Welcome to our chat with director of American Trade, Jamie Lloyd.
Q. How different is it working with a living playwright on a new piece of work than with a more 'classic' play where the author isn't in the rehearsal room?
A. It is fantastic to have the playwright in the room throughout rehearsals. Directors should be interpretative artists, serving the text and not their own ego. When directing a classic, I try to get back to the root of the play - what drove the writer to pick up a pen and write it. That's obviously easier when the writer is sitting next to you, telling you what they envisaged. It is great fun to be able to bounce ideas around with the writer, changing and shaping the play accordingly. It is a real collaborative process. I've enjoyed working with writers and composers on revivals, but there is something very exciting about creating something new.
Q. How much of the 'intimate' physical aspects of the play are rehearsed thoroughly!
A. Everything is rehearsed slowly and carefully. Fortunately, this cast has been together for so long that there was very little embarrassment.
Q. How far is too far...How do you decide where to draw the line?
A. I don't think the play would be funny if the actors were ever completely naked. The audience would spend too much time looking at people's privates rather than listening to Tarell's witty dialogue.
Q. Did you send the acting company to the gym?
A. Tunji Kasim (Pharus) works hard in the gym. I think that shows.
Q. How did the design emerge, specifically the light bulbs?
A. Tarell, Soutra Gilmour (the designer) and I were keen to capture the gaudiness of tabloid celebrity culture and the glare of the metropolis. The light bulbs and fluorescents help to change location in what is essentially an empty space, whilst suggesting the neons of a PR office and the tawdriness of Soho. The play is multi-locational and is super-fast, so we needed to jump from scene to scene with minimal fuss. The artwork is by a fantastic graffiti artist, which hints at the city's underbelly.
[See the cast list]
Q. Did the actors need persuading over any of the scenes, themes, costumes?
A. No, they were all completely on board from the start. Tarell wrote these parts for these actors and they embraced them fully and had lots of fun creating them. The costumes were based on their own ideas. It was a collaborative effort.
Q. Did you have to rein in any of the action/actors!
A. Tarell has written larger-than-life characters in extreme situations. Everyone had to embrace the style and go full-throttle. It is what Tarell wanted, so, if anything, the cast knew they had to be bolder and think quicker than ever before.
Q. Did you have an idea of how an audience would react, or has the reaction to the play surprised you?
A. The first preview of any new play is very exciting because you learn so much from the audience's reaction. I'm glad that the reaction has been so noisy! People find the play very funny. That's a relief, because, if anything, Tarell has written a fun city comedy - a piece of entertainment. I think there are some strong reactions to the sexual politics too; what some of the characters say about women, the black community and gay people is often cruel and alarming and yet, somehow, very familiar. I'm pleased the play is attracting a younger and more diverse audience. That was Tarell's intention.
Q. How much influence do you have over the shape of the play when working with the writer?
You ask as many questions as possible, trying to get to grips with the author's intentions, and offer suggestions as to how to achieve them most successfully. The play was originally double the length and Tarell knew it needed to be cut and re-shaped as a short, sharp burst of energy.
Q. I love the trailer! Do you enjoy creating it and can you tell me something about the process of doing it?
A. I love it too. It is all down to the director Chris McGill. He read the play, Tarell and I offered some brief thoughts on the production and he came back with the perfect idea. It captures the play brilliantly.
[Watch the trailer]
Q. How successful do you think theatre trailers are, and why did you make the decision to not make it 'theatrical' in the normal sense?
A. Dusthouse's trailers are the best I've ever seen. They are cinematic and surprising. Trailers are becoming a more important way of marketing a play and it is great that the RSC is allowing Chris McGill to be so bold and inventive. They should capture the spirit of the production as well as being exciting creations in their own right.
What's it really like working at the RSC, and how did it come about?
A. Everyone at the RSC backed the project wholeheartedly. Tarell and I felt very supported. I particularly enjoyed working with the Dramaturg, Jeanie O'Hare, who is meticulous and inspirational. I'm not quite sure why they approached me in the first place, but I got sent a very early draft late last year. I know that Tarell won't mind me saying that it was a sprawling mess! I couldn't really work out what to do with it, but I met Tarell anyway (having enjoyed, like many others, The Brothers Size) and was really excited by his humour and insight. I know that he didn't always find this play very easy to write - it is quite a demand to write interesting roles for such a huge group of actors, paying attention to their particular strengths, whilst also staying true to the ideas and themes that are close to your heart - but he is a gifted writer and an amazing, generous human being. I'd like to work with him again, on something that feels more personal to him.
Q. You joined a company of actors that have been working together for the last two years; what were the pros and cons of rehearsing with an already well formed group?
A. They know absolutely everything there is to know about each other. This means they are fearless and ready try anything. They are incredibly supportive of each other, but they are also quite direct with their opinions of each other's performances! That made for some lively rehearsals! They are a fantastic, spirited bunch of people and I loved working with them very much. They weren't stuck in their own ways and were keen to be questioned and pushed in new directions. I think they thrive off working with different directors with different approaches, and they are always ready to jump in.
Q. Jamie, I really enjoyed the production! The New York scenes really captured the energy of the city - how did you and the cast research this element, or does Tarrell's writing provide you with enough to work with.
A. Thanks! Tarell was like a walking encyclopaedia of the play and every element of it. He told us all we needed to know. We also had a hip hop teacher in rehearsals, so the cast we able to get a sense of the required energy and swagger. I went to New York just before rehearsals, so I think that helped me to capture the relentless energy of the city and of Tarell's play.
The webchat has now finished.
Thanks to Jamie Lloyd - and for all your questions, the response was super.