'This is Polly. She'll be directing.'

'This is Polly. She'll be directing.'

Polly Tisdall talks about her experiences as a member of The REP’s Foundry programme…

‘This’, says associate director Tessa Walker, ‘is Polly – she’ll be directing’. I smile a hello at the actors gathered in the green room and grin a great big grin somewhere in my chest for my own reference. This, I think, is one of those moments on REP Foundry where I am going to struggle to keep the smile off my face. The REP are trusting me with directing five rehearsed readings of brand new plays for this year’s Write Away Programme. There’s no apology that I’m a young director, there’s no implication that I’m going to struggle, there’s no sense – from actors, playwrights or REP staff – that I am not up to this. And therefore I am up to this, I think. I can do it – and I do.

Six months in, there are lots of stories I could tell you about being part of Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s first REP Foundry programme. I could start at the beginning and tell you about the interview (I was petrified, stood up to meet artistic director Roxana Silbert, stumbled, fell out of my heels and then proceeded to have the best interview experience of my life). I could start at the end – well, that is to say the present – and tell you about my recent experience sharing some very new, very vulnerable work from my company Rambling Heart at May’s REP Foundry Night (I was petrified, we were trying lots of new things all at once, yet the audience were warm, receptive and helpful). Or I could start by answering the question that almost everyone I speak to about REP Foundry asks: ‘But what is it? What is the Foundry programme?’

I struggle with this question. ‘It’s a support,’ I’ll say, ‘It’s about building relationships with The REP and within the industry’. Or I’ll try to explain the opportunities on offer: ‘There are monthly scratch nights where we can showcase work’, ‘We work with each other – directors and writers and theatre-makers and sort of form partnerships’. ‘So are you matched up?’ people ask me, ‘how does it happen?’ And this is often where I get stumped. Initially, for our first REP Foundry project in January, the directors and writers were matched up but since then we’ve begun to forge our own working partnerships. There’s no formal structure to the programme – opportunities, like Write Away, come up and are offered out to us as and when they appear. ‘So it’s a bit hit and miss?’ No – not at all. Because while REP Foundry, thank goodness, isn’t some sort of course with modules and marks and objectives, it is made cohesive by The REP’s sense of community: by the feeling of consistent support that is there to be tapped into and by the offer of experiences, like Write Away, which tell you that a leading producing theatre has confidence in your work.

It is hard to measure the value of experiences. The moments which most say REP Foundry to me are the moments where I’ve been made to feel a part of the theatre and where I have been able to feel that Rep is a part of my work as a director: where The REP has been happy to back my ideas and put their name to them and where professional directors have seen my work as important enough to invest time and energy in. At the half-way point I’ve done a lot of things for the first time: directed new writing, worked with writers in rehearsal, directed professional actors, shown work in development at high profile scratch nights, put up performances on the basis of six hours rehearsal time… the list goes on.

When people ask me, then, ‘What is REP Foundry?’ I have to conclude that REP Foundry is not just a nicely worded project brief, it is a series of stories, of lived experiences and that the sum of these experiences will be what we make them. The REP has opened its doors to us fledglings – Foundlings, if you will – and is helping us to find our way, not telling us what it is. For me, the REP Foundry approach reflects my experience of working professionally as an artist but with the added bonus of practical support and encouragement: opportunities are there for the taking as and when they come up and the resources are there to make them a reality.

Refreshingly, however, there’s no babying. ‘Polly will be directing’: apparently, yes, I will be. And I’ve got to work out – not how to be a carbon copy of the directors that I admire – but how to be the director that I am. What a journey. I’m going to make the most of every bit of it.

You can learn more about Polly’s work at pollytisdall.com.

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