This year's co-production DNA is a thrilling tale of morality, responsibility, and the pressure of group dynamics. Taking on the exciting task of directing this Dennis Kelly classic is Nic Harvey, Director of BAFTA award-winning TV Workshop Nottingham, and production company Sheep Soup.
To gain some more insight into our annual co-production with Nottingham New Theatre, we asked Nic some questions.
Tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are now in your career.
I trained as a young actor at The Television Workshop in Nottingham, so my background is in performing, particularly naturalism, improvisation, and screen acting. I always enjoyed the theatre we did and found myself wanting to get more involved in that area. I had some success as a child actor, but as I got older I really enjoyed writing, directing, and making my own work. I started teaching and directing plays, and eventually became the lead director of the Workshop. I'm now freelance and looking for new experiences and challenges, and I established musical theatre company Sheep Soup that has toured the country.
What is your process when it comes to directing a play?
I like to start with improvisation and conversation; getting under the skin of the characters and asking questions about why they make certain choices. It's also about building the trust and chemistry of the cast so they can have freedom and bravery when exploring the play. Once we've created a deep, 3D world for the characters to exist in we move on to blocking through the scenes, working out the objectives and experimenting with stage pictures and movement. Then we're into running through start to finish, a chance for the cast to really feel their character's journey through the story as it develops. We refine moments and try things differently if something doesn't feel quite right. By this point it's important that the actors feel a good sense of ownership and connection to their characters, and know how they would react to each moment. Then you can make each run-through more interesting, surprise each other, and find fresh moments.
What scene in DNA are you most excited about directing and why?
I've really started to love moments in every scene as we get further into it. The big full group scenes are great to direct because there are so many different energies, attitudes and thought processes to take in and grapple with. It's a fun challenge to make sure the audiences' focus is pulled to the right places at the right times, and that we pick up as much information as possible among the chaos. These scenes are where the cast are having to work really hard to keep listening and build the tension.
What do you think Dennis Kelly is trying to get across in the play? Is there a moral to this story?
It feels like the play is trying to warn us; show us how quickly a bad situation can escalate, and how an act of violence can easily spiral when a toxic group dynamic takes over. We've also noticed through rehearsal how the morality of the characters is fickle and confusing, how the trauma of Eve's death affects them all in drastically different ways. There is great power in the support of a group of friends, but it can also be dangerous.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in the industry?
Make work! The more you create and get things on their feet, the more knowledge and experience you'll gain. It's so hard because things take time and money, but start small. If you have a script or an idea, get some like-minded creative people together and try stuff out. Try not to get stuck working alone for too long, it's great to be part of a team and bounce ideas off others. See theatre, TV and film as much as you can, and watch stuff outside of the mainstream that you wouldn't normally be drawn to, you'll learn a lot. Keep a good sense of humour, do things you enjoy, and be a great person to work with so people will want to work with you again!