The back of Sue Buckmaster's head as she talks to a group of puppeteers before training

You describe your Research & Development weeks as Play weeks – what do you mean by Play?

Once the object or site has been selected and the creative team chosen, we find a suitable space and we get together and play, in whatever way those people tend to play. It cannot be prescribed because the play is literally created by those taking part. It is my job as the director to select a good object, find the right dynamic of people and provide a promising and secure play space. As the playing emerges, my own personal process is to help everyone involved to stay open to exchange, recognise when they are blocking ideas and to allow room for new ideas to come. To find or help them find the right games. For some time it is important not to edit or limit the play. There can be up 3 intensive playweeks to develop each show. As the process moves towards rehearsal it then becomes important to select the ideas that seem to resonate with the majority of the group and which seem to have a psychological connection, however intangible at this stage.

Describe Theatre-Rites’ process for creating a piece of theatre

After our Play weeks, it is throughout the rehearsal period that the full content of the show emerges. The narrative forms itself, and the ending often reveals itself at a very late stage. The process is both scary and exciting and discovering with others is at its heart. Hopefully each audience member discovers something new for themselves too when watching or experiencing the show.

I am fascinated by how the content of a theatre piece can emerge from a group of practitioners’ projections onto a chosen object, site or concept. For Theatre-Rites, each artist, whether as a maker, composer or actor, responds to an object, and a disparate collection of responses are gathered by myself. Then the similarities and differences are worked through using improvisation and play until a psychology of those differences and similarities appears. And thus the narrative of that piece of work emerges. The story appears last, respecting the many different cultural, artistic and emotional journeys that led us to it.

This process is hard to describe or even write about!

How do you choose practitioners?

It is important for me to select those practitioners who wish to look at the space between themselves and others, who want to reflect on ways of discovering the same or different answers to one question.

Cultural, emotional and artistic exchange is at the root of the work. I am happy to talk to any actor or artist who feels drawn to this way of working. I hold group auditions for actors, which provide a safe and playful environment. I am interested in those who have not necessarily created work for children before (and therefore are not fixed in their idea of what it should be!) but who like to create work by being childlike.

Theatre-Rites is interested in celebrating, analysing and challenging the differences and similarities between people from all backgrounds. We are interested in collaborating with different types of artists, whether they have had a culturally-specific traditional training, or whether they strive to blend an eclectic mix of artistic and cultural experiences. We are interested in working with artists who have direct experience of being a parent or those whose only experience is being a child themselves. In order to truly play we have to keep reinventing the rules so everyone can feel included.

How do Objects and Sites influence your work?

We have always either decided a site or been offered one. e.g. we chose a hospital for our 2005 production of Hospitalworks, and were offered a mill, which became our 1998 production Millworks. Site-specific performances derive from the objects and textures we find in the building.

Theatre pieces are created by playing with a material until it forms itself into something, e.g.. The Lost and Moated Land was created with visual artist Sophia Clist by obsessing about what could come out of a cone shape and Catch Your Breath, was inspired by the materials used for a tent. In One Ear was a sculptural response to a cultural object brought by one of the performers, a Kurdish daf drum.

Choosing the object as the driving force usually dictates the materials and making process. All our site-specific productions have been created with either a visual artist, installation artist or theatre designer.  We choose artists and designers who enjoy a collaborative process and are involved from the beginning. The artist or designer and the creative team respond to a site together.

We are interested in the transformative property of an object material or place. Just as much as the process is about playing with each other as people, the chosen object is also fully played with so its “promise” is found. Its many potentials, its ability to be fixed or rigid, multiple or singular, its power. These are allowed to be seen and experienced. They are as important as the actors.

It is the way that we have discovered what the materials can do which often becomes the content of the performance. For example, we are interested in actually showing the creation of a puppet, environment or mathematic sculptural form in front of the audience’s eyes. The creation and the dilemmas and joys of the creation process become the story, as opposed to just showing the end product.