I should be reading a script, but I’m not, because I find the process scary. It’s not a fear that I’ll hate the story and be bereft of ideas, but the opposite: what if it’s brilliant and the possibilities flow forth as if they were shot from a water cannon? This is problematic because – to paraphrase William Faulkner – you have to kill your darlings, and the more there are, the more painful it becomes.
The killing spree starts while reading the script. It’s impossible to stop your brain conjuring design ideas on every page. Wouldn’t the character look great walking down a central staircase in that scene? Just a few pages later, the staircase is killed by a fireman’s pole. It’s exciting and exhausting. But you have to keep embracing the ideas spilling out in case one actually survives to the end of the play.
Secondly, there’s the knowledge that you might not get to do it. Designers can have a few meetings between reading the script and being hired. While loving the script you have to keep in mind that you might not get to do it.
So the script is great and you’re buzzing. Brilliant ideas are dancing out of your brain and around your studio, throwing themselves into sketches in the margins, expensively slotting themselves into your bookshelf in the form of research books you need to have – just in case. All you can do is keep reading, smiling, and reminding yourself you probably have to massacre them all.
Now, here’s the crux: is it acceptable to ask a designer to bring a full book of images, mood boards and sketches to an interview? The problem with this familiar request is that it means unpaid designers are now pitching. And what they’re pitching are ideas formed from a very short stay in an isolated bubble. Theatre, and especially its design, is a conversation – the best work is born from months of spitballing together. Not from one read of a script that ends up with a fireman’s pole.
Plus, to get images professionally printed to a high quality costs money. Add on the extensive amount of time it takes to create these things, and a pitch quickly becomes pretty costly. On top of all that, those ideas are now out there, so there’s a chance some of your darlings might make it on to that stage without further involvement from you.
Most of those initial ideas are born to die, or, possibly, evolve, through months of work and collaboration. So it’s hard creating a stellar pitch from one reading, especially when you don’t know whether you’re on the team at all.
And so, as the printer knocks out the final page of this new script, I start the process again. It may be hard knowing what’s to come, but at least I can look forward to those ideas pouring out, though I will be keeping one hand firmly on the machete.