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  • Cyphers Theatre Company

4 Parallels To Theatre: 1) Gardening

This period with stages dark and rehearsal rooms empty has been a real challenge for many of us - and many challenges lay ahead. But it has been an opportunity to step back and reflect, realising that theatre isn't everything, and noticing the parallels between theatre and life.

Over the next month, co-Artistic Director, Will Holyhead will share 4 parallels to theatre that he has discovered during this enforced break.

Gardening - tending someone else’s garden & tending someone else’s show

One of the many new things I’ve discovered over the last few months of madness has been gardening.

Tending someone else’s garden is a little like being a resident or assistant director and has, I think, helped me to appreciate the challenges and enjoyable aspects of the latter a little better. Somebody else has designed, created and grown the garden, it is your job to tend to it and care for it.

As with caring for someone else’s show, there are parts of the task that are easy to work out: I think most people can identify a pile of dead leaves on the ground and dispose of them fairly easily (just make sure to bend from the knees).

Then there’s the middle ground – the jobs which are easy to do in their execution but depend on a little bit of knowledge and or taste. Weeding is the best example of this. Pulling a weed out of the ground is a relative doddle (unless it’s a dandelion – stubborn, dandelions). Identifying a weed, on the other hand, can be quite a challenge. I’m by no means an expert, but as I understand it, the two general definitions that need to be met to hit the ‘weed’ criteria are: a plant that grows without you telling it to be there (‘planting it’ would be a more technically correct phrase – or ‘blocking’ if you’re theatrically minded) and a plant that you just don’t want to be there. It’s possible, with a little knowledge, to fairly certainly identify the first of these qualities. However, the second definitely comes down to taste, as I swiftly discovered when I pulled up some plant or other which, whilst sitting in the middle of a path and therefore had quite clearly not been deliberately planted there, was apparently very pretty and a sad loss to the garden (I still beg to differ – who wants a plant growing out of a path!?). That misdemeanour aside, it’s still the general consensus that I’m a pretty damn good weeder (Microsoft Word put a red line under this. Nonsense! ‘Weeder’ is a legitimate and vital noun – you heard it here first) – my major speciality being the removal of deep roots growing between paving stone with a pair of old tweezers.

The other kind of middle ground activities are those which rely on little taste, but a bit more knowhow. I’m talking deadheading if you’re green-fingered, or cutting the lawn if you’re still determined to have a small dose of petroleum in these gloriously car-reduced times. I’m beginning to understand dead-heading – it’s a little more complicated than the title suggests, but not too much. Lawn-mowing on the other hand I will never touch with a barge-pole – I’m too afraid I’d manage to sever a limb, being somewhat mechanically disinclined.

The final garden-tending jobs require both skill and a shared taste with the garden’s creator. Topiary, pruning, painting the leaves on the trees a new colour etc. These tasks are probably the most akin to the challenging and stressful aspects of the job of a resident or assistant director. This kind of caretaking that requires not only a lot of skill, but also a shared taste, or at least crystal-clear understanding of the tastes of something’s owner. If you do share the same tastes, it is deeply rewarding (You’ll know if you’ve nailed these qualities as an Assistant Director when the Director begins referring to you as their ‘right arm’). If you don’t happen to see eye to eye, then it’s probably safest to stick to the more uncontentious weeds and cutting the grass. And remember, when in complete doubt, you can always just pick up the dead leaves – nobody’s going to cry about that.


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