Thinking inside, outside and throwing away the box.

An interesting discussion outside of our rehearsal space occurred: how do we talk about our company to someone for the first time? A new guest to our rehearsals spoke about how she felt trapped in the box where creativity and new ideas are ignored. A somewhat single-vision artistic world. We didn’t argue that this is wrong, everyone has their method. However, we did explore where we sat in this. Inside of the box? Outside of the box? Why have a box at all?! In this short essay, I would like to explore this idea that is paramount in the lives of us creatives - finding that uniqueness and the possible benefits and hurdles with “the box”.

What is “the box”? A good starting point. The common understanding is that this box is metaphorical but let’s imagine it:

a cardboard box and inside a set of safe ideas, things that will fit the formula for the creative piece – a solid story, attention grabbing movement, good sound (this is just from my own personal experience).

These boxes are produced in bulk. They are the welcome package, shipped to every company, every artist, every creative. They, well, do the job, but do they do the job well? If we used solely these ‘safe’ ideas, audiences would get bored after a few projects. Uniqueness is what brings them back and allows us to continue our own growth as creatives.

One of the central values at NATT is telling a solid story about people. However, our current project, ‘Tull 100’, has invited us to explore a new period and evoke richer questions: What was life like for all soldiers in WWI? What about soldiers with different coloured skin? What was their life like? By asking these unique questions, we are in turn inviting the audience to ask them. The great thing is, the next project will ask a completely new array of questions!

So, back to “the box”. Process is also a part of this pack. At NATT, as discussed in the play essay, we will have a plan with no known end goal. We will not only go outside of the box to seek ideas, but we will see if we can make the box into a hat, maybe a table, maybe a tank. We just keep playing. Improvisational devising, to put a tag on it, allows us to develop our question evoking work. However, we also agree that it is not the golden, 100% must do method by any means. We are extremely inspired by methods from other practitioners in the arts, Lecoq, John Wright, Michael and Anton Chekhov, Stanislavski. Some of their methods will work for us and perhaps some of our methods could work in their rehearsals space. And some don’t. But it is important to have an awareness of process, whether it be pre-planned choreography, heavy context and character work or playing games.  It is much like saying there is only one way to paint – if that was the case, galleries would suck.

The Cast playing during rehearsal of 'Tull 100' rehearsals [Louise Stoner]

The Cast playing during rehearsal of 'Tull 100' rehearsals [Louise Stoner]

So, “the box” is not inherently wrong. In fact, I am extremely fascinated and believe that we should explore tradition. At NATT (and perhaps something I would suggest we all try to do in our lives) we play and are always exploring different methods and approaches. We enter the rehearsal space not knowing exactly what we will come out with but knowing that we will bring in some new game, some new spark.

Move. Explore. Play.

Billy Taylor



Play - An introduction to unplanning.

I am Billy Taylor – for both Now & Then Theatre as well as my own project, The Motion Pack, I play around with movement . And that is something I want to explore and discuss with you today – play.

What a word, eh? What does it mean? That’s what I love; the word has many meanings because there are many ways to play: you could make a play, play basketball, play on a Playstation, play with toys. But I feel this is missing something. What about the Oxford Dictionary? They know their stuff!

“Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”
— The Oxford English Dictionary

This is an okay definition in my view. However, play can be taken into a serious situation, it is just that lack of purpose, lack of an end goal and the simplicity (not easiness) of the idea. I would say play is:

“The spontaneous exploration of something with no known end goal.”
— Billy Taylor

This is a central part to how we (Martin Boileau, NATT’s Artistic Director and I) plan a nice, unplanned rehearsal: we will find a volume of games that may help explore a scene, develop an idea or spark a new neuron for the players. The important thing is half the time it doesn’t go to plan. And that is okay – in fact it is AWESOME!

Here is an example game that we recently used in order to explore the idea of a courtly love:


Sheet (adapted from Frantic Assembly Ignition 2016)

Two players hold as sheet. Begin with either end but do not let this be a restriction. Now they play. They communicate and try new things. How can you use your sheet to manipulate the other person? How can you say ‘hello’ with a sheet? ‘How are you’ with a sheet?  ‘I love you’ with a sheet’? What does pulling do? What does pushing do?

Notice these are predominately questions. Play asks so many. And we do get a lot of answer in return, however, some provide importance and some are just there to help our exploration. ‘pushing was quite rejective. What would pulling do?’

‘That move felt like it could be powerful. What if I were to stand closer? That works. What if I were to look there? That doesn’t. What if?’

What I love about this is the fact that you say ‘what if’ without any fear of discovering the answer if you just play.

I am reminded of a recent workshop by Lanre Malolou with Frantic Assembly in which we were in a circle – we all faced in. He played some music and asked us to shout out words that we thought of in association to the sound. The music was Telefon Tel Aviv’s ‘Sound in a Dark Room’ and words such as electric, charged, mechanical, hard started arising from the circle. He then said we can use the circle to ‘play’ as he played the music. At first the mesmerising dancer, Perry Johnson, entered the circle, inspiring us with his movement and connection to the music. However, on the periphery, I was bricking it – ‘What if? What if?’. I had the intent to explore but fear held me back from play. As more entered moving mechanically and playfully, one of my good friends, Ali Kerr, entered fluid, languid, moving to the rhythm of the female voice. He asked, ‘What if I used her voice?’ and then played. Some time into the exploration I plucked up the courage to enter the circle of play. To begin, I explored animalistics (as per), in my mind questioning ‘what if we work with the opposition of technology, nature?’. After those first three planned primal movements, I was lost in the play, with no known end goal. At one moment I explored the ape, the next a lizard. Then I was curious, then I was powerful. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and had a conversation with no voice. Then a whole group of us seemed to liquefy into one big blob of movement. The feeling afterwards was ecstatic.

And so, I implore you to do something without a known end goal. Knowing that you want to explore a love scene is great. But when the questions are asked in the moment, in silence and not laid out in a strict count map, I feel the connection for the player and the game is extremely inducing of our interest. 

Billy Taylor and Jack Porteous during 'Tull 100' rehearsals [Louis Stoner]

Billy Taylor and Jack Porteous during 'Tull 100' rehearsals [Louis Stoner]

I plan to leave these blog posts with an image. To begin with, I invite you to this game I played with Jack Porteous during rehearsals for ‘Tull 100’. I held one end, he held the other. I said ‘play’. Who would have thought this could have unconsciously inspired the later game of Sheet? Feel free to contact us on info@nowandthentheatre or comment down below. 

Move, Explore, Play,