A light grilling… and TED restriction makes me think.

I was recently interviewed by colleagues as part of a ‘light grilling’ for the Junction Theatre Website. I wrote my answers in 30 minutes at 7 am on the morning of rehearsals for a new play.

It is quite interesting what you write when you are under pressure, and you just have to… write:


I am cringing a bit now to read it back and would change some, but certainly not all of the content.  The answers about what you like/don’t like become gut feelings – instinctive – and of course have some logic and thought, but with no time to overly consider, you get a  quick and actually quite realistic and raw view.

I encourage this “light grilling” approach in workshops and project exercises to consider things quickly, to get a gut feeling and so generate a set of ‘foundation information’. It can take the form of a written answer to questions,  of timed ‘idea capture’ in groups or even hot-seating individuals to get instant, instinctive information.

The results can be powerful and revealing, we often worry too much; write, think, edit re-write and re-edit. Sure, for the final analysis we want real depth, but in this first instance if I am looking at a rehearsal for a new play or at a project analysis, I want lots of information quickly and this first hit is a ‘stream of consciousness’ that really has ‘raw data’ value.

A “heavy grilling” for me came a couple of weeks ago when I did a TED talk in Cambridge.

Distilling a talk with the intention of having impact and substance into 18 minutes is a challenge, but again it is this ‘restriction’ that forces editing and clarity to tell the story clearly and simply in a limited time-frame.

I essentially distilled a three-hour workshop on Communication Skills into 18 minutes. What was missing of course was the interaction and testing of the ideas with my participants. But I found it very useful to distill and force  my ideas, so as to to be as clear and connected as I could be in my storytelling.

I gave myself a light grilling, took the essential elements that emerged then pulled them into a story structure and then looked for the greater detail in a heavy self-grilling!

You can compare the light and heavy touch and see what you think,  but restriction can be a good thing!


Telling stories that matter in Art and Business



Two events in St Petersburg this week really got me thinking about how we tell our stories – or rather – how we engage.

My ‘main job’ as a theatre director is in many ways about creating and telling stories. Not stories that are necessarily fairy tales or epic adventures.. but rather experiences and performances that create vivid images and use powerful text to challenge thinking whilst exciting and provoking the audience.

The Theatre Director and writer Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment UK) wrote a ‘play’  for us (Menagerie) once way back (in 2002?), it wasn’t a typical three act drama with a prologue followed by some conflict and nice resolution – it was a series of challenges to “form and thought” .The presentation was  three actors speaking statements that were or were not funny. The decision of the level of humour is of course in the control of each audience member.

“ A Painter that is allergic to Paint”

Is that funny or not funny? The list builds…

“A boy writing his name in pee in the snow”

“A girl writing her name in pee in the snow”

“Tying your shoelaces whilst drunk”

“Cancer of the throat”

“Testicular Cancer”

A world emerges of cruelty, love, anger and beauty, the audience’s reactions build the stories. Each experience is pondered, contextualised (“well it would be funny if I was 15 and had been drinking beer “). What Tim  did was create non-linear stories by building up a jigsaw or mosaic of experiences that frustrated, touched , endeared  or angered the audience.

What were their reactions based on? On their mood? Their age? Background? Cultural reference points? As the list grew so did our (the audience’s) capacity to think, to absorb and to imagine… What if…

What was great about Tim’s piece (called MFI by the way) was that it had a universality. A hypnotic quality. Although the three actors who recited each statement appeared to be randomly selecting their comments, we started to build up a picture of each of them according to what they found funny about their own comments and about each other’s.

And isn’t that the point? Create something that people can react to, that they can visualise, personalise– feel  something about. Of course for many this isn’t storytelling – its “Performance Art”

Yes this piece was challenging, but it was also mesmerizing and human. Too often we hear the same things over and over again. In business, as in art we should look to create a reaction – a response to what we think, feel and say.

My two classes in St Petersburg on storytelling in the business context were certainly more traditional than Tim’s work…

For the Creative Agency BC Communications my “lists or statements” were transposed into  Challenges  or games – for each member of staff to respond to – to really think about their own story – what makes them laugh? Scared? To want to take a risk? To want to focus on? Each exercise was its only little “statement” – how do you feel ? – is this Funny? Is this thought-provoking?


