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!


Paul’s Blog: St Petersburg: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on” … an Icelandic Peace Treaty”

En route to St Petersburg….

Activity; both theatre and training has severely dropped off in Russia.

I hope to be back teaching at Meyerhold Theatre Leaders School in Moscow soon – but who knows.


I have been teaching at Meyerhold for last three years at The Theatre Leaders School but times are tough so may not be back! The Rouble has literally halved in value so now I am twice as expensive!

We at Menagerie (http://www.menagerie.uk.com/) are also hoping to tour our new play bloominauschwitz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyyXfzieAOg) to Russia but again economics make it almost impossible at the moment – ah well you can see bloom on tour in the UK and various parts of Europe in May and June!

I actually can’t wait for ‘bloom’ – what an extraordinary configuration of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the idea of Concentration camp tourism (with jokes!) let’s see how it pans out … but it should be a triumph and hopefully one which will see us touring it…in Russia even!

Today I will be visiting staff at Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulkovo_Airport) the new international terminal, before hooking up with colleagues Ludmila Murgulets and Olaf Hauer my partners in the Russian training company iNTG (see photo of me looking very arty – off into space!)


We worked with Pulkovo last year when the creative team-building exercises we facilitated took place in Reykjavik. It was really like being in some kind of Cold War Peace treaty scenario – half the group was Russian, the other half German and together they were building a new airport in St Petersburg!

And there we were – the iNTG team plus actors Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen from the UK – all in Iceland, all trying to broker peace through the power of theatre!

It was truly bizarre but also lots of fun. Mark and Jasmine had recently finished a run of the Menagerie play Why Can’t We Live Together? In London


So they were a tight acting couple and we used this to work scenes, show characters and build up a communication skill set for our Russian /German delegation… For Jasmine it was an experience she had been through before working with us in Dubai and Hong Kong but for Mark it was – what the F**k am I doing??!? Is this an acting workshop or an audition to be in an episode from The Office ??!? The answer was probably … a bit of both.

But as always the objective was to challenge thinking, stretch minds and engage hearts … and working with actors as good as Mark and Jas does really bring things to life as well as adding a spark and positive dynamic into the whole training experience. Essentially bringing a bit of drama into what can be a mundane learning experience.

I can guarantee that when I meet the folks from Pulkovo later today that they will remember many of the activities we undertook and hopefully will have retained and used some of the learning –we will see; maybe they won’t even recognise me! Or maybe I will have to take my clothes off for them to remember me ????

…. bizarrely after our training sessions in Iceland the whole group went to The Blue Lagoon where we stripped off and got into the warm waters… it was certainly a different ending to most training – half naked soaking wet and drinking a beer. Actually this is how most of our training sessions end up..!

So we will see how the Russian market is shaping up and hold our breath for future opportunities half naked or otherwise …

BLOG: Could The Dalai Lama do this workshop? RESPECT!

Traveling on WizzAir includes the stress of the 16 Euro seat…

I sit in an extra legroom seat – pay an additional 16 Euros at time of booking (well , Ok…someone pays it for me!), and enjoy the comfort of space and the responsibility of manning the Emergency Exit. Travelling with colleague Paul Bogen once, when asked by the Steward ‘’”are you comfortable and confident to use the emergency Exit?” he replied: “yes I’ve done it before many times” which got a great double take.

The only problem is that the 16 Euro seat is in a row that today is only sat in by me – two lovely extra large spare seats – and every few minutes a little old lady or mother with child, asks me in Slovak “is this seat free?” to which I grimace and say…”I think so” knowing full well than it a few moments they will be turfed out of the seat unless they pay 16 Euros.

On this particular flight I have four people try sit next to me … none survive the 16 Euro seat challenge. The looks to me as they leave are between pity and disgust as overweight men, old ladies and pregnant women are removed and forced to the back of the plane!

