Brief Encounter With ... Katie Posner
Pilot Theatre's associate director, Katie Posner, talks about directing her new play Ghost Town, working with new writers and Mothercare's opening hours.
I approached this interview with Katie Posner with some trepidation; not because I was underprepared or because she has a fearsome reputation for eating interviewers alive. My nervousness was because Pilot Theatre's associate director is pregnant, very pregnant, fast approaching that "could happen any day" period.
I had been at the births of my own children but my usefulness, when it came to the crunch, amounted to little more than keeping out of the way and shutting the [email protected]!% up. Other than that, I'd seen about half an episode of Call the Midwife. All in all, I was not remotely ready should I be called in to action during the interview.
Thankfully, Posner arrives considerably more composed and serene than I. Remarkably so, considering she is weeks away from giving birth and even less time away from the opening of her new play, Ghost Town.
Ghost Town was born out of a Generation Zed winning script by York-based playwright Jessica Fisher, who has been developing the script with Posner for over a year, a way of working that Posner clearly enjoys, "I get really excited by new work. Some times plays come from a writer going here's my play and a director going well ok, here's my vision but this feels like it's been very joined. It's really come from me and jess working together, and I think that's why I felt so passionate about wanting to carry on (through her pregnancy) and do it because I think it's a piece that has to come from both of us."
Billed as a "thrilling story about lost friendship, memory and what it means to be courageous", Ghost Town was originally set against the backdrop of the London riots but that starting point was quickly left behind as Fisher and Posner gradually found the story they really wanted to tell; the story of Joe and Megan, two young people with a shared past but with very different versions of the events that unite them.
Posner feels the lengthy development process was essential to unearth the real story at the heart of Ghost Town but also acknowledges that working with new writers on social commentary pieces rooted in events of national prominence can be tricky, "I really like pieces that comment socially and physically about the world we live in which can be hard because those things (London riots) happen quite quickly and plays can take 18 months to create."
Although currently based in York, Pilot Theatre is a national touring company and in the current financial climate Posner admits finding venues for touring shows, especially by new writers, is becoming increasingly difficult as budget squeezes make theatres less willing to take risks. "It's getting harder and harder to tour work, it doesn't matter if you've been there 3 years running it can just be like ok, no, we don't want that", says Posner. So Lincolnshire One Venues' (LOV) involvement with Pilot's new project came just at the right time. LOV were looking to co-commission a new project for young people, Posner pitched them Ghost Town and they liked it.
As part of the agreement with LOV, Ghost Town opens in Lincolnshire (before moving back to Pilot's home at York Theatre Royal) and Pilot are also committed to making the production as accessible as possible to Lincolnshire's young people, as Posner says, There's a massive creative engagement project around it, we've worked with 6 schools in Lincolnshire, over 150 young people who will then all do curtain-raisers before our show, so they'll do a piece based on the themes and issues before our play and then there'll be a post-show talk so it becomes a bit more of an event."
However Posner is keen to point out that Ghost Town isn't just a youth production for a youth audience, "it happens to be a young person dealing with these issues but I think this piece is for everybody", on the themes of the play she says, "universally it's relevant to everyone."
As someone who has observed impending motherhood from relatively close quarters and who knows how chaotic things can get, on the home front alone, as the big day gets ever closer I am impressed by Posner's ability to keep so many plates spinning, both professionally and personally. Posner says that in some ways, directing a play while pregnant has its benefits, "I think this time would go quite slowly if I wasn't thinking about a show", but admits it isn't always easy, "as a director you're always thinking ahead so I'm challenging myself to just be present".
Part of this "thinking ahead" was getting assistant director, Oliver O'Shea, up to speed on the project earlier than is perhaps usual. "I want to make sure he (Oliver) feels ownership as well of the play because then it will be the best play it can be, regardless of whether I'm there, or it opens and I'm not, he'll feel ‘I know where this has all come from'".
Failing to take a leaf out of Posner's book and stay "present" I find myself continually straying off script and jabber on about dealing with my pregnant wife, being buried under tonnes of second-hand baby clothes, and other general baby related waffle. Thankfully Posner is able to keep us on track with a very pertinent observation, "there are so many parallels between making a show and preparing for birth", she remarks, "the mania of your head that goes I need a blanket, we haven't got enough blankets, ok we need to go to Mothercare, it's 9 o clock at night, and the same when you're doing a show, it's like, does that work? I don't know, you go home, you start stressing about it, it's just the processes are unbelievably similar."
The comparisons between pregnancy and creating a play are indeed striking; you spend months preparing, stressing, hoping, dreaming, working, watching it grow, never really certain what it's going to look like, counting down the days, wanting everything to be perfect, "And then you give birth to something", says Posner.
It is clearly an exceptionally exciting time for Posner. I would normally conclude an interview by asking "what's next for you?" but in Posner's case, with a coming month that will see the opening of a new play and the birth of a new baby, the question seems pretty redundant. The only unanswered question is which of her babies will be born in to the world first. It's likely to be a very close call.
Ghost Town opens at the Terry O'Toole Theatre in Lincolnshire on 6 February and can be seen in our region at York Theatre Royal from 12 – 19 February and Cast Doncaster from 20 – 21 February. For further details visit www.pilot-theatre.com.