Beyond Caring: An Interview with Director Alexander Zeldin

Beyond Caring is all about people living with instability – what inspired you to make the show, and what makes it so relevant right now?

I wanted to explore and expose what instability really feels like.  Instability is a result of many things, it can be a result of family circumstance, economic factors, political …whatever, but the result is the same – it is a sensation, a way of being in the world that is unstable, fragile, precarious. There is a lot of talk at moment about the “precariat” – the culture of temporary, insecure work reveals something intimate about the experience of being alive today: a wider feeling of insecurity, of doubt, of fear of others, fear of our situation, and of paranoia. Perhaps this fear and instability brings us together as a nation – I think it’s something that we can all relate to.

The majority of the cast of Beyond Caring is made up of a group of actors I’ve been working with for some time. We’re interested in telling stories about fragilised people trying to find happiness. I‘m interested in portraying extreme situations that reveal yearning for happiness, for understanding, for some kind of love, friendship and solace. I read a book, OUISTREHAM PIER by Florence Aubenas, that takes place in Caen, France. Aubenas, a great journalist, goes undercover in the minimum wage job market. The book is very touching and very powerful. Millions of people are affected by these issues. For me, it felt like a good starting point for the piece.

Can you talk a bit about your process and the challenges involved?

 There are a lot of challenges when you’re creating work this way but that is what makes the process more interesting. The presence, body, voice, energy and life of the performer, the space, the sound, the light, the rhythm, are also language used in writing for me, as much as words.

There is enough theatre in life – enough representation – it is probably better to give the actors the freedom and space to be themselves, to find their own connections. The cast are integral in shaping the characters. I think I write “on” them, through them and to an extent thus, with them… I create the conditions for them to explore, or rather reveal something that they have discovered in contact with the subject, through a devising and improvising process, which I then write into something more fixed. My job is to be patient and to watch very carefully, so that I can sculpt this into the time that is that of the play. It is thus a collective effort in that respect, with clear roles and trust is essential.

So of course this presents challenges but I like to allow myself to doubt, to not make a decision, to allow something raw and deeper to happen. Solutions have no place in the worlds we are creating.

You’ve previously directed Opera – are there huge differences between directing work for theatre and for Opera?

 Massive. I knew nothing when I started directing Opera and I learned how to work with people from a different culture and how to stage big scenes – that’s very useful. I always try to think musically- learning about how music is used to structure drama still helps me in some ways – It’s nothing complex – I try and think about how music feels, how it ebbs, flows, repeats, complicates and develops a theme.

Beyond Caring raises some poignant questions about the employment situation in the UK – would you say it’s a political play?

Beyond Caring isn’t a “political” play. It’s dangerous to think that a play or any piece of art “raises an issue” or “condemns”. There is nothing more political than style, because you can say something shocking and condemning but if you do so in a way that people are completely expecting and used to, it impacts in an equally expected and habitual way.

Theatre should take you on a journey inside yourself. Theatre happens on the stage, but really it happens in the audience’s minds and bodies. Hopefully Beyond Caring modestly reveals something about what it’s like to be alive now, in this moment. The style of the piece is something that has happened organically – there is a way of working that we have developed and we are obviously still in the infancy of developing that engineers the conditions in which things can emerge and be questioned, mined.

You’ve undertaken first hand research for the show – can you tell us more about that?

It’s always been obvious to me that it’s more interesting to have an element of real life in the theatre. I’ve always felt very uncomfortable with the idea of people getting dressed up and pretending to be someone else without a reason that is linked to real life – the key is what is the link, why is it there, why do we need to do this, what are we trying to make appear? Some ancient theatre practices were about banishing, summoning or re-creating spirits and gods.. that’s something I observed in Egypt when I worked there with traditional performers and it had an effect on me.  There is enough pretending in real life. The best theatre doesn’t pretend, it does.  As a group, myself and the actors go out into the world as part of the process..
Perhaps I can explain why we do this by sharing a quick story: In the 1990’s there was a UNESCO competition for “spontaneous ideas for the future of the theatre” – the winning entry was by George Tsypin (someone I learnt a lot from by working with) for a theatre with the outer walls bashed down, the stage flowing on to the street..the seats are still there, and you are watching life differently. This made a big impression on me (although when George and I tried to make a big hole in the wall of a theatre in Italy we weren’t allowed).

The first moment of theatre that happened in Beyond Caring was when we met with a cleaner who agreed to talk with us. She had been working in terrible conditions. She made a connection with us, and shared something, or more, gave us something from her experience, her life. We carry this with us when we are making the piece. That exchange is already theatre, it is already something to honor, it is a kind of pact between real people in real life. We have involved a wide range of people in the process and done a lot of “field work” observing, doing and experiencing.

What can audiences expect from Beyond Caring?

They can expect to see something quite raw hopefully.

Beyond Caring opens at The Yard on Tuesday 1 July. Click here to book tickets.