Three things this week have reminded me of the very powerful, and very important, trust exercise which is called “Yes No Maybe”. It is used to start many couples and group work – in drama or life – where it is important to signal when you are comfortable with a developing connection. “Yes”, spoken clearly, indicates a wish to continue to move closer. “Maybe” indicates that you are one the edge of your comfort zone, and the group or other person should go carefully, and “No” is a gift from the other person, when spoken, to show that you have reached the edge of acceptable connection. You have together found a point where you are moving a discussion or connection from “stretch” to “panic”. You stop at that point and move back, exploring around what that means.
So first the “Yes” – I’m on a train returning from seeing Slung Low’s production of Camelot the Shining City with a cast of 100 people in and around the Crucible in Sheffield. I was there to see one of the 4 professional actors, Oliver Senton, give his General and see the nearly-graduated RADA student, Tia Bannon, as the lead. It was also a pleasure to bump into writer James Phillips. James, Oliver, founder Alex Lane are long-time collaborators on these immersive theatre experiences. It was powerful, contemporary, political, and great to see a pro and non-pro, trained and untrained, company coming together to deliver an epic tale. This is headphone theatre, and epic theatre, and impossible theatre all gathered together. It is based on having a crazy idea and then having a team of people who will say “yes”. Explosions and gunfire in the heart of the city of Sheffield, no problem. Evacuating the theatre every night in a controlled way with volunteers and staff, no problem. Lighting a show which has no dress, no tech, and an empty canvas for Gary Longfield to play with – no problem.
Extraordinary theatre is made when you say Yes, and then work out How.
But then, occasionally, we have to say No. If you are asked to do something which you know to be wrong, or unwise, or just not something you feel suited for, then you need to say No. I am struck at this moment by discussions I have been having this week with a range of international project champions who want me to do some work with them. They are asking me to do one thing, and I know I am not the right man for that role. I make an alternative proposal, and they keep coming back to say please do job A. In Japanese there is no word for “No”. There are just many many ways to say yes and maybe. And time after time working internationally in SE Asia I have been struck by the surprise I see in the eyes of my hosts or translators when I choose to say No, or express my weakness.
The world of theatre is peppered with projects where no-one said “No” at a time when their gut said, don’t go there. If you are leading a project as a producer, or a creator, or theatre design project manager, then I urge you, in whatever culture, to surround yourself with experts who can say No. Experts who can also say – Maybe, give me a moment, let me come back to you with a different option or solution. Let’s aim to get to a Yes together. There are one or two new theatres in this country where you wonder who didn’t say “No” early enough for the design to be stopped, for the idea to be controlled with some Maybe.
It was a joy sitting in the Crucible last night and thinking what a glorious space to share a packed theatrical experience. I was at the Noel Coward theatre in London to see Death of a Salesman on Monday and was struck, again, by how welcoming and well designed our West End houses are. And by the way, if you have not caught this production then do grab a ticket in the last weeks. There is some masterclass acting in the company. Here is a play about a man who always said Yes and could never say No – and it broke him.
And finally to Maybe – the lovely point of possible connection, possible fear, possible edge. It comes when two creative meet and explore whether they might work together. It comes when you walk into a room of strangers and wonder whether you can, might, will make connections. After my recent trip to Korea I realised that I didn’t know mny new emerging Korean creative working or studying in London – and neither did the producers that I met in Seoul. So maybe I could start a networking opportunity for them to connect. On Tuesday a few of us gathered in my office at the National Theatre (the foyer above the Lyttleton) and explored some maybes. One guest needed to find a theatre designer for a graduation project. Another person in the circle was studying theatre design at Wimbledon – maybe they might be right for each other.
I love making connections, I am scared before the start of any such gathering, but have to put my faith in the universe to bring the right people into the room.
My theatergoing life, and that of every critic, is to embrace the Maybe. This afternoon I go to a new musical at the Arcola and a new one man cabaret show at Etcetera. I am hoping to love them both. I am going for Maybe and may get a Yes.
Unless you show up you can’t hope to get to a Yes. Unless you know yourself you can’t be sure when you are getting towards your No (and neither can we as potential collaborators). But by being there and exploring the Maybe world, and preparing to be surprised, amazing things happen.
Yes – No – Maybe, try it in whatever language and culture you are working. And if there’s no word for No in your culture, welcome the word when it is voiced by a potential collaborator.