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Stephanie Street: Theatremakers are at our best when we work as a collective – not in isolation

Collaboration is at the heart of successful theatre practice, says Stephanie Street. Photo: Shutterstock
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This has been a double deja vu week. I was both appalled and unsurprised to read Matthew Xia and Selina Thompson’s accounts of the tacit racism they’ve experienced at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Unsurprised because the last time I was at the fringe, way back in the early years of the millennium, I felt deeply conspicuous in my brown-ness. And appalled because, well, it’s 2017; I cannot believe we are still having to call this nonsense out.

Both Matthew and Selina have written devastatingly and incisively about their experiences and I won’t add to it. But I reckon everyone needs to read what they wrote and drag these grubby unconscious biases out into the open.

My second deja vu of this week takes me back to that familiar theme: the self-tape nightmare. Once again I found myself having to farm my kids out to whoever could take them, so I could balance my laptop on top of a couple of boxes perched on my mother’s dresser and record 10-odd pages of witty dialogue. It’s a lovely job in prospect and I’m very grateful to be up for it, even though I’m away seeking refuge from the childcare wasteland that is the summer holidays.

But… when I subsequently received the email from my lovely agent saying there was a problem with the syncing of the sound, and could I please resend the tape, I thought: a) at no point, when considering a career in performing, did I think I was going to have to master the use of editing software and b) there goes another day of my holiday. A self-tape equates to a minimum of three hours’ work. Minimum. Often it spreads into four or five.

And as I waded through online forums on how to use iMovie, I thought wistfully of a real live audition I had recently. Aside from just being delighted to be auditioning in the company of other humans, I was struck by how the other people in the room improved the work I offered up. It was great to talk with the series producer and get a sense of his vision for the whole. It was immensely helpful to discuss with the director the similarities and differences in how we saw the character I was meeting for.

Most significant, though, was the impact of the casting director. His generosity was endlessly empowering, from his warm, galvanising welcome to the detail with which he offered positive and constructive notes on what I was doing.

Over the course of the several scenes I’d been asked to prepare, and several repetitions of each following his notes, I was really able to show the programme makers the best of my ability. I don’t name and shame but I do like to name and praise and, for me, Andy Morgan completely made that meeting. I didn’t get the job as it happened, but I know I gave it my utmost, largely thanks to his direction.

As I write, I realise this is deja vu number three: we do what we do best in collectivity and not in isolation. Whether it’s balancing computers on furniture or excluded from the central thrust of a major arts festival, we don’t do our best in a bubble. I know I keep saying it, but to me it is at the very heart of what we do.

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