Style is a lot like nuts…

For years I told myself I did not like nuts. I licked a tiny strip of peanut butter off the edge of a knife when I was 6 and to my horror, it wasn’t very sugary. My face scrunched up like a wad of paper being chucked in the bin and I lost all of the moisture in my body. I’ll stick to jam thank you very much. So resolute was I in my hatred of nuts that it took 15 years for me to give nuts another go and when I did I realised I actually loved them. All those years I could have been eating snickers bars or making PB+J sandwiches like the Americans on TV, lost! I could have spent those years exploring the furthest reaches of nut cuisine. And sure some of it would have been dreadful but some of it might have been amazing! Did you know cashews are incredible in curries? I didn’t! All of the possibilities, lost because of a snap decision made years prior by a stupid kid who didn’t know what they hell he was talking about. This is basically how my creative career has gone as well. I made some snap decisions early on that ended up shaping my writing for years, limiting the growth of my style and overall just making me depressed. It’s been awful. Truly awful. And I wouldn’t change a bit of it.

Some of this journey was spent learning the rules. What works, what doesn’t work and why sometimes what works doesn’t work and what doesn’t work is the only thing that will work. Unfortunately, you only learn what doesn’t work by showing it to people. Sometimes not a lot of people. Whatever size, the audience will tell you if you are on the right track. All you have to do is listen. It’s failing over and over again in pursuit of your voice and if you are able to endure, it can be tremendously rewarding. That’s what discovering your style is like for a single creative. But how do you go about developing a cohesive style for a group of creatives, like a theatre company for instance?

It is partly about knowing your place in the creative process. As a writer, I remember toiling away on scripts, trying to construct the perfect line which, if said in the exact way it appeared in my head, would make the audience scream with laughter, faces gone all red with tears rolling over their jollified jowls. Flowers will be thrown at my feet as I collect my eleventeenth award. I thank everyone who helped me achieve this award, which is just me and my magnificent brain and the audience start screaming again, their bouts of hysteria broken up by blood spackled coughing fits. Applause, applause, applause.

Obviously this didn’t work because actors and directors exist and they’re job is to interpret the script in an interesting way. They have absolutely no obligation to “honour your vision”. I’d heard before that actors are just moving props and while they are being shaped by the script and the direction, they are not robots. They are creatives in their own right. I tried for years to get around this by writing a script with the intent to direct it myself but try as I might, actors kept having “opinions”. The bastards! I had to concede that they were autonomous thinking creatures and occasionally that meant the line would not be said in the exact way I had constructed it in my head.

But what was even harder to accept, was that sometimes the way the actor did it was better than I ever could have dreamed. I remember working on a play once and there was this assistant character who helped the main character get away with all the terrible things they were doing and the actor decided to use this high pitched Geordie accent and it was as if the lines were written in that voice from the start. The first time I heard it was in a reading we had over Zoom and I was in tears. It provided the role this wild energy that spread out from the actor to the rest of the play.

This isn’t to diminish the role of the writer in the creative process. Without them, there wouldn’t be a play. And they have spent many years trying to discover their own unique style. But equally without the actors and directors there would not be a play and all of those brilliant people have been on the same journey and bring interpretations the writer never would. It’s all about collaboration – and sometimes, compromise. But it always means that you have the opportunity to expand your thinking. To try new things, silly things you would never have thought of on your own and have found for yourself and your collaborators a space where you can experiment and most importantly, fail. So get some friends around and start throwing nuts into the curry. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the results.

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