At ITMO University I challenged business students to think about their framing of stories in terms of how they and others see the world. The simplest framing  being The World as it Was, as it Is and as it Can Be… the statements are built – challenges set.

Is it funny?, that doesn’t matter – is it going to get a reaction? THAT matters, because then someone cares about what you’re saying…



Below is a description of Tim’s work …


Across the range of my work I use strong, simple, sometimes comical means to get to serious ideas.

My practice shifts from performance to visual art and fiction and concerns itself with questions of contemporary identity and urban experience, our relation to fiction and the media, as well as with the limits of representation, especially in respect of language.  Working across different media and contexts opens up new possibilities and allows me to approach the ideas that interest me by different routes, shifting my perspective on the themes and experiences I want to investigate.

I have created a body of work exploring contradictory aspects of language in playful and poetic ways. I’m drawn both to the speed, clarity and vividness with which language communicates narrative, image and ideas, and at the same time to its amazing propensity to create a rich field of uncertainty and ambiguity.

Infiltrating galleries, street corners, shop windows, rooftops and other locations the neon sign and LED works I have made spell out simple-but-intriguing phrases, messages and instructions. Appearing to address the viewer directly through these works, I’m interested to create moments of thoughtfulness and playful encounter in a public setting;  the work is public but private at the same time, trying to draw each person that encounters it into a space of intimate reflection.


Enterprise spin–off spin-out; Montevideo style

I am in Montevideo in Uruguay, working on Enterprise Development projects.


I am here with colleagues Peter Taylor, Lester Lloyd-Reason and Lianne Miller from CEDAR in Cambridge

We are offering workshops on a wide range of Enterprise support.

In-between our creativity training sessions we make a series of visits – the most interesting being to startups, incubators and co-working spaces..

The highlight was visiting two great co-working spaces Da Vinci and Sinergia

Da Vinci:



They have this statement …

Serendipity is our key concept:

The word serendipity relates to a lucky discovery that comes unexpectedly. Co-Work, we facilitate business serendipity generating bodies such as lectures, workshops and what never fails … a good lounge with unlimited coffee grain.

Da Vinci is a co-working and business support centre that focuses on hi-tech – the kids (mostly young 20 somethings) in the space are … pumped!. An international perspective and dynamic outlook is a necessity if you want to be here. The market is too small for domestic development only – “lets conquer the word” is the mind-set!

Businesses are recognisable – a new model for bulk storage, apps for on-line payments, booking apps for hair salons, some cool looking 3D printing and I just love the international perspective. Supported by the indefatigable Sergio Delgado; these guys are working hard and fast on hi-tech start ups and the ecosystem within the incubator feels strong.

Here’s an article about some of the businesses;


If you are looking for an in to the lucrative South American Market I think a great entry-point is through Da Vinci – these guys are smart. See what they have on offer. Angel and Venture Capital investment is relatively low but rewards are potentially high…

and they are moving fast and smartly into the market…

Next we head to Sinergia is another working space – a bit “cooler ” than Da Vinci, it has some special ingredients. It is more layered that DaVinci in that it is not just focused on Tech start-ups but on balanced business ecosystem which sees a lot of different type of businesses from Services to Research to hi-Tech.



What is special about Sinergia is the space itself and the culture within it. Regular meetings and social events including Friday lunches, breakfasts, yoga sessions and beer on the terrace make for a dynamic environment…

Plenty of open co-working space desks sit outside of the glass fronted offices – an enticement to move up and on.

With the hotline to government seed money (via Anii), support to set up limited companies (Sinergia takes 6% of share capital) plus access to investment makes this space a prized asset.

What I like about this place is that it is full of “can do” and “will do”  energy and support; from marketing to financial production to technical they are all supporting each other… and with the indefatigable team led by Macarena, anything can happen and it probably will…

Fun video gives you a flavour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PxpydAHHDA


ANII is the main government agency for innovation and supporting start-ups in Uruguay, they are working to forge links between incubation spaces, education establishments and international markets. For a Government Agency I feel like they are moving fast and  in a focused way! I like these guys – they are about solving problems – not causing them!



