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Mentoring —Unfolding Theatre

Case Study — Unfolding Theatre

Some words about mentoring —
Annie Rigby (Unfolding Theatre)

In 2011 we were shortlisted for Northern Stage’s Title Pending Award with a darts-inspired show called Best in the World. Alex Kelly was one of the judges. We knew him a bit already and really admired the theatre he makes. 

He asked us some great questions. He threw some darts (Alex’s unique throwing style is a topic for another time). He listened.

Apparently we didn’t win Title Pending, but Alex became our mentor, which felt like a pretty good prize.

In the first few months his mentoring took the form of long phone calls. I’m a big believer that talking is a good way of thinking, and Alex’s questions, comments, listening and laughter created a space where ideas took shape. Best in the World was also our first national tour, and his practical advice and contacts were a total bonus.

If you’ve seen Best in the World, you might be surprised to hear such a playful show had a pretty difficult birth. We had such strong ideas about what the show was not, it was really hard to find space for what it might be. I felt like I had led the team up a dead end. I felt like I was making them miserable. I felt like I couldn’t say this out loud. I wrote Alex a very long email. The next day the blockage became unstuck. Sometimes writing is thinking too. 

Alex next threw darts with (aka mentored) us during R&D weeks at BAC then in rehearsals back in the North East. As a director, I’m most often in my own rehearsal room and so don’t notice its particularities. He commented that most devising processes involve making loads of material then selecting what to use. He observed that we only tended to develop creative material that was going to end up in the show. That was, of course, okay. It just made the long pauses between our ideas more understandable. 

Alex was a hands on devisor with us in the rehearsal room, as well as an outside eye. This was at our invitation. Some of his creative contributions grew to become material that you see in the show - the beautiful tribute to Jocky Wilson most notably.  Some didn’t. Instead they offered a glimpse into what a different version of Best in the World might be. There was something precious about those glimpses. 

They helped me see what kind of director I am, what kind of show I was making, what matters to me and what doesn’t. It’s strange how rarely we get these insights  into our work.

While we were on tour, a school pupil asked our writer, Carina Rodney about what you needed to become a writer. She said you needed to be your own biggest fan and your own biggest critic. This also felt like a pretty accurate description of Alex’s relationship with Best in the World. He was a mentor who reminded me how good the show was when I was losing the faith, and a mentor who asked the questions that gently got to the nub of what wasn’t working.

We owe him a pint and a game of darts.

For more information about Best in the World see here. 

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