Why we’re all hat stands now: Having more than one job in theatre

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In my capacity as a PR, a previous client once told me that theatre people should have one job – directors should stick to directing, actors to acting, etc. That you should specialise and master your chosen vocation. It didn’t feel right when I heard it, and it definitely feels wrong now – as I’m writing this, I can’t think of a single colleague who only has one theatre job.

And I reckon this is becoming the norm – I have no facts to back it up, but everyone seems to multi-task. I myself have held any number of different theatre jobs – I’m primarily known as a publicist these days, but I began my career as a theatre director, which I am returning to this June with a new production of Howard Barker’s Gertrude – The Cry at Theatre N16.

Now you might think that the two jobs don’t match very well – I certainly perceive them as quite disparate. As a director, I feel it’s my job to clarify, to streamline, to open up new possibilities. Publicity is similar, but it’s much more about style over substance – about selling over simplifying.

“While wearing too many hats leaves you open to all sorts of mishaps, it’s seeing where they interlock and overlap where the magic happens”

So in the case of Gertrude, where I’m working both jobs, I need to hold two completely different frames of mind about how I approach it. But I’m excited – first times are always exciting – because here instead of compartmentalising both aspects, I get to try and exercise both of them simultaneously, which this is the perfect play to do that for.

Why? Because it’s already a dissonant mess. A sexy, unrefined mess. A feminist version of Hamlet that objectifies its female lead. A play all about lust that clearly finds it difficult to define. A play that tries to separate love and sex, and yet at its centre has a most truthful love story. Have I said sex enough times now for it to be stuck in your mind?

Gertrude-poster_N16_600x600

After a three-year hiatus, Chris returns to directing with Gertrude

The publicity drive on this is easy – it’s a play about sex. There’s nudity. There’s simulated sex on stage. It tackles our society’s obsession with sex, by discussing it as well as exemplifying it. More importantly, it’s a play about women and sex – female sexuality, the line between lover/mother, how sex changes for the ladies when you break mid-30… A very good marriage of what I need as a publicist and what I crave as a director: real, important themes that I feel strongly about, that I can spin into interesting coverage.

At least, that’s the hope. Heck, I could be wrong – I’ve given up on trying to be perfect. And it’s not as if the client I opened this article with was entirely wrong either – having too many hats can be a burden. Stretching yourself too thin, trying to do too much at once, especially on the same project – you can see where they might have had a bad experience that made them think this way.

But I’m not ending on a downer here – while wearing too many hats leaves you open to all sorts of mishaps, it’s seeing where they interlock and overlap where the magic happens. There are other combos out there that lend themselves to this relentless, peculiar and inspiring industry – and with money and work tight at the moment, it’s never a bad thing to have a wide skillset.

So don’t be afraid of wearing too many hats – be cautious and don’t over-extend yourself, but who knows what else you might discover?

Gertrude runs at London’s Theatre N16 from 12 to 30 June 2016.

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.