Directors Lab Chicago: culture and relinquishing control

I said I wouldn’t be getting up at 6AM everyday to blog during the Lab… but it turns out 6AM is the magic jet lag time on this trip, and so I am up, and I have a billion thoughts flashing through my brain, and so here I am writing a few things down.

This morning I am mainly thinking about culture: crossing cultures, culture shock, preserving and protecting culture (and the different overtones this can have in different contexts), the tipping point between welcoming strangers and seeing your community dissipated, and what this means for personal identity.

In the Lab, we’re working in small groups on creating the concept for a new piece of theatre inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid – which is full of complicated ideas that didn’t make it into the Disney version. Our group is talking about the pain of assimilation, and the extreme sacrifices the little mermaid makes to become ‘part of your world.’

The Lab Committee, the generous Chicago-based directors who have curated this group and created the content for the Lab, are hard at work creating a culture in the Lab, starting with a code of contact that we all will abide by, generated by the group itself. The tone is set for an inclusive safe space where we can agree and disagree passionately, share personally and artistically, and take care of ourselves and each other. I’ve already got a page of notes about things I want to bring back to the London Devised Theatre Intensive.

And for myself – I’m  deep in ‘reverse culture shock,’ that series of bizarre moments when you realise how familiar and foreign this place is, this country that you grew up in, that has issued you a passport, that knocks at your chest with pure surreality. Oh yes, listen how my accent is shifting, caught somewhere in the mid-Atlantic jet stream. Oh right – the cars are coming from that direction, look out! Woohoo – drip coffee with half and half, so good!! Aaahh – there are 16 types of almonds in this aisle, and I can only buy this full gallon of milk and nothing smaller, even though I will definitely not drink it all, and this trip around the grocery store takes twice as long because I have to read the packet to figure out what it is. Special thanks to my new friend Todd who guided me around the massive fluorescent maze at 11:30PM while I laughed and pointed at everything like a child.

I’m finding so much joy in relinquishing control. Being taken care of by the Lab Committee and my fellow directors in the workshop. Not even looking at the schedule for the week until I was going to bed on day one. Having no idea of what time it is, or where we’re going, just following the Chicago-based folks and trusting that they will get us to where we need to be.

‘Be Prepared to Be Surprised’ takes practice, and I am starting to get very good at it. That anything-can-happen feelings is my favourite thing. Open Space has taught me so much in the last 5 years (thank you, Improbable!), and I was so happy yesterday to facilitate an Open Space with my peers at the Directors Lab. It’s very satisfying to feel the room shift from ‘What is this? What do you mean everything is going to be happening at once, and I can’t go to all the sessions?’ to ‘Oh, I get it, great, now please get out of the way and let’s get to work!’

I had a fascinating butterfly conversation with a fellow director about being responsible for time, her own and her collaborators’ time.  As if any human being could control time! and yet it’s something we all are expected to do as directors and in our everyday lives. Or we could let that expectation go…

And now it’s time for Day 2!