The writings of theatre practitioners are letters from the chalk face rather than ‘theories’. Practitioners practise first, and make their discoveries on the studio or rehearsal-room floor in much the same way as the scientist conducts experiments in a laboratory. However, these are not as readily codifiable as a scientific experiment, where a mathematical equation may offer a solution to the problem. In theatre, experiments constitute a constant search which will never reach a quantifiable conclusion. Experiments may, however, reach a qualitative conclusion: ‘it works or it doesn’t’ is the maxim, where the measuring stick is an informed artistic sensibility.
I find Dymphna Callery’s confidence in the ‘informed artistic sensibility’ encouraging, because I am a theatre practitioner. I direct plays. In my parallel career as an academic working in the UK higher education sector, I have found that ‘letters from the chalk face’ such as Callery describes are included in a wider range of outputs and publications known collectively as ‘practice-as-research’. My own practice-as-research methodology typically takes three forms: firstly, I search for practical solutions to perceived challenges presented by textual, material and logistical elements of plays in production; secondly, I follow my own curiosity and desire to create something genuinely new, in productions that speak directly to their audiences; thirdly, I attempt to record and contextualize some of the discoveries made in the rehearsal room, in print publications. This particular ‘letter from the chalk face’ shares my experience and reflections on practice, rather than labouring with theory, but this is not to suggest that the substance of what follows is purely anecdotal and reflective. Rather, this article considers a range of playable solutions to a set of perceived challenges posed by a Shakespearian text, in this case, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Further, the article suggests ways in which theatre practice can refresh (rather than reject) certain established literary-critical readings of the text, giving them renewed dramatic agency.