Monday, 12 December 2011

Andy Burden

Andy is a theatre director based in Bath.  He was Artistic Director of the Rondo Theatre from 2001-2008.  He’s taught at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, DeMontfort University, University of Bristol and Circomedia.  Recent directing credits include;  Pinocchio (Tobacco Factory), Seasoned (Brewery), I Remember Green (Alma Tavern) and he is currently working on the Meaning of Riff, previewing at Norwich Arts Centre on Dec 13th and the Rondo Theatre on Dec 15th, 2011.

For more on Andy please see his website

Andy Burden
Friday, Dec 9th 2011
Bath, UK 1pm

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on the Meaning of Riff, a one-man show with Eamonn Fleming, who is one of the stalwarts of Hull Theatre.  He is going to kill me for this, but famously for being that man with the bee beard in the Magners advert.  This is the second one-man show we’ve developed together and 4th or 5th solo show I’ve developed with actors.   It’s something I really like doing.  It’s very funny.  The whole idea is were working on it now and see if we can make tweaks and then go off to Edinburgh and hopefully on tour next year.  It’s a theatre/stand up comedy thing.

Who or what inspires you?

Real people.  The real world.  There are lots of people in the theatre world I’m inspired by, but for me it’s real stories, real characters, real incidents.  And either you do a comedy, compress it and make it more acute or larger than life or you do something very beautiful, try to pinpoint it and put it into an interesting context or something physical, stylised and try and communicate in a different way, in a visual way.  That’s always what inspires me in terms of my work and what I do, the world around me.  Also I’m really interested in history.  The next show I’m doing after this, is Henry VIII and the Royal Wedding Planner, which is another one person show and in the Brewery from the 10th of January.  That’s all about Henry VIII’s wives and inspired by a character named Jane Parker, who was a lady in waiting for five of the wives. 

What is your directing approach or style?

I’ve only just realised what it is.  The thing about being a director is you don’t see other directors direct.   But I have worked with an associate and co-directed, who will remain nameless, and I just sat there wondering, why are you doing it like that?  My approach is basically very playful, right at the beginning of rehearsal what I try to do is get people to open up and almost find that kid in themselves.  So what we are doing, even the most serious thing in the world, has some sense of fun and directness.  I don’t spend hours with the actors trying to decode the script, I do the work on my own before I go into rehearsal.  I don’t do lectures about the writer.  I believe a lot in just doing and finding things, bringing things to it.  Sometimes we ask questions after, and then we’ll do the academic stuff.  Instead of setting out like it’s A level Theatre/English literature text, we play around and figure out what works, why does that work and ask questions.  We're always putting stuff to the test.  I want people to do and try and to act naturally.  If you’re going to do comedy that’s heightened, then control that in a way that you can build up and make it very simple and very precise.  If it’s something naturalistic, you keep the ambivalences there and the feeling.   My approach is to always make the rehearsal room playful, open and relaxed place, where people can be creative to the last minute.   What I’m doing feels dangerous but I plan carefully where I’m going next and slowly bring everything in, until it all comes together and the actors go, Oh, it’s all there!  Because it comes from them, they don’t have to madly learn something at the last minute and they feel connected to what they’re doing. 

You are currently on a great run of successful shows as a freelance director.  Any advice you can give to a director starting out or struggling in this industry?

Years ago I wanted to be a musician.  And I went to Roy Harper, who I am big fan of and said I want to do what you’re doing, what would your advice be?  He just went to me; Don’t give up your day job!  There’s an element of truth unfortunately.  Despite some who would say they’re supporting and giving people opportunities and spreading their funding, basically its very, very difficult to get a start in this business because you have to do a lot of work for free.  Which means either its very rich people or people who somehow financed it another way.  When I was younger I was running around doing electrics, lighting, scene shifting, I kept all my work within the theatre world and tried to fit stuff around it.  I know people who are teachers and say I’ll direct and do it 3x a week.  That doesn’t work because you need that intense time.   I’ve just gone show to show, but at the beginning of this year, I didn’t have any work and it was a nightmare.  Having a fallback is not a bad idea. 

Peter Brook says in The Shifting Point, a director should never be out of work, because you set out the projects.  It’s about making the contacts and getting people on board, wherever it is and try to make work happen.  It’s not really an actor’s job to create work.   As a director I think we need to have that skill base to set things up, get an idea and find a way of doing it.   Part of what you do, has to be something people will come and see.  You have a choice in the industry; impress other theatre professionals or the audience.   Sometimes we forget we should be really impressing the audience.  The Rondo, Alma (Tavern), Tobacco Factory are making sure there is a place where people can try stuff out and also put on a full show.  That’s my other bit of advice, put on a full show.  Don’t be tempted to just put on 30 second bits.   I know it’s a trend, but I think as a director you have to put on a full show.  Like a writer has to write a whole play.  Writing a ten-minute short or sketch or doing something for a scratch night is a different skill to impressing people for that short time than it is for an hour or two-hour show.

Dream projects?

I’ve got loads.  Macbeth, A Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey.  I’d love to do some Brecht, Betrayal by Harold Pinter, Statements by Athol Fugart.  There are a number of adaptations and quite a few original projects in my head that I’m trying to write and co write.  To be honest the dream project is always what’s going on next.  So at the moment, it’s that Meaning of Riff is really successful.

Final question.  Is the director dead?

No - but there are plenty of directors making dead theatre and killing things off!   If you are a director enabling people to do their best, then absolutely not.  There’s been a fashion of directors putting their imprint or brand on stuff, like a Rupert Goold play will have a big image in it, like water and sharp lighting, or Katie Mitchell will have video in it.  I don’t really go for that.  I don’t know what an Andy Burden show is.   People say my stuff has a style.  But I think the way I’ve trained and developed, in the European way of working, is you work from the people you’re working with, so you’re enabling people, rather than saying look at me I'm the director.   As long as people are coming out of my shows saying I had a really good night out, I feel fulfilled.  If it’s well paced and it has heart, that’s all I want.  What a director can do is make sure, actors dig deeper, make sure that the play has a good pace, all the creative team are coming together, to bring something special to the audience.   That role of the director isn’t dead.  I would love to see the role of the academic director go.  I would be happy to see that go. 

Thanks Andy for sharing your thoughts!

"It is through collaboration that the knockabout art of the theatre survives and kicks. No one mind or imagination can foresee what a play will become. Only a company of artists can reflect the genius of a people in a complex day and age"- Joan Littlewood

"Everything you imagine is real" - Pablo Picasso