We’re now three days into Catalyst 2019 (we started this Monday, on April Fool’s day) and, in the way that these things always go, it feels to me as if we have simultaneously been here for years and minutes. The Catalyst company is made up of myself and two other directors, Jonty and Grace (I could but won’t go into which of Harry, Ron, and Hermione we are), six writers, and nine actors – plus writing mentors Sam (Potter) and Tom, and directing mentors/North Wall co-directors John (Hoggarth) and Ria (Parry), who facilitate our group sessions, and offer obscenely good advice at every stage.
As directors it’s been an odd few days. I’m used to the weeks building up to a rehearsal period being crammed with making plans, scrapping them, making plans again, and working with writers and other creatives through fine-tuning a vision ready for actors to play with in rehearsals. Catalyst isn’t like that – until this afternoon, we didn’t even know which pieces we would be working on. Even now as I’m sat writing this, I can see the two writers I’m working with redrafting the scenes we’re looking at tomorrow. There isn’t a lot of time to think.
Which is part of the beauty of the programme. As a young director, I spent most of my career-time alone, whether planning rehearsals and projects, working through scripts, or reading to keep up with the theatre news. Grace, Jonty, and I have been meeting up to check in on each other every day after full company sessions, which can mean anything from talking about our worries and offering solutions, to trying to guess which combination of carbs will be on offer for dinner that night. John has spent a lot of time bringing the directors and actors together, flinging us into exercises and discussions around them on what turns a group of people into a company, and how we can channel that. So far I’m pleased to confirm that the biggest success was when the entirety of us cried with laughter during an exercise for fifteen minutes. Presumably the rest of my career-time will be consumed with how to subtly release laughing gas on the first day of all future rehearsal periods. Updates on that to come.
The main takeaway I have so far is how freeing it is to feel cared for. As artists it seems so easy to lapse into competition and determined isolation, but an overlapping company of actors, directors, and even mentors means that negotiation isn’t optional – so instead we’ve leapt straight into a community. I hope we can keep hold of that as we break off into the individual projects and the hours step up – and beyond, pulling the North Wall’s generosity and warmth (metaphorically, my bedroom is physically freezing) into all our work beyond.