However, nothing will ever beat the time when flying from Chicago I unwittingly forced a passenger out of his Business Class seat into Economy so that I could sit with my upgraded family. So embarrassing when I realised a few moments later what I had done… Trudi (my daughter) offered to take him my (his) Champagne but when I saw he was now seated in the middle of three people next the toilet at the back of the plane I thought it was best to leave it…

The WizzAir seat game stress is relieved for a moment when I am sure the announcement is to:

“Please step away from the plane aisles to allow boring passengers to enter…”

Bit harsh.

I feel like offering some of these less interesting people 16 Euros to sit next to me…

News this week includes the exciting development that I failed a security check to work with an Israeli Executive working on some kind of project around drilling (or nuclear weapons – something like that..).A request came in that this guy’s leadership style “needed shaking up” and that I was the person to do it. Well not according to The Mossad who found something unacceptable in my background. Too many trips to the Middle East maybe? Or just the extremely dodgy passport photo? Either way I feel somewhat impressed that I am an official security risk and mildly relieved that I don’t have to shake up some aggressive businessman…

No aggressive businessmen this week – rather the opposite charming and very interesting Olaf Baumann – Managing Director of FPT Slovakia. Going through transition (take-over) from RWE to FPT (see blog 3rd October).

I spend some time in a small coaching session looking at options going forward to help cement a positive workforce transition. He is doing the right things – open communication channels – and questions like “are our jobs under threat.. ?” “Yes”.

But mostly focussing on opportunities for staff including possibility of working in Vietnam, Vietnamese workers coming to Slovakia and all the cultural and work possibilities this brings. My main additional suggestion is to bring in some new faces that are not employees of FPT in any capacity. This neutral talent will be able to focus on work – not change. Getting back to tendering and supporting current contracts. In Leadership terms this tactic can prove powerful and effective – the positive catalyst of new faces…


I met with all the artists in development at Tarantinos Bar – the legendary watering hole of the Creatives.


Essentially as far as I can tell someone’s living room with a shelf with alcohol on it… I think people pay for their drinks but not always.

Anyway well worth a visit if you want to meet an artist or creative in Kosice! Many of these artists are moving forward with professionalising their products and practises and great to catch up with them…

Interesting developments with menagerie and potential partners include a joint project with new writing company NaPerone for our Festival in 2015 or 2016. Looking at cultural possibilities in making theatre in two languages and from two perspectives. Looks really interesting and I hope it comes off.

I have an image of musicians, two languages and for some reason… a ladder! Not sure why… but let’s see.



In addition to this we are looking at bringing our play Bloominauschwtiz to the Mazal Tov festival in Kosice in 2015. These relationships and possibilities are the creative collisions I have been hoping for and will be looking to develop and exploit more and more for everyone’s benefit. Mirka Vargova is one of the directors of the festival and also leading on development of Arts and Business Connections…  http://mazaltov.sk/en/


The final event this week is working with Arts and Business Connections to deliver a workshop for T-Systems a company that is part of Deutsche Telecom. T- Mobile etc.

Today is Guiding Principles Day – celebrating organisational Values including the usual suspects:

  • Customer Delight and Simplicity
  • Team Together
  • Best place to Perform
  • Count On Me

And today’s topic to be brought to life … Respect and Recognition.

My tactic is as always to bring the dynamics behind such words to life. We play games, discuss behaviours and challenge thinking…

75 Slovaks and a very stuffy room make it challenging. But they are a great crowd and we have fun.

I am told to ‘”start” exactly at 2pm – I must respect time…

OK here we go…

Understanding authentic interactions, tactical performance in communication, instinctively understanding people and establishing facts to support suppositions…

It gets interesting as we explore self–confidence , creating confidence in others and building on personal as well as organisational values. It all gets a bit Zen and I can hear myself getting suddenly out of my comfort zone as we touch on  religion and morals (clearly getting way out of depth now)…

“Paul how can I be comfortable in my own journey…? ”

“Err.. Ok lets explore this notion through a game with juggling balls shall we??!!!”

Actually I really enjoyed the day. Exploring Tolerance vs. Respect is interesting and the answers are as always, somewhere in the room.

I stick to what I know – create a framework for a positive communication dynamic…we do improvisation, create Tableaus, we describe scenes and scenarios and act out situations. In-between we play games, jump on chairs clap , shout and run around and finally dancing out of the room to Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T…

and of course get out the Juggling Balls of Respect! see …nothing that The Dalai Lama wouldn’t enjoy…



20th September: Arts and Business …The can the circle be complete?

