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Theatremaker and teacher John Wright: ‘Let playfulness become a discipline’

John Wright. Photo: Jorge Lizalde Cano

The associate of Told by an Idiot and visiting director at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama tells John Byrne about his work…

How did you start working as a director?

At drama school (the New College of Speech and Drama), I was encouraged to devise and direct.

What is the best piece of advice you have for students today?

To let playfulness become a discipline.

What would you change about drama training in the UK?

To value invention as much as interpretation in actor training.

What is the best part of your job?

Enabling people to glimpse their true potential as theatre artists.

Who are the practitioners you most admire or those you would advise your students to look up to?

I wouldn’t presume to tell my students who to look up to. They must find that for themselves. But I’ve been inspired by the work of people like Joan Littlewood, Peter Brook, Barney Simon, Jacques Lecoq and Philippe Gaulier.

What is the one skill every successful theatremaker should have?

A respect for playfulness. In order to play you must have nothing to remember, the desire to find the game and the confidence to ‘suck it and see’.

What can masks bring to theatre that prosthetics, CGI or motion-capture cannot?

Masks are more theatrical. They’re too crude to enable us to accept them as real faces. In spite of the fact that we all know that the mask isn’t real, we can’t help ourselves from reacting to it as if it were a real face. I’m not interested in making mask-theatre. I use masks to develop the imaginative and emotional range of the actors I’m working with and to explore style and interpretation. I use masks to define a persona, then remove the mask to enable that persona to be played unmasked.

John Wright’s new book Playing the Mask: Acting Without Bullshit is published by Nick Hern Books [1]