Peer Gynt actor Richard Katz writes about the anxiety involved in starting a new play, and the moment it feels like it's all coming together.

Beginning a new play is a peculiar time. There’s the excitement, obviously, the newness of it all; new words, new friends, getting to explore a new world. Often, as is the case here, I’m returning to a building that holds many happy memories. And yet…

The excitement can never be fully appreciated. Why? Because there’s so much anxiety to keep it company. Is it going to be any good? Am I going to be any good?  What if last time we all just got lucky? What if it all falls apart in my hands?

Plays that are now finished – that is to say, all the ones in the past – can often seem in the memory to have been perfect experiences. It’s easy to forget how complicated it was getting a piece of work up and running. Easy to remember only the good bits. I’m sure that this is a kind of self-protection. A deliberate scheme to forget how much trial and error goes in to getting something right.

A path through a forest.
Starting a new play is "like standing in a dense forest".
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli © Via Flickr Browse and license our images

I truly think that making good work isn’t supposed to be easy. And don’t worry, I don’t mean that it should be painful, dark, or some sort of masochistic experience. I simply mean that it should be a challenge. To take the work beyond cliché, surely we should be stretching ourselves? I have found that a good dynamic for making the work better, richer, is to ask the questions: is it good enough? Is it finished?

That’s why the beginning of the process can feel a bit overwhelming. There’s just so much to attend to. Hard not to feel a little like Donald Rumsfeld; the known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns and all that.

It’s a bit like standing in a dense forest, surrounded by all that nature. There’s just so much of it! What are all those plants called? What about all those different noises? But then, oh so gradually, details start to emerge. Things begin to reveal themselves. Details appear within all that homogeny; chinks of light. Cracks.

For me, this is when I know that I’ve begun; there’s a day, usually somewhere in the first week, when suddenly I can see those cracks. Then? Then it’s ‘just’ a question of heading for them. Head for the cracks, get my fingers in them, and start to pull them apart.

Richard Katz

Richard grew up in North London. He’s been a member of various RSC companies over the years, including The Long Ensemble, which saw one group of actors perform a dozen plays over a three year period. He now lives locally and can often be seen sculling up and down the Avon.

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