InGenio at LATU is another government supported agency, they are focused on Hi-tech two year growth programmes again working in a focused dynamic way, led by the calm and focused Director Rafael Garcia Moreira


and their video:


The final visit we made was to Bioe-Spinn, with Bio-tech businesses being developed – really great labs with clearly defined development opportunities. My colleague Peter Taylor TTP (http://www.ttp.com/) was impressed by the set-up – and if he’s impressed.. so am I!


Here’s to future, here’s to Uruguay…

Now – my job to inspire all these guys to be even better!

Hope I don’t mess up – it was all going so well for them…


He personally creates all the programs and conduct them with professional actors and munitions.

I recently did a radio/podcast interview in Russia about working and building a business there.

The interview sums up the work we do in that market (as well as others) and how the theatre and business training can intersect.

I listened to it again recently and noticed this amazing sentence describing my work in the supporting text…

“He personally creates all the programs and conduct them with professional actors and munitions”.

I love the fact that I use actors and weapons in my training!!!

Enjoy the interview…




3, 5, 7 or 9 cows for every person and 20 million sheep(s) too.

For the past ten days I have been in Argentina and Uruguay working with Incubators and start-ups bursting forth on the South American Economy.


My job? Inspire and imprint Creating Thinking, Enterprise Culture and Communication skills to the three sectors that really matter… folks running Incubators, the start-ups themselves the Investors – oh and the educators – although they perhaps don’t make my list of three!?!

All run by the national agency for  investigation and innovation…ANII (amazing, lovely people!)



The majority of my time was spent in Uruguay – Montevideo. Very generous and how can I put it – semi-dynamic people…by this I mean kind, friendly and still working on conquering the world – mind-sets are still verging on inferiority a tiny country wedged between the powerhouses of Brazil and Argentina .

But hey Uruguay (as we were reminded..) have won the world cup TWICE – a country the size of wales – and how many times have Wales won the world Cup?

So despite the inferiority on the surface the Uruguayans have a deep-rooted sense of … we can infact conquer the world.!

I travelled to South American on behalf of CEDAR at Anglia Ruskin University


This was a trade mission to inspire and support Enterprise activity.

So I taught three things and I learned three things.

Let’s start with Learned …

Uruguay Won the world Cup – twice

Uruguay is going places – no doubt

In Uruguay there are either 3, 5 or 7 cows per person and 20 million sheep(s).

Clearly they love their cows – mostly on a plate having been cooked on a barbeque and served as Asado –


They also love their unique wine – the grape is Tannat – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tannat

Yes cows – every meal – every conversation…

Conversation One

“ how do you like Uruguay?”

“ Yes Great – thank you”

did you know there are three cows per person IN Uruguay and 10 million sheep(s)!”

Conversation Two:

How do you like your steak?


Did you know there are five cows per person in Uruguay? And 20 million sheep(s) ..

Conversation three

How do you like your wine?


Did you know there are seven cows per person and 30 million sheep(s)…

Whatever else I learned during this week there are a lot of cows and sheep in Uruguay and that the teaching of the plural of sheep has not yet permeated English language training…

It was the perfect Uruguay joke/statement/conversation – more cows that people – was friendly and fun… And of course whenever someone says sheeps rather than sheep you have to smile…

Add in the bizarre drink “Mate” seriously .. you drink that!!!???

In my workshops, in our visits to incubators, Co-working spaces, government agencies, to theatres, restaurants and bars it was clear that pride is pumping, the economy is good, the cows are grazing, the people lovely  and that Uruguay is on the map – even if it is a speck of a country wedged between two giants…

So to work… 3, 5, 7 workshops…

Blog: Summer 2015 – New Writing, New Horizons, New Thinking from Cambridge to Montevideo

The summer is over and a new focus is upon us…A heady mix of theatre, training and teaching.

