What is our live deer?

Some extended metaphors just stay with you, don’t they?

The Fun Club were recently made aware of Lee Simpson, co-artistic director of Improbable Theatre and his belief that ‘good’ theatre is like coaxing a live deer onto a stage. The uncertainty, the raw spontaneity that this act evokes is potentially what we’re all striving for. Say the wrong thing though, and the deer will bolt. Of course the other option is to do away with coaxing; to shoot and stuff the deer. It looks exactly the same, but it is definitely dead. If you were being cynical, you might hasten to suggest that we often go to the theatre only to be met by a herd of dead deers. But that’s the choice, as Simpson concludes, “Would you rather have a stuffed deer every single night? Or would you rather try coaxing the living, breathing deer on stage, in full knowledge that there will be nights when it just runs away and doesn’t come back?”

So we began to ask ourselves the big question: what is our live deer?

The devising process, it seems to me, is a prolonged coaxing of such a beast. We’ve been lucky and have had the occasional deer moment in the rehearsal room, something has happened in which things seem to slot into place. Then, just as we begin to question how that moment might be replicated, the deer is gone.

Other days, I can see the deer in the distance, shyly lurking in the wings. It’s not with us yet but maybe the next day it will be. Or the day after that.

Then of course there are times when the deer is no where to be seen. In fact, you’ve completely lost sight of what you were trying to coax in the first place.

What interests me most about this extended analogy is the driving force behind it; the attempt to try to make something work. Way back in April, we dove head first into the unknown. We had no idea what the show was we were going to create. But since then the process has been a series of mini attempts, failure and re-attempt. There is a specific moment in our show that has gone through numerous manifestations. Last week in rehearsal, we landed on the latest version. It was what I’ve come to understand now as a ‘deer in the wings’ moment. An exciting prospect, when you can almost see it. And maybe, just maybe, with a little more coaxing we might create something interesting.

What lies behind any valiant attempt is rigour, something that we have prided ourselves on since the beginning. On this occasion I was true to form and I began to question the specifics. However, the further I dived into this interrogation, the greater my realisation of how futile it was. I had lost sight of the deer. We’ve grown familiar with the belief that rigour means questioning, or ‘finding an answer’. Perhaps, this is not the case. Perhaps, sometimes all the deer needs is time to find their own way on stage.

Maybe all we can do is tread carefully, concentrate and hope.

And maybe bring some acorns.


This blog was inspired after a conversation with Brian Logan, to whom we grow continually grateful.

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