Another week in Kosice…dynamic  and challenging.

This Eastern Slovakian town is pretty and interesting.wpid-20140917_085335.jpg

I am working with the guys from Kosice 2013 to set up a new company Arts and Business Connections. This new organisation of which I will be Artistic Director/Advisor/Slave, will foster relationships between the two sectors encouraging dual opportunities in creative learning, exchange of personnel, training, incubation etc.


My specific role is to up-skill artists to deliver training for companies. This week I have a dozen meetings and three key training days.

Day one includes training Na Perone Theatre in improvisation delivery as actors in role-play. The guys are really talented and actor Peter creates some of the best improvs I have seen for a while including role-play for dealing with a colleague who is consistently late. In one improvisation he offers his watch as an incentive to encourage on-time delivery and in another allows his frustrations to bubble over to the point where he doesn’t speak but just plays out his emotions by drumming on the desk – the result is a terrified employee and a hilarious scenario of a manager being tipped over the edge. Haven’t laughed so much in ages. These guys at NaPerone have what is a key quality for workshop delivery; improvisation skills, ability to listen, a connection with the audience but mostly they have energy and presence.

In all of my workshops I talk about the energy and presence as vital dynamics in leaders or entrepreneurs but as well as talking about it, it is great when participants can see and feel it.

The skills of actors in training is to play and explore. It is the facilitators’ job to guide, provoke and cajole meaning through the participation of the audience. Our training scenario in this workshop has learning around action and reaction in behaviour and some techniques in opening and closing certain situations, but its real legacy and impact is that it is… memorable.

This idea that you are entertained whilst learning gives a real depth and value to training. We will never forget the techniques used or behaviours observed that made us smile or that we recognised in ourselves and others. Delivery of scenarios and characters are in many instances in cartoon form – but therein lies the opportunity for learning, it is the facilitator picks away at the cartoon until this truth is revealed.

If I want to watch real workplace scenarios then I can go and sit in an office.

If I want to watch a real domestic drama I can sit in my own living room. Neither have the craft to engage and reveal…and entertain.

I am however not a fan of pure role-play between colleagues in the training room. Mix an actor into the scenario and validity and impact grows. There is no longer competition between colleagues, but rather the challenge of engagement with the unpredictable actor expanding or challenging the rules and skills of the participant.

When we worked a few years ago with McLaren Formula One Racing it was the work with Comedian Darren Strange that brought a leadership training event to life. The group was not so engaged with management theory or self-reflection groups – they wanted a spark and Darren gave them that. Suddenly in word-play games and improvisation they had someone who they could pit their wits against. Someone who had skills that they could try to imitate but would find hard to conquer.



In all the years of training I have realised how much leaders in particular want to engage with people of talent. Whether they are musicians, actors or visual artists, the factor which heightens impact is the challenge of being in the presence of someone of talent.

I don’t necessarily include myself in this category – I hope people are intrigued and inspired by what I do, so it is often that I will bring in colleagues who are true experts in their fields to challenge people in how they see the world.

I have done this with Conceptual Artist Chris Dobrowolski, Actors Jasmine Hyde, Helen Gould, Caroline Rippin, Daren Strange and my colleague Patrick Morris, with Writer Fraser Grace, artist Idit Nathan sound composer Andrew Lovett, Musician Tom Harding (Tom the Pom), director Rachel Aspinwall etc

Fraser Grace- Writer: http://www.frasergrace.co.uk/

Chris Dob: Artist http://chrisdobo.tumblr.com/

Tom Harding Musician: http://www.tomthepom.com/

Jasmine Hyde, Actor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasmine_Hyde

Andrew Lovett, Musician: http://andrewlovett.virb.com/

Idit Nathan designer: http://www.iditnathan.org.uk/

Rachel Aspinwall: http://theenginehouse.org.uk/

More about Rachel and others later but  her Engine House Project is fabulous.

