Someone once told me: “Banish negativity from your life. Things won’t always work, but if you stay positive you learn from the defeats.” That was advice I lived by while directing Tennessee Williams’ Confessional at Edinburgh in 2015.
The play is set in a rundown seaside bar in southern California in the 1950s. I’d discovered it at drama school when we were doing US accents and later had the idea to restage it in modern-day Southend. I figured if people could drink during the show we’d sell more tickets, so we made it semi-immersive – in the pub.
I had planned to play the barman, but didn’t know any directors I trusted, so decided to direct. We booked a venue and set about finding actors, rehearsal space and money. A few actors dropped out, so we didn’t have our final cast until three weeks to go. Rehearsals went well and the play was starting to bubble.
Then our main sponsor contacted me two weeks before opening night to say they could no longer give me the money. A week before we opened we were nearly £6,000 short.
We set up an Indiegogo campaign and a mini-miracle happened. We raised nearly £4,000 in three days. We were on Indiegogo’s homepage as the top campaign in the world. A beer company saw the crowdfunder and offered us the rest of the money, free rehearsal space and beer to give to the audience.
Tennessee Williams, brilliant acting and beer was perfect for an Edinburgh audience. The Stage called Confessional a “mini-masterpiece of immersive theatre” – suddenly we had a hit and we played to full houses. It was a blast.
A TV producer saw the show and offered to help us transfer to London. A year later we opened at Southwark Playhouse, where we built a fully working pub, complete with fridges and stains. The show was a success, breaking the box office record and picking up two Offie nominations including best director – not bad for a show that very nearly didn’t happen at all.
Training: The Poor School; Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (summer course in directing)
Directing credits include: Confessional, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Southwark Playhouse (2015/16); The Sweet Science, Edinburgh Fringe (2017); Powerless, Pleasance (2018)
Theatre acting credits include: Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre (2014); Fairyland the Musical, Rhoda McGaw, Woking (2015)
TV credits include: A Reasonably Good Bloke
Agent: New Wonder Management
Jack Silver was talking to John Byrne