the front of my notebook, they act as a constant reminder. It reads:
Build a team.
Utilise the skills of others.
Make more in the room.
These will now serve as a touchstone, a foundation to come back to when things get rocky or I start to doubt myself. These may change – and they probably should – but that’s fine. (After all, two of my statements are to be adaptable and to create change!).
This felt like a really liberating and empowering exercise for me, so I encourage you to try it yourselves. Keep the language positive and active. Challenge yourself and free your creativity!