Creativity Series - Nina Brazier

18th January 2018

Bob Books Creativity Series

Joseph Beuys asserted that everyone, yes everyone, is an artist. And we couldn’t agree more. This autumn Bob Books are recognising one of the most important aspects of human nature- our creativity. Whether we are making, doing, being or imagining something, our creative selves need to be nurtured and put on display- imagine a world without it! In this series, we highlight people working in different industries, from architects to designers to stylists, all creative in their own distinctive way. Each interview gives an insight into the creative process and how this is facilitated in their everyday. 

This week we interviewed theatre and opera director Nina Brazier

Can you tell us a bit about your practice and give us your background? I am a British director based mainly in Frankfurt, and direct opera, theatre, and spoken word performances for the stage.  After my early education and music training in Wales, and determined to head towards a career on the stage, I studied Drama at Exeter University, followed by a Masters in Text and Performance at RADA.

My process as a director often begins at a very early stage of a production, where I plan the concept, design and aesthetic of the production with a designer. I always try to draw inspiration directly from the text and music, rather than apply an extraneous setting onto a play or opera, as this can very quickly unravel if it doesn’t fit the piece. When it comes to the rehearsals, I shape and guide the characters’ ‘journeys’ through the piece - their motivation, mood, and on a more practical level their ‘blocking’, i.e. their entrances, exits and physical interaction with other characters.  I also like to collaborate closely with conductors and get plenty of input from the singers themselves.

Do you feel you have a clear creative process? Or is this something more fluid? I do have a clear process in preparing a new opera or play; the way I break it down and how I action the text for the characters always helps me see the story and the characters much more clearly.  However, in the early stages of working with a designer I like things to be much more fluid, allowing ideas and images to flow freely and be bounced back and forth, letting new ideas infiltrate the original, and exploring unexpected avenues. I find that having that freedom in the early stages of planning can be really inspiring, but it is crucial that the ideas are then decided upon and clearly defined in good time for the design to be realised on the stage.

Where do you draw inspiration from? More broadly and day to day, is this different? I like to visit art galleries and museums when I can, particularly when I’m travelling.  Sometimes the way an artist approaches their subject has an inherent theatricality about it that immediately sets my mind on an upcoming piece of theatre or opera.  It can be something as simple as the way a still life is lit, or how a human figure is framed in space, or how two people appear to relate to each other in a painting that triggers me to think about the design and aesthetic, a particular scene, or a key moment in an opera. I also find that spending time outdoors and seeing shapes in nature can spark new and unexpected ideas that often feed into a developing design.  On a more day-to-day basis, I often sketch character notes and ideas based on what I’m reading, which might then be ignored for some time but come into play later, when I can reference it in bringing a similar character to life on the stage.   

How do you avoid falling into automatic mode? What routines do you find helpful in keeping your creative side stimulated? I find it almost impossible to switch from the admin side of the director’s role to suddenly being creatively inspired, and this can be a challenge, especially when time is tight.  I’m personally most productive in the morning, but if I get up and spend hours at my desk answering emails and dealing with schedules, my creative side is completely blank, and no amount of internet searching will inspire or stimulate me.  I now try to completely separate my creative work, giving it its own time and space, heading out of the house to a new environment with a notebook, taking a walk, heading to a gallery, getting my mind to work in a way that’s completely different to being hunched over a laptop.  I also run along the river or in the gym, and find that when my body is active doing something different than sitting its ‘usual’ working position, creative ideas flow more readily. 

Why is creativity important in your role, what environment does it best thrive in? Do you need a quiet space or loud music? Do you need to be alone to be productive? Creativity is absolutely crucial in the director’s role, as it needs to inspire creativity and energy in others.  From the initial exploratory ideas with the designer, to the detail of every action and interaction on stage between the performers, there needs to be a creative lens through which the production is viewed.

A great deal of my preparation time is spent alone with the music of the opera playing on repeat while I learn it, but when I know the opera well and I’m making more detailed plans for blocking the piece, I like to work in complete peace. When working on a play, I prefer things to be completely silent.  If I have been immersed in an opera all day, hearing it over and over again (whether in preparation or rehearsal), when the day’s work is over, I can’t listen to any music at all - I think at some point your ears just need a break!

However, I don’t always need to be alone to be productive, and I often like to thrash through creative or staging ideas with the designer or my assistant.  In the rehearsal room and theatre I’m surrounded by the cast and company, so after hours I like to have some quiet time, usually processing the day’s work and getting my head around the next day.

What did you want to do as a child? I loved my ballet classes, singing, and playing my clarinet.  I also loved tiny things: my dolls house and its accoutrements, and drawing and designing spaces in which to live – I was obsessed with houseboats for some reason.  I was completely enchanted by the school musicals but always confined to the orchestra pit, until one day (aged 14) I was picked to play the role of Anna in The King & I. They must have been pretty desperate as I was obviously far too young, but I loved every minute of it.

Can you tell us about something you have coming up? First up in February I have the revival of my Ryedale Festival Opera production of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera coming to the new Chiltern Arts Festival on February 10th, followed immediately by East West Street: A Song of Good & Evil (in German), a piece on the origin of modern day Human Rights based on Philippe Sands’ award-winning book on February 12th at the Berlin Konzerthaus.  The English version of East West Street then tours through Australia during March (happily I’m travelling with it), after which I’m heading to New York to direct an atelier version of the new opera Swan’s Inlet at the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York.

La Finta Giardiniera 10th February, Ryedale Festival Opera at Chiltern Arts Festival

East West Street: A Song of Good & Evil 12th February, Berlin Konzerthaus

East West Street: A Song of Good & Evil  17th-24th February, Australian tour

Swan’s Inlet 10th March, Center for Contemporary Opera, New York