As Sally Potter travels around the world with 'YES'
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Politics is everywhere

Speaking and Listening

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Speaking and Listening

Apparently many more of you are reading this page than are reading the message boards where I have been regularly answering questions. Given that last night’s benefit was to support the work of actors, I am copying here an answer I wrote to a question about my working process in preparing a scene:

There are many ways to define preparation for an actor and director. Sometimes a conversation over a meal, a stroll around a location, or a joke shared during a car journey, can be as important as the more focused work during rehearsal. For me there are no rules and no generalizations. Each actor is a unique individual and I try to find the key that will help unlock the door to the secret room he or she needs to enter (or, sometimes, to break out of). For some the key will be through the nuance and detail of appearances…you enter through the outside. For others the process needs to be interior…you work from the inside out.

With YES we had to work deeply in order to find how to play the text in a natural and authentic way. Joan and Simon were breathtakingly courageous in the raw privacy of the rehearsal room and shared many personal details that will remain forever confidential.

But one specific example I can recount (for I am also in the middle of preparing an extra for the DVD on exactly this subject) is some of how we worked on the pivotal car-park scene. We had already worked through the scene many times and I had re-written parts of it as world events changed tumultuously around us. During our rehearsal period the US and UK invaded Iraq, and two days before our final rehearsal, declared themselves to be occupying powers. We talked, and wept, all three of us, about what this might mean, for the future of relations East and West, and what it might take for people from such different cultures and religions to listen to – and really hear - each others’ point of view. In the process of talking about listening, we discussed our own experiences of being listened to and not listened to; the unheard stories, the grief and rage of not having our experience understood; for Simon, as a man from the Middle-East, and for Joan and myself as females.

These conversations proved to be profoundly important as a way of identifying the true arc of the scene and the point at which, by truly listening to him, Joan’s character would create the space in which Simon’s character would be able to reveal the wounds behind his aggression. In this way, our conversations veered seamlessly between the extremely personal and the broadly political, as well as the more conventional analyses of the precise meanings and implications of certain words and phrases in the script.

You will notice that I speak of ‘we’. Whilst as the director I need to be always holding in mind the vision of the film as a whole, and am responsible for how to orchestrate the precious time we have during the working process (and therefore to be somehow ‘passionately detached’) I believe, nevertheless, that we are in it together. I enter the arena with the actors, to share some of their struggle and solitude. But whilst they are there to embody, I am there to be the first, most attentive, respectful and loving audience they will ever have. At least I try to be, anyway, and sometimes it is the intention that counts. I think its about creating an atmosphere, ultimately, of trust and openness, in which risks can be taken and people feel, therefore, that they can go beyond their limits and become more of who and what they really are, as actors and as human beings.

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The car park scene

Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated