Democracy or Dictatorship a Directing Dilemma

I am about to embark on a very exciting project – directing Julius Caesar for Southside Players as part of RSC Open Stages.  We don’t perform until mid-February but on Friday we had our first production meeting.

My aim for the play is to create a completely relevant 21st Century context – a twitter revolution Julius Caesar, complete with projected live twitter feed, audience engagement, maybe even some characters and elements being presented ‘virtually’.  My inspiration for the production was Paul Mason‘s blog piece ‘Twenty Reasons Why It is Kicking Off Everywhere’.

For me the production is part of an ongoing thought experiment – can you use cultural engagement to create political engagement by attaching political themes to the cultural mechanism.  These themes should be thought provoking but not instructional, educational or polemic.  The idea is that by putting them into a cultural imaginative context you encourage creative thought around political ideas which might in the long term produce creative political ideas which are then disseminated virally through the population leading to real social and political change.  Well it’s an idea, let’s see.

In the meantime my first meeting brought me an interesting challenge.  How do I direct a play in which my message (although perhaps not Shakespeare’s) is that dictatorship is bad and democracy is good -without either turning into a dictator or totally losing the plot?  Sometimes what democracy needs is strong leadership (certainly my message in JC) but then I have just heard Carne Ross talk about leaderless democracy (a and pretty much agreed with most of what he said athough haven’t had time to read the book yet) so even if not a dictator, do I sacrifice democracy for leadership? Or try to create the kind of peaceful anarchism (not anarchy) that Carne advocates?  What a fix? A director of a play normally assumes the role of a benevolent tyrant and when I suggested to the production team that I might be approaching things in a more democratic way some of them were horrified!

Partly it is difficult because I have a strong creative vision for the play and I don’t see any point in changing that – if someone sees the play differently they are welcome to direct their own version of it! On the other hand I think if you are going to work with 30 or so equally creative people then you might as well collaborate with them fully and get all that extra brain power inputting into the production.  But how far am I prepared to compromise MY vision for other people’s even if they are part of it?  My experience of the production meeting – when we weren’t distracted by wine and millinery – was that I need to fabricate the building blocks, create some structure, but also build in some flexibility.  I basically need a Julius Caesar Lego kit – it may end up as a Lego planet or it may end up as a Lego Death Star* – but whatever ‘it’ is it will still be made up of the blocks I have created and will be limited to a design that fits with their design.

The production meeting was incredibly creative, I came away with some amazing ideas (not my own but offered up by the team) that solve all sorts of problem and enhance ideas I already have.  There are some ‘fixed points’ (Lego) but only when the cast are in place will I really see whether my process works.  Auditions start in the first week of October… watch this space!

*Yes Lego fans I do know that that isnt’really possible but I think you know what kind of analogy I am creating here so let’s not get picky!

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