Given that there are so many books on creativity, but not many that focus on how creativity operates within theatrical domains regarding the inception to completion of a live show, I am so excited about the Creative Conversation series that Physical Fest released as part of their 2021 festival. These conversations, led by Elinor Randle, artistic director of Tmesis Theatre and Physical Fest, tease out the creative process’ of exemplary physical theatre practitioners who have brought their work to Physical Fest in previous years. The seven artists interviewed, including Sandine Heyraud, Sean Kempton, Jamie Wood, Al Seed, Reetta Honkakoski, Izumi Ashizawa, and Hilary Chaplain, all share their approach to their creative practice in theatre and how their specific disciplines, whether that be clown, mime or dance, influence their “product”, which is the show they create.

Whenever I listen to interviews or read about anything that might aid my own practice, I always take notes, therefore, I took notes on each of the seven interviews individually, and quite quickly, I began to thematically analyse what was being spoken about. Or, in less academic terms, I paid attention to any reoccurring patterns or themes that I thought might be useful to me and other physical theatre practitioners. An initial commonality amongst two of the artists was their reference to a creative model. For instance, Jamie Wood refers to Anne Bogarts three stage process, whilst Sean Kempton outlined a five-step creative model (source unknown).  What I found across the seven interviews, however, was discourse pertaining specifically to the following three steps; inception, process and completion. As a result of this, this post will speak to the starting point of making a work, how the work is made and what happens when it is complete (if it ever is, is questionable). I will reiterate key tips along the way and I will also include at the end a subcategory of ideas and or statements that I want to remember, as well as new things to look up.


Each artist agreed that every creative process is unique in its journey and that no one process is the same. However, the thing that all artists expressed was how the beginning of a new show derives from either an idea, a need to solve a problem, or a curiosity. At this point, if you are like me, you would ask about the origin of that idea and where it occurred. Based on the answers given to a core question which asked about where they are most creative or where they have the most ideas, it is safe to say that they all, including Elinor, listen to the ideas they have during exercise, such as walking, running or swimming, or at other times when they are alone.

Tip One: Pay attention to your ideas when you exercise or at other times when you are alone. This will be your starting point.

Once you have an idea in place, you have something to research. Each of the artists either read, watched movies or documentaries, spoke to people about the topic, or they looked at the work of other artists who had focussed on said topic. This research would be seen as the second step of the creative process and the more you research, the easier your life will become in the rehearsal space.

If you want to be even more prepared, like Reetta, you might also want to have an idea about the people you are working with and the set you are going to use. Both of which should be researched in as much depth as the initial idea. Meaning, know the strengths and weaknesses of your performers and set, as well as the stories they bring with them.

Tip Two: Explore the idea to the maximum before you even enter the studio / rehearsal space.


When it came to articulating the physicalisation of the research in a rehearsal space, the artists’ hinted at prompts, play and improvisation. A prompt might come from a question, for instance, Reetta asked her performers something along the lines of “how can you create a carousel with your body?”. Playing could be, as Al puts it, “jumping up and down until something happens”, whilst improvisation might be something as simple as asking your performers to spontaneously respond to the space you have set up for them.

Tip Three: Keep exploring. Do not edit too early in the process. Stay open for as long as possible.

I was relieved to hear from the majority of artists that the middle stage of the process can be very messy for them and that it has many twists and turns. I can relate to this so much and it is so reassuring to know that the creative path for experienced and established theatre practitioners is just a chaotic as mine. Relative to the messiness of a creative process and a potential was to bring ease to it is the use of an outside eye — someone who will look at the work completely objectively. They will be very honest and because of this honesty, this person must be someone you trust, someone whose opinion counts, and someone whose work you respect.

Tip Four: The outside eye who you bring to view your work should be someone your trust and whose opinion you value.

A side note to add here is that the artists who have created solo shows did not work alone at any point of their creation because they either do not like working alone or because they haven’t got the discipline for it. As a solo artist myself, I found this interesting because I would say the majority of my earlier work has been developed in almost complete isolation, well, at least until I felt I was clear enough about my idea to show it to an outside eye or a peer reviewed audience. For me, working alone gives me space to reflect on my own creativity, whereas the artists of whom I am discussing in this post prefer to work and reflect in a collaborative way on a new piece of work. This gives me motivation to share a full process with another artist, to see what else can happen and how my work will differ and improve because of it. I digress…

Back to the process and what I have highlighted so far. Funnily enough, the themes that I have noted coincide with Jamie Wood’s articulation of the three stages of making a show

  • “Vomiting of ideas of anything that feels interesting to you at this point of your life.
  • Notice from the vomit, what are the bits that feel like they live together.
  • Start putting those bits together.”

When it comes to putting bits together, it is arguable whether this part should come before or after you see an outside eye. I have witnessed many artists do this is different ways, but for the sake of clarity, I will say you start the real editing and structuring after you have spoken to an outside eye because hopefully their viewing has given you some clarity about what is being received and therefore what you are giving away.

Structuring is akin to putting the pieces of a puzzle together. It is the part of the process where you lay out everything you have explored, and you decided what goes where and how it fits into the overall show. Not all the artists in the creative conversation series discussed structuring, but I did like how Al said he stole a structure for one of his works from a novel, which brought ease to the process for him. I also appreciate how Jamie and Sean spoke to their wives about sections they were unsure on to get a second opinion. If something didn’t make sense, it was cut and or edited.

Tip Five: it is ok to not know what the show is about. The show will tell you what it is about if you give it time.


What I gathered from the artists is that a show is not complete when you think it is complete, or, as Sean Kempton said “the show is never ready on its first night. It needs to breathe and grow.” In fact, space away from the show made them come back to it with a clear head. This is something I need to take on board myself, to take a break either at specific intervals in the process or at the end, before I perform the work. Space offers clarity and so does time.

Another thing to consider when thinking about the completion of a work is audience response. If the audience are a part of the show in some way, no two shows will ever be the same because no two audience members have the same cultural biographies. This means the show will never be finished, and that is ok. In a similar light, even if there is no direct audience / performer interaction, the performance still hopes to evoke a response from viewers, thus, if the performer recognises that certain areas of the show are gaining heightened response, then the artist might give more attention to said area of the show by developing it further.

To conclude, it is clear that creativity in physical theatre operates under a similar structure to other art forms whereby the starting point stems from an idea, which moves into research about said idea, to then an exploration, to a structuring of different scenes that were built on initial curiosity, to a discussion with outside eye and or audience about the work, to then completion. It is a messy, magical, unexpected journey, and a process in flux. The unexpected, magical journey of creating a show, as referenced by Jamie and Al, is a process of finding something that has been waiting to be found — “the sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material” – Michelangelo

To remember and draw from

Time apart from the work helps, create your own deadlines to practice your craft, take another piece of art and process it through your medium, break the rules (whatever the rules are for you), do not edit until the end – keep exploring and making scenes, make way more material than you need, be generous in your offering to the audience, structure your work by stealing a structure from something else (like Al Seed did with a novel), don’t be so precious about material – if it doesn’t work, let go of it, don’t fall victim to a machine of productivity, examine / re-examine something, interpret / reinterpret something, take note of your own accidents and use them.

Notes of things to look up

Object theatre, A Director Prepares by Anne Bogart, more work by Peeping Tom.