THE FIRST OF AN OCCASIONAL SERIES ON FIRST-TIME DIRECTORS ON OXFORDSHIRE'S AMATEUR THEATRE SCENE
Kerrie McCormick co-directed Banbury Cross Players' production of David Haig's play, My Boy Jack in February this year, which certainly impressed this reviewer (you can read my review here). It tells the story of Rudyard Kipling and the loss of his son Jack in the First World War.
I spoke to Kerrie at her home in the village of Hook Norton, which she shares with her husband John, who acted in the play. How had she come to direct a stage play for the first time, I asked. 'Well, I was on play selection,' she replied. 'That's what we do, we pick the plays and do excerpts for the members. [My Boy Jack] was one of the plays that came up, and because it was a First World War play, and being the hundred year anniversary, we really wanted to get it done. Luckily the members said yes.'
So Kerrie was made co-director, the first time she'd ever done that job. Had she had any acting experience before, I wondered, a common route in amateur theatre? Apart from a bit when she was at school ('but that was a long time ago,' she chuckled) and a role in the village panto, no, she hadn't. I was curious to learn more about what knowledge and experience she drew on as a director. As part of the play selection team for BCP, Kerrie had immersed herself in literature. 'I read a lot of books and plays,' she said, pointing to the bookshelves crammed with volumes all round their sitting room. 'This is not all of it. We've got books all over the place. I really enjoyed it and got to look at a lot of things I wouldn't have looked at before. I'm also in a literature group in the village, and we go and see plays.'
I asked Kerrie about working with a co-director and she explained that they divided the scenes between them and each worked on their own. I wondered whether she was mentored or shadowed, but Kerrie was left to her own devices and had the freedom to develop her own scenes as she wished. I was impressed for two reasons. The quality of the finished work was high and you couldn't see the join (between the work of the two different directors).
We talked about her relationship with her actors. 'I wanted to talk more about the scenes, at the start, and then explained what the audience is meant to feel, what the writer wants them to feel. I like to get their opinion, the actors, because they've got an imagination as well. I don't think it's just a case of “stand over there and turn 45 degrees to the right”. It was a collaborative effort in as much as if one of them asked, “what should I do?” I would say, “well, what do you think you would do in that situation?” and go for that, what feels natural for you, because I think that works better than getting them to do something that feels really false.'
What about developing the characters, how did she approach that with the actors? 'We talked about it and had suggestions, but, especially at the start, I wanted to let things go without me having to say “let me stop you there”. Things would work themselves out. I think if you're stopping them all the time, you make them feel nervous and you lose the flow. We really enjoyed it, we had a lot of laughs, but worked hard. It's got to be fun because, for a start, they're volunteers, they're not getting paid for it. It's not penance!'
So what did she get out of her first play as a director? 'I loved it. The satisfaction of seeing something that you've worked on come together and also when the reviews come out, that they're good! Because you think you've done all right, but there were things that we could have done different. There were a couple of the scenes that I thought detracted from the ending, where the wedding came in and that flashback – I think we could have cut those and it would have been more powerful. But that's looking back.'
Kerrie casually drops into the conversation that she contracted pneumonia in the two weeks leading up to the performance. By this time, John her husband has come into the room and points out that such had been the work Kerrie had put into rehearsing that they, the actors, would have felt ready to perform it to the public two weeks before curtain up if they'd had to. All the main work had been covered and that final fortnight simply required a little tweaking. I'd see that as a tribute to Kerrie's thoroughness and ability to inspire her actors.
So what tips would she give to other beginning directors in amateur theatre? She paused to think for a moment before saying: 'Definitely to go for it. Have confidence in yourself. I was open to change but I knew what I wanted to do.' She certainly did.
I ask her about future plans, other plays in the pipeline. She would love to do Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms next, but the decision about that is in the hands of the other members of BCP, but if Kerrie's first effort with My Boy Jack is any indication, they could have another success on their hands.
Photo copyright: Mike Lord
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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