Putting Things On Shelves
So, first things first, I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to know that as of last week I no longer have to bang on about a Soho Theatre run all the bloody time, because we did the run and it was great and I had a lovely time – huge thank you to all who came, and to all who couldn’t make it, I hope I get to show it to you another time in the future! Off the back of that run, I thought this week I’d talk about putting things on shelves and solving creative problems by allowing time to pass.
The feedback to the shows last week was incredibly positive and encouraging, and I’ve never made a show that feels so much like a complete, coherent, funny, enjoyable show this early in its life – the fact that I managed to pull something together that was good enough to present across three nights at the Soho when I’d only really performed it once before feels astonishing to me. It’s a testament to the talents of the entire creative team – Ben Target, Miranda Holms, Alex Hardy, Robert Wells, Grace Gibson and Roisin & Chiara – that we pulled it off. But, naturally with any work-in-progress shows, there were also points where people who saw it had thoughts about how it could change, or grow, or develop. “This end-point could be more impactful if it were more clearly set up earlier,” “The audience might feel more free to play with the character if he’s set up in this slightly different way,” etc etc. The overall tone of the feedback, I would say, was “This is a great show. Once you’ve done a bit more with it, it will be incredible.” That’s objectively really lovely feedback to receive, but I sometimes struggle with a bad attitude to that sort of feedback whereby I want to immediately address those issues or thoughts, and figure out as soon as possible what needs to change or improve, so that I can end up with something really great now. “It sounds like it’s so close to being brilliant!” I tell myself. “Surely I can go through it all and find some simple fixes that will take it to the next level!”
A pictorial example of me rushing towards a hurried solution
The better thing to do, of course, is to put it on the shelf for a while. The first stage of this show’s life involved an intense burst of very hard work from everybody involved over a condensed 2-week period, but I think consistently working at that pace involves putting too much pressure on an idea, subjecting it to too much scrutiny, burning yourself out, and forgetting the way in which the idea actually functions. The easy thing to forget is that the great creative problem-solver is simply time – as time goes by, the solutions to creative problems emerge. Sometimes that time needs to be used in intensive bursts, and other times your mind simply needs to be occupied with other things, be they other creative projects, other types of work, or simply other slices of life. It needs new input. Then when it comes time to re-engage with the idea, the idea looks and feels different. The seeds that were planted when you put it on the shelf – “How do I set up that endpoint?,” “How do I introduce the character differently?” will have grown into new approaches, new methods, new things to try. Once that growth has occurred, it’s time to pivot back into another period of intensive work, to finish off what you started.
When something is close to being the best version of itself but not quite there, the best thing to do is to walk away from it for a while and fill your life with other things. The thing will be waiting for you. I’ve just finished reading Oliver Burkeman’s excellent anti-productivity and anti-time-management book, Four Thousand Weeks, in which he espouses a world view that involves accepting the limits of our time and acknowledging that we will never get everything done, because only by adopting that mindset can we leave ourselves open to the benefits that come from the passing of time. He shares the example of art professor Jennifer Roberts, who tasks her students with an assignment whereby they have to go to a gallery and look at one piece of art for three hours solid, without access to distractions such as phones or laptops. Only by submitting themselves to the tedium and frustration of this, and coming out the other side, do they begin to reprogramme their brains so that they become more deeply immersed in the moment they exist in, the moment they’re sharing with the artwork. This week I’ve decided to do something similar – to get up half an hour earlier than usual and spend the first half hour of my day looking out of my window at the street below, without looking at my phone, without looking at the news, without doing anything other than seeing who goes by, what they do, what the life of this street is like day by day. I’m excited to see what sort of creative solutions offer themselves up as a result of reprogramming my sense of being in the world, and refilling my mind after an intense few weeks of concentrating on output. Perhaps next week I’ll feed back some of the outcomes from this!
“Meaningful productivity often comes not from hurrying things up, but from letting them take the time they take, surrendering to what in German has been called Eigenzeit, or the time inherent to a process itself.” – Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Over the last few months I’ve been working with Alison Thea-Skot, Benjamin Sutton and Aurra Studios on a brand new podcast called Can’t Keep A Secret. Episode 3 has just come out, and I’ve been really happy with all the great feedback – it even made it onto the front page of the iTunes Comedy charts, which is apparently hard to do. You can listen to the series here, and if you want to anonymously submit a secret for us to discuss in a future episode, you can do so here!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – To prepare for the new horrible serial killer-centric Batman movie, I rewatched the scene from the 1966 movie where Batman can’t get rid of a bomb, and fucking hell, it’s one of the funniest scenes. I absolutely love it, and I can’t wait for the next Batman reboot to restore this tone to the series.
Book Of The Week – Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. This is excellent. Its basic point is that, on average, we all only have about four thousand weeks to do what we want with, so why constantly act like things will be better when we can just get XYZ out of the way? Why not just live our lives right now?
Film Of The Week – Turning Red, the latest Pixar. This is a really good time. It’s not top-tier Pixar, but these days, if Pixar knock out one absolute masterpiece every three years or so, and then in-between make films as imaginative and heartfelt and fun as this, I’m happy. I also think it’s cool that Pixar are mixing up who their films are aimed at, because they’re very much not a kids’ studio any more – Soul was aimed squarely at adults, and this is aimed squarely at teenagers. It’s great.
Album Of The Week – It’s been out a couple of weeks now, but I have yet to plug the new Marillion album here, so this week this spot goes to An Hour Before It’s Dark. I’m not allowed to listen to it out loud in the flat, because Miranda has a visceral reaction to middle-aged prog-rock, it makes her feel sick, especially since I showed her some of the music videos of Steve Hogarth singing very earnestly. But I love Marillion, and the new album is great, definitely their best since 2012’s Sounds That Can’t Be Made, imho.
That’s all for this week! Let me know what you thought! As ever, if you wanted to send this newsletter to a friend, or recommend others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it. Take care of yourselves until next time,
PS Here’s me outside the Soho the day afte the run ended, celebrating a nice fun time.