What happens when you throw nine strangers into a room together? Theatre of course. I know, I know that was corny but it was the thing that drew an unlikely cast of directors together and kept us glued to each other throughout the pandemic. Before Covid-19 ravaged the UK, in January 2020 I was fresh-faced, hopeful for the year ahead, but to some extent naïve (in all fairness we all were) to the challenges I was about to face.
Entering this new decade, I had stepped away from my previous career of working in advertising to instead follow the yellow brick road that led to my dream of being a theatre director. The year didn’t start too badly. I had secured a position as a trainee assistant director and was about to embark on an adventurous journey called the StoneCrabs Young Director programme.
Every year, StoneCrabs take on approximately 10 directors and provide them with free training and guidance to put on a theatre festival. Unlike other director training programs, they do not put a cap on the age limit on their application, so it felt great to be a part of something that recognised early-career directors did not mean under 25. They have incredible facilitators leading the program and alumni that consisted of theatre elite, with the likes of Lynette Linton and Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu gracing their program. Aside from the incredible facilitators, what made the programme truly special was the directors they selected for the course. Passionate, diverse and supportive are just a few words I could use to describe the fellow directors in my cohort.
StoneCrabs threw us straight into the deep end. I found myself spending Wednesday evenings strategizing different ways to fundraise/produce the festival whilst spending my Saturdays learning different techniques such as Jacques Lecoq. After much debate, we named our Festival ‘Playdoh: Things That Shape Us’. Like Playdoh, our life experiences shaped us and we felt this would come through in our work. With this locked in, it was all systems go, and as we powered through to March, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we didn’t know what to expect.
When future generations ask me where was I when the first lockdown was announced, I will tell them at Theatre Deli planning a fundraiser event in complete disbelief that a lockdown was actually happening. Looking back at it, I still laugh at how naive we were. We were all taking bets that this would only last a month. How wrong were we. When the lockdown was enforced, everything came tumbling down like a pile of bricks.
As new directors how do we survive something like this? I was freelancing in an industry that was brought to its knees. How did I survive? The answer was to lean on each other. Lockdown was a true testament to what doesn’t breaks us bonds us. As we hurried into lockdown we began having regular check-ins on zoom. From being industry peers to family, we were able to support each other through the dark days. This experience taught us that the things that shape us were more than a name but a lesson in resilience bonding us for life in this unique experience.
Fast forward to now. The show must go on, right? Yes. Through patience and perseverance combined with a little bit of blood sweat and tears, we pulled up our socks to make this festival happen.
Simonne Mason is a StoneCrabs Young Director directing With a Little Bit of Luck by Sabrina Mahfouz at Playdoh
Playdoh: The Things That Shape Us festival runs from 11 September to 18 September 2021 at Southwark Playhouse
Tickets are available here