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W***y World-Hearts: Three More Directing Words

Yesterday, I blogged about terms I use a fair bit in my practice that I haven’t seen much/at all in other people’s work, but might be of use for other people - and, more especially, for me to have a place I could go when I needed to define such terms. It may be helpful to read that first.


Today, I add three more terms I tend to use a lot:


Wanky: This is one I entirely blame on a director I will not name, who I first encountered using it to describe shows that were pretentious. That’s basically what it means but, unlike ‘pretentious’, it is not a pretentious word, it carries a slightly mocking, pop culture tone rather than one that’s snobbish, and it’s also a bit vulgar, which can really help set a particular tone for rehearsal rooms.


While I’m very much a fan of academic analysis (collaborations at universities have been essential to my practice), sometimes it’s better to say “the bit with the cake was a bit wanky” rather than “while I understood the underlying goals of conveying individual epistemologies of ownership through the subversion of typically festive rituals, I thought the execution’s lack of connection to the wider piece made it rather pretentious.” The latter’s more precise, but the former gets the emotional force across.


To be absolutely clear: sometimes, wanky is the wrong word. Children, if you’re reading this, it’s always the wrong word. Sometimes the right tone is one that’s a bit more gentle, a bit more formal.

But sometimes, wanky is the right word to describe something. Like the point below.


World: Something I prize in my work is making worlds. This comes from two roots.


First, I like making ideas flesh. It’s one thing for two characters to exist in a world of seeping corruption; it’s better to have a design that reflects that corruption; it’s even better to have conversations with the cast about what that actually means for the rules of the world if seeping corruption is a horror-style rule, rather than just an element of interpersonal interactions.


Second, hinted at above, is that I really like pulp genres and don’t dismiss them from my work. When Tolkein writes a book about the struggle against evil (admittedly, questionably defined in places), it’s not just that the characters’ actions struggle against evil. We can see it in the landscape, becoming slowly more hostile as Frodo struggles towards Mount Doom. We can see it in the form he uses, guided by epic sagas of heroic struggles against monstrous non-civilisation.


And then, in The Last Ringbearer (perhaps the best fanfiction I’ve ever read), a communist author takes all of that and rebuilds the world to make it that the industrial proletariat of Mordor are struggling against the decadent aristocracies of the West. The style changes, the focus of the world changes, and it is a simply excellent example of how worldbuilding around the same text can be radically different.


Other excellent worlds-that-serve-as-metaphors include Le Guin’s Earthsea and Hainish cycles, Gaiman’s American Gods and Neverwhere, and a great deal of Borges, who also has the generosity to be brief.


Heart: Like ‘beautiful’ ending the last blog, heart is a difficult one to define. But it is also what I find tends to lift a show from ‘pretty good’ to ‘amazing’ - that it has a clear sense of its own heart. Often, a rich show’s heart can be condensed into a simple sentence (“people are basically decent”, “we are surrounded by forces far larger than us and we cannot shape them”, “love is not enough”), which then is unpicked, untangled, and re-woven into something new.


But if I don’t know what the show’s heart is, I find it very hard to depict what it is doing in a clear and consistent way.


If I do know what the show’s heart is, it can be a light that can unify everything - even scenes that are doing wildly different things, because each will relate back to the heart in its own way - and make something brilliant, and hopefully beautiful.


First Witch, from Charley Ipsen's design for the cyberpunk Macbeth of creeping corruption I directed.

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