Trestle Theatre Company: How We Work

Feature in Issue 1-1 | Winter 1989

The methods by which creators create, or writers write, are as varied as the work they produce. When working with a group rather than individually, new criteria come into play and different skills are required.

A major factor in the formation of Trestle was our desire to write our own work and to do so using the particular dynamics created by the mixing of our specific skills, imaginations, etc. Trestle is a group without leaders, either management or artistic. The writing of a new show works thus:

Over a period, usually touring, we will discuss individual ideas, and at a series of production meetings we throw these ideas into the general pool, after which they become common property. We will discuss what we are hoping to achieve with the piece, both visually and with the story. Design ideas start to emerge, and over a series of meetings the piece gradually takes shape. Up to this point, Joff, Sally, Toby and Mark are involved, plus any other performers working with the company at the time. For Top Story and Ties That Bind this has been Thomasina. When a definite idea has been agreed we bring in John with a fresh eye.

Masks are then made by Joff, Sally, Toby and Thomasina and we go into the rehearsal period.

We have been working together for so long now, people might find our rehearsals and writing process strange. The writing never stops, so everybody is constantly chipping in with ideas, etc, and we are not afraid to veer off and explore a quite different strain of thought, though eventually a group decision will be made. Everybody is involved at this stage, with Mark working on set and prop designs suggested by the company, and Penny selling the show with what little information trickles through!

In the last few weeks the roles become more defined. The piece is very much written and staged as a group effort, but now Joff, Toby and Thomasina concentrate on learning and clarifying what they have to do on stage, and Sally and John sit out front, directing focus, pace, etc. Mark is into the 18-20 hour day, as all our crazy ideas become real in his workshop. Penny and the company have designed the publicity by now and Dave is busy on the artwork. Penny is also organising the opening and press releases, mail-outs, etc, as well as checking that the finances haven’t overheated during the last six weeks.

After opening the show, the work continues. Small changes are implemented and given time to work or fail. Over a year’s run, small changes will continue as well as props added or deleted. A scene may be lost or inserted. In Plastered a whole character disappeared (died in hospital?). In the meantime, the running of the company is in the hands of the management cooperative – Penny, Joff, Toby, Mark and John. A board of directors is in place to advise and oversee proceedings. Their expertise in other walks of life other than the theatre have proved invaluable.

This, then, is the working process for a Trestle production. From Autumn 1989 onwards, a second unit will be touring and individual members will be undertaking their own projects under the Trestle banner. There will be more autonomous projects, allowing the individual more say over their ideas. The all-in nature of Trestle production needs a conciliatory and cooperative process, partly a compromise (hopefully a good one) that fulfils the needs of all the members.

Referenced Artists

This article in the magazine

Issue 1-1
p. 6