Research and development (R&D) weeks are a central part of developing a new production. With the opportunity to explore material, experiment, play; a room of theatre-makers begin to answer questions that cannot be solved by one person, in front of their computer screen, working on a script.

The two central premises in an Reasearch and Development process are as follows; firstly: how can we create a space where everyone feels both safe and liberated to take creative risks and push the boundaries of our collective creativity? Secondly: what are the keys we need to find to unlock remaining questions about a script/production? Without the looming deadline of getting a production ready for performance, these weeks allow space for greater experimentation, which is a wonderful way of developing new material, challenging preconceptions about the script and exploring characters.

Reasearch and Development is often about journeying with the physical and aural language of story telling. What are the most impacting ways of telling this particular story? What is missing in the narrative? As a director, the most important thing is to stay alert to what is offered by the actors through the structured improvisation, games and provocations. Often what is discovered is far beyond what I could have ever envisaged and so the rehearsal room becomes a space where everyone is learning and growing in their understanding of the production as a whole. It is dynamic, immediate and a brilliant expression of 1 Corinthians 12 (one body, many parts).

Collaboration is also at the very heart of the process. Half an idea is taken hold of by an actor and their creative exploration takes the idea further down the line. Then perhaps a new exercise is brought in which turns these ideas on their heads to see what treasure might be found. It is the equivalent of designing anything new. Creative excellence is often found through the combined force of each participant's unique contribution.

The challenges lie in how to channel all this creative vision back into the development of the script and the production as a whole. Sometimes an R&D will raise lots more questions, so having space within the week to plan, reflect, notate learning and develop ideas is imperative.

R&D processes become a liberating, playful, experimental, discovery led, demanding, terrifying, and fruitful unearthing for theatre companies!

We are very privileged at Saltmine to have an exceptional design team led by Bethany Kessell. On top of everything else, this process allows us to experiment with set, sound and composition. Again, it allows us to return to the question: what do we need from a design perspective to tell this story in the most impacting way?

I am always drawn to asking this question when working with the team: what do you need do to your very best work: what do you need from me and what do you need in the space? We are continually learning and growing as creatives and each R&D process allows us to keep this growth as a core value.

And, don’t tell the actors this but… the reason I am so committed to R&D is that it always solves problems that I really don’t have the answers to!

Caroline Wilkes