Guest Blog: Lucy J Skilbeck On Chekhov and Young Vic's Genesis Future Directors Award
It was when we began rehearsal for Chekhov's The Bear and The Proposal at the Young Vic, and were in the thick of the action, that I began to understand the power of the Genesis Future Directors Award. I am a writer, maker and director, predominantly with my theatre company Milk Presents, and this opportunity offers a way of taking many of the ideas that underpin my work and testing them in a fully supported environment.
The award is finely tuned; it presents the opportunity to really hone your craft in a very immediate way. I feel like I can fail, regroup and then come in the next day with a sharper skill set.
With Milk Presents, if the show we make doesn't get reviewed well, it might not tour, which affects our livelihoods and ability to run the company effectively, so there is a pressure to deliver. With the Genesis Future Directors Award, like any show the pressure is there, but the piece does not get reviewed and it has the nurturing support of the Young Vic building and the industrious people inside it. This is a luxury - I'm given all the elements of a fully supported show, mentorship and a big green light to run full steam ahead.
I'm used to operating as a writer/director, so working with an established text is new. Luckily the Young Vic has paired me with a five-star team, so with everyone's input the text began to open up. The process involves working like forensic scientists: it's all there for us to find - everything we are exploring is there in the text.
This is one of the best things about the award - working with a stellar cast, creative and production team. The cast are my actors and they are also my collaborators. The show rests in my hands, but it belongs to us all. Everyone is super-skilled, fun and brave. We are forging ahead with something, merging forms and languages.
As a team we are a gender-fierce company, which is important. The cast inherently understand the complexities and nuances of gender, and this makes them mischievous collaborators when it comes to playing Chekhov's characters in either a female, male or plural way. They are fantastic actors, adept and surprising.
We spend our time working on the text, but also singing, playing, devising and talking. We talk about Chekhovian estates, the role of women in the 19th century, gay propaganda laws, androgynous stone Ain Sakri figures from 9,000 BC, and our experience of walking down the street today. We are playmakers: our job is to create make-believe, but the work might spill over and out into the world, as Chekhov's did.
In 1888, when Chekhov wrote the piece, people were debating the fundamental role of women and what it meant to be female. These plays spoke to an audience fluent in these questions. The plays are comedies, but they are funny because they are underpinned by truth.
Currently we are in the midst of a national, perhaps even international, conversation about gender that extends to non-binary, transgender or gender queer identities. The answers might not come easily, but who knew Chekhov would be a good place to start?
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz