Telling stories with imagination.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Food and Theatre

Heather (Metta's Exec Producer and also Producer of Otieno) is always mocking me because I insist every Metta board meeting revolves around food, whether it be eggs benedict or sausage sandwiches at our breakfast meetings, soup with home-made bread at our lunch meetings and casseroles & stews at our dinner meetings. Anyone who knows me even a little knows a) I'm a big eater and b) I get a bit bored talking business for too long. So is the food simply a ploy to keep me in the room? Until Monday I would have rather sheepishly conceded that was probably the case but I'm beginning to realise food and Metta Theatre are actually far more inextricably linked.

As an experiment and litmus test for the Metta Theatre commune that I eventually want to start we had the read-through and first day of rehearsals for Otieno last Monday in the living room of mine and Will's flat. Partly this was a function of budget, or lack thereof, and our laziness about not wanting to move the model box, but it inadvertantly became a perfect model of The-first-day-of-rehearsals that from now on I shall try and replicate for every show I direct. We started with a meet and greet with cupcakes and muffins made by Heather (the recipe for which came from my dear friend Tim- for which much thanks.) Most meet and greets, not just Metta ones, do tend to involve some sort of food - typically pastries from Sainsburys - but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Lunch (for 16 - cast and creatives!) was home-made soup and 2 loaves of home-made bread (one still warm from the machine - it's not quite so 'Good Life' that we make everything from scratch!) And then when rehearsals finished Will made a feast of curry, daal, rice and naan bread for dinner and everyone got a little merry on the wine Adam (our production manager) had brought. To top it all off Trevor (writer and star of Otieno) went out and managed (despite all the supermarkets, and the Baskin Robbins opposite our flat, being closed) to procure two large tubs of ice-cream (much to the annoyance of one of the actors whose idea it had been in the first place, and who had spent 20 minutes wandering around fulham discovering all the supermarkets were closed for the bank holiday). Now this rather protracted and food oriented anecdote is not intended to be a smug boast about our rather hippyish approach to how a professional rehearsal should be run, but it bought home to me a perhaps rather obvious realisation - the first day of rehearsals is a scary thing . I'm sure the first day of any job is scary, just as the first day of school is. New faces, new responsibilities and the same old fears - will they like me? Will I be good enough? Will I slip up in some way and make a fool of myself? But the moment you get a group of people around a table breaking bread together (literally in our case) you are no longer 16 strangers judging and being judged, putting up barriers to protect yourself from the unknown; you a family. The moment wine is spilt and you all jump to find a cloth and move the scripts out of the way, you become a team; the moment you accidently drop some daal in the writer's wine and he doesn't notice til it's too late, the group is bonded, formed, through laughter - at me for the mistake, at him for not noticing the mistake til it's too late!

I remember now when we were rehearsing Blood Wedding last year we had a lunch budget and each day the stage manager brought in bread, ham cheese etc and we made and ate our lunch together. I have never, before or since, worked with a company that was so much like a family. Which is not to say there aren't fights, feuds and cliques that form - but these grievances can be aired rather than suppressed, because as in a family there is trust and there is a safe space in which you can rant and rail all your like and still be loved and accepted at the end of the day. And I'm convinced that level of openness and trust comes directly from things like communal meals.

What any good theatre company does, or should do, on stage is act as a team. My revelation this week - eat together from the word go and you're a team from the word go.

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