Following the success of Hotbed, our New Writing Festival in July with excellent new work particularly from Craig Baxter with Pictures of You, a play developed in alliance with Martina Simplicio. This was presented as part of What’s Up Doc? Series where playwrights are paired with Academic Collaborators.

Inspired by the ‘mental imagery’, emotion and the study and treatment of bipolar disorder, Pictures of You presented the intriguing meeting of two friends after many years apart. Full of unexpected lightness, warmth and love, the play explored the challenge of recalling the past and picturing the future…

The partner was Dr Martina Di Simplicio of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge

The best work from HOTBED in Cambridge was then transferred to London’s SOHO theatre where it ran for a week alongside the brilliant play from last year: bloominauschwitz.


Following bloominauschwitz’s award as the best new play at Brighton Festival it is now heading to the National Theatre Festival of Czech Republic in Brno. The play is now fully matured and ready for National Touring next year. We also hope to perform at The Edinburgh Fringe next year … watch this space. See the awards – we are in at 25 minutes:


and here’s the new video trailer of the play- hope you can catch it next year (or in Brno!)


Meanwhile we are focussing back on training too this autumn including developing new programmes for CEDAR and the Judge . At the Judge I have been made a Fellow in The Arts (Creative Engagement)…


Following its awards as Entrepreneurial University of the Year Anglia Ruskin has been going from Strength to strength and in particular the centre ran by Professor Lester Lloyd-Reason at CEDAR .


This unit remains a beacon in Enterprise thinking and projects and I get such a kick being around these guys. There is always a crazy project around the corner.

This week working with CEDAR I have been delivering Creativity and Curiosity workshops to Managers of Incubators from Montevideo in Uruguay!

Working with Peter Taylor from TTP group, we delivered a workshop about how to bring creativity into the workplace


Four great managers from Uruguay included “Good Cop” Paola Rapetti http://sinergiacowork.com/montevideo/ and “The Rule Man” Sergio Delgado.

Here’s twelve great stories of entrepreneurs in Uruguay http://founders.uy/. Great people – great ideas and looking forward to heading to Uruguay to meet them again soon and more colleagues.

So, many projects on the go, will get inside them all in the blog over the next few weeks.

Here’s a reminder of what we do and how we do it;







I really had the best time in Brno at The Encounter festival organised by JAMU


If you ever find yourself in Czech republic in April you have to go to this brilliant festival. Essentially it is a collection of the best work from European (mostly) drama schools – full of energy, passion and risk.

I was on the international professional Jury of Theatre practitioners along with Christine, Fred, Christina and Jussi. We had the job (tough) of awarding four prizes to amongst 13 international student productions

Encounter has been in existence for 25 years and is run almost entirely by students from the school. It is a live project of fundraising and management that encompasses much of the students’ time at JAMU – the organising school.


These were the awards as we gave them – details of the productions are all listed on the Encounter website


Dreamspell (from Lithuania)

For the outstanding direction of a truly Ensemble work, guiding this talented company in creating a powerful choreographic, visual, sonic and vocal world. With a strong metaphysical dimension and spiritual quality, this highly original work was fully realised with craft, guile and imagination.

This award went to Kamile Gudmonaite for her direction of Dreamspell.

Talk to Me (From Slovakia)

 An award for a pair of actors who together created well balanced, clear, concrete and mature performances. This believable couple were fresh in their approach with a light touch and clearly articulated intentions. They contributed along with their excellent fellow actors to a production that was well directed, conceived and realised. The award went to Barbora Andresicova and Richard Autner in Talk to We

Road to Happiness (Germany)

For an authentic and dynamic actor who was as part of a convincing collective production that was realised with powerful vocal and physical articulation. A production that challenged and engaged our senses and sensibilities in expressing the unbearable happiness of our lives.

This award went to Sebastian Griegel 

 Hamlet (Hungary)

For the presence, intensity and energy in an interpretation renewing an iconic play in a truly contemporary way, we want to celebrate this original and united work with an award to the promising and exciting actor  for his performance in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

A feast of imagination I loved Encounter and cannot wait to go back…