In one session for The BBC we assembled ‘all the talents’ literally getting five world-class artists to simply spend a day exploring the nature of their Creative Thinking (ok so that’s what they spend the License Fee on!!)

So stage one of my week was I think a success – I engaged also with a digital Artist Michaela Bottkova. Who I think is interesting – we have to work out how she can engage with businesses. One thing we are looking at with her is around an Artistic Residency where she can work with an organisation looking at their Products, People and Processes and articulating a response that could be of value to her as an artistic endeavour and for the business as an intervention.


The value of interventions is what took up a lot of day two in Kosice which featured a very interesting Case Study from Gothenburg with the project Tilt run by Pia Areblad who I co-presented with..


More on her dynamic ideas of the cross fertilisation of arts and business to follow…but here is an introduction to a comparative study on the impact of Artistic ~Interventions


But for me I have to ensure I can continue to feed Menagerie and myself with these experiences. I enjoy the challenge this world brings but for me as an Artist I need to ensure the circle is complete and it is not just money that is generated through these workshops and relationships.

The good news is that we are in agreement in 2015 to bring one of our shows Bloominauschwtiz to Kosice (and on to Moscow) so I guess the circle will start to seem more complete…

Bloom 1




The end is nigh…

The end of Edinburgh Fringe is upon us…

Thousands of exhausted artists and theatre-goers (some who have been seeing six shows a day for month!) are rubbing their eyes as the dream or nightmare of The Edinburgh Fringe is nearly over.

We’re all changed in some way; some ecstatic, some depressed and some still sobering up– what next?

For us Edinburgh is a celebration and a Marker, we use it to build our company and our artists’ reputation and give opportunities to all.

Our sojourn in Edinburgh celebrates new writing in the goldfish bowl. By taking a show here we give a writer an opportunity to be in the public eye and to get reviews with national and international attention. It was from here three years ago that our play Four For Jericho was spotted and ended up being performed in India at Thinkfest;


So our writer Jane Upton and our actors Jess, Grace and Jack have had what can be a rare opportunity for young professionals – a long run of a piece in the glare of the public eye. Audiences have been good and the final review is very good – especially for our own Jack Bence… having your performance described as “startling” is not bad!


We also gave a first time Producing opportunity to Emily Murray who has done sterling work holding it all together. This again is our commitment to young professionals. And we threw her in the deep end with 100% project responsibility.

What does it take to be a successful Producer at an event like Edinburgh?

Basically it is working to ensure your production is heard above the noise. Mostly it is all about hard, targeted work – networking, phoning and cajoling – this is to get reviewers in, to get industry to notice and of course getting audiences to turn up.

It is about shaping the look and feel of the marketing of the production and keeping the company solid and positive when they are pissed off, tired or distracted. It is about creating and maintaining solidity, excitement and momentum.

And the marker? If you work with us, you will be given opportunities.

We are a company that commits to opportunities for artists and other theatre professionals. We stand by our word.. work with us and we will work with you to give you the best exposure we can.

And this stands for all we do. Menagerie acts as a framework organisation for theatre makers – challenge us and we will challenge you, and between us we can produce something that makes a difference.


So long Edinburgh… its been fun!

Day One Blog: Moscow

This is the start of my new blog.

I have called it ‘on tour’ because that’s what i do a lot: tour with my ideas and interests in theatre and creativity…

I define myself as a theatre Director and i have directed at least two productions a year for my whole working life – often many more. This year I have already directed Egusi Soup by Janice Okoh on a successful national tour



and am about to direct Jane Upton’s new play Swimming



BUT also..i support the theatre work by training in the corporate and education worlds. These worlds collide and cajole each other

today’s first post is a great example I am in Moscow to do workshops for the Meyerhold Theatre for three days. Then on Tuesday I work with a senior executive from a large Russian company on his ‘performance skills’ in presentations.

my travels have taken me to many interesting and challenging places and i have had some stories that i want to share; so i will reflect back on the journey so far and add in the new experiences from Theatre to Training and  everything in between

Here’s me training:

and here’s theatre:

OK Moscow experiences to follow…

Please share thoughts as we go…