The road to the Fringe - Amy Liptrott


The Soft Subject (A Love Story)

Stepping into a creative process towards the end of the process is like recognising that humans have been on the planet for about two minutes out of the universe’s hour. You can make or break a process and have to be sensitive to the fact you haven’t been there for the conception, birth and early years of the ‘baby’. But, as in any creative process, people coming in later can be a fresh pair of eyes – the crazy Aunt who takes the infant on different exciting journeys and hopefully doesn’t fill it full of sugar…

The Soft Subject (A Love Story) - Assembly Hall


The Soft Subject (A Love Story) began in 2015 as a three-hander about the value of arts education. Three ex-actors become teachers and try to teach a lesson but their personal lives get in the way. This was developed with the support of the Greenwich Theatre in January 2016 for four days. Through development after that, it became an autobiographical piece with three actors about the writer’s experience. With lots of questioning about what the piece was actually about.  By August 2016, it was a solo show and in September 2016 it had its first staged reading in Iceland under the careful and loving eyes of Agnes Wild. With feedback from those involved, it evolved and went for further development with a scratch performance at the Arts Depot in November. By December, the piece was ready for a sharing at Shoreditch Town Hall. At each stage, Chris and Hyphen Theatre Company invited feedback, support and suggestions.

The Soft Subject (A Love Story) continued on its journey. I was invited to direct.

We had a week together up north, in the hills and blossom, rehearsing, developing, helping me get to know the project. This was my chance to listen, learn and bring my own ideas to the piece. Chris and I are both teachers and we used our shared experience to shape the form of the lesson being given in the piece.  It also allowed me time to figure out my thoughts on the piece. What I thought was most important about it. I was struck with the fact that this was unlike any LGBTQ piece I’d seen. It was a love story about two people – it just so happened these two people were men. It didn’t have a negative narrative about the LGBTQ experience. It just told the story. I wanted to pull more of that out – it’s not a story about homophobia or coming out. It’s a love story. Finding that angle as a director is central to the work you develop. It allows clarity, not just for people seeing the work but for you and the team to work from. Without that strap line, projects can flounder. It’s important to know what the piece is about – what story are you telling? Directors go into the rehearsal room knowing this. It’s common sense. I didn’t go into our first week of rehearsals knowing that. I let the piece reveal that to me. That sounds really overconfident and a bit pretentious, but I couldn’t bulldoze in with assumptions. I was joining in the final two minutes of its evolution.

After the week, Chris went back to London to learn the script and then we had two more weeks together at The Old Vic Lab just before we headed up to the Fringe. Being supported with rehearsal space is so important. It allows time for the team to breathe and nurture the piece without worrying about the practicalities involved in finding space, booking space and paying for space.  During those two weeks, we had people in the room with us most days. Most were friends who had or hadn’t seen the piece at its various stages of growth. Some had a lot of experience creating their own work. Some had different perspectives from different art forms. Fresh eyes, honest feedback and thoughtful suggestions.

So, after two years of development, we landed in Edinburgh. I make that sound far too easy. It’s not. But it is entirely possible. Chris and I were walking up to Assembly Hall before the first show. He said it felt strange to finally be there. He’d spent so much time with The Soft Subject alone, just him and his laptop, that it felt strange it was finally out there, ready for audiences, being promoted.

It’s acknowledged in countries and cultures around the world that a child is raised by a community. Input from different people with different experiences and outlooks allow children to flourish and find their voice. No less is needed for a new piece of creative work. Taking time to allow a piece to find its voice is important.  Sharing is crucial. Listening and allowing others’ opinions to influence and nurture the work is fundamental.

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Throughout the last year we’ve been supporting a host of emerging companies and artists over at The Workrooms by offering them 100% subsidised rehearsal space and development support through our project The Old Vic Lab. If you’re a creative, find out how you can develop your work here at The Old Vic. 

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The road to the Fringe - Amy Liptrott