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Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Trevor Nunn in the Achievement Curriculum section:
From Dance to Drama

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Sir Trevor Nunn
Sir Trevor Nunn
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Sir Trevor Nunn Interview (page: 3 / 6)

Theatrical Director

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  Sir Trevor Nunn

You've had a lot of personal challenges, have you ever been afraid?

Sir Trevor Nunn: Yes, I have, and I think it's necessary.

Unquestionably, the first few weeks when I took on running The Royal Shakespeare Company, it wasn't just self-doubt. I mean I was deeply frightened. I was frightened that I was going to be exposed, or even -- you know, I was going to have to go through the ignominy of being rebelled against. You know, that there were people working for me who were going to say, "I'm sorry, I'm not going to go on doing this because I don't respect the leadership sufficiently." I mean, I was deeply frightened that that was going to happen. There have been a number of other occasions, but it's to do with trusting your judgment. At one stage we were in bad financial shape at Stratford, and I decided to do a rare Shakespeare play and to spend more on the design image of it than had been spent on other productions. People said, "This is totally crazy, with the financial situation that we're in." And I said, "I think we've got to give the opposite message. I think we've got to get people into the theater because we're giving them more and the word will spread." Having taken that decision, in the weeks or the days immediately prior to the opening of that, yes, I was deeply frightened that that was a mistake and that would mean the end of the regime, the end of my job. And the opposite happened.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

What kind of setbacks did you have along the way?

Sir Trevor Nunn Interview Photo
Sir Trevor Nunn: The biggest was the discovery that I was working 14, and sometimes 16 hours a day, and I had no time for the marriage I was supposed to be developing. So, I really couldn't be surprised when I was told, "You should stay married to your job, because I have to go." That was a lesson. I'm not sure I learnt from the lesson quickly enough. Trying to get work and life in balance is the most difficult thing. I have that knowledge now, but it was a setback at the time.

Pretty early on I discovered that there was a financial corruption in the organization that I was running. That was a very, very hard one, because I did feel considerably too junior to be the investigating body and the adjudicating body, and the person saying, "The only conclusion from this is: you have to go. You have to lose your jobs." That made me feel 20 years older overnight.

And, of course, there were critical ups and downs.

The thing that I had saved up for myself and wanted most to bring off was a fully fledged professional production of Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford. The play had a sort of talismanic hold over me. I guess that was another lesson learned because quite simply, I think I tried too hard. That's possible to do. I analyzed this text that's almost beyond analysis to within an inch of its life. I think I made another extreme mistake that I felt that I had the solution that I could write about it. I could publish my production in some way as the answer to all of the contradictions of this endlessly contradictory work. Actually, what I'd got on stage was a kind of literary exercise. It was something that was just over scholarly and somewhat inert. It didn't work. It was not well received critically. It was something that didn't make the journey that a lot of other productions did of going to London and in one way or another going abroad. It was a production that had an early death. I was very dented by that. If you're a director, your entire livelihood and your entire creativity is based on your self-confidence. Sometimes that's dangerously close to arrogance. I think all directors have to fight against that, have to fight against being the be all and end all. You know? The person about whom other people say, "There but for the grace of God goes God." It's not an enviable condition. But it's not a task that you can successfully dispense if you are in the midst of racking self-doubt.

If you can't fully believe in your ideas, it very quickly communicates to a group of actors who need something to hold onto. They need to believe that whatever criticism, whatever comment is received, is meant. And, if they pick up the message of "I might mean this. On the other hand, I'm feeling rather doubtful about myself, so maybe I don't mean it. And maybe you've got a better idea. Or maybe actually what he said is better." Then, of course, chaos reigns. And self-doubt is something that communicates very quickly through an acting company. It's contagious.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

I don't just mean that everybody in that company perceives the self-doubt in the director, they begin to doubt themselves, because there's no parity of purpose.

I have been through experiences with given productions, where I felt to an acute degree, "I can't do this." or "I can't do this, anymore. Whatever judgment I had it's gone." It's a hard lesson to learn, too. You would think, as you do plays, or works for television, works on film, that you pick up where you left off. You assume that you have learned all the lessons of your last outing and then you pick up right where you left off, and the truth is you don't. You pick up somewhere in the midst of an unknown project and you flounder often the same way. You repeat mistakes that you've made before. You say to yourself, "I don't believe that. I made that mistake 10 years ago, how have I done that again? And how did I not see I was doing that again?" So, yes. All of those things have happened to me. And equally, I've experienced the opposite. I've experienced a private doubt, something that I've kept deeply inside and then eventually delivered a piece of work that people responded to with huge enthusiasm. And then, that's been sort of a launch pad for a very good period, you know. "I do know what I'm doing. I do trust my ideas. That odd dream that I had two nights ago, I'm going to go with that. This imagery in there, I think I know what that's about, and I'm going to go with that. And I'm going to apply that to this play." You know, there's a lot of potentially hubristic activity in directing, following a random idea and trusting to it. But then of course, the pendulum can swing too far the other way, and you continue to trust your craziest of ideas and you come crashing down.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

I always believe it's better to have 30 imaginations working on a project, rather than one imagination telling the other 29 what to do. I love to have as much input as possible. However, I also think there's a point where structure is extremely important. All of those energies have to become one energy. When all of those inputs and all of those energies are bouncing into each other and conflicting, then there's no strength to the enterprise at all. It begins to be self-canceling.

I think a director does have a huge responsibility to draw strands together and to seek extension and development of his or her own ideas. I don't say that involving other people's input is at all going into the rehearsal room saying, "I don't have any ideas about this, I hope somebody else does." No, not at all. No. I tend to arrive in the rehearsal process with very strongly developed ideas about what I want to do. But I don't like those ideas to be things that are not subject to change, or subject to development, or subject to challenge.

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