I'm leaving France tonight to begin work in earnest on The Author, the new play by the extraordinary talent that is Tim Crouch. And I don't think I've ever been so well prepared for a rehearsal period. My co-director Andy Smith and I have been talking, thinking, writing and scheduling for months now, with and without Tim.
And with good reason: Tim's newest play is also probably his most challenging to direct. Partly because there are four people in it (previous plays of his have had just one or two cast members); partly because its subject matter is important and layered; and partly because there is one vital element of the production we cannot prepare: its audience.
Now I know you can never rehearse an audience (although warm-up acts for comedians and sitcoms sometimes try) but what we can do - what we need to do - is rehearse having an audience.
What we're trying to do with The Author (and I won't make myself or the play a hostage to fortune by writing in detail about it) is to pay more attention to the audience than usual. To consider them, if you like. So, to rehearse having an audience, we'll be bringing in audiences throughout the rehearsal period. (In fact we won't ever run the show without an audience.)
I often tell people I don't do theatre any more. Because I don't - apart from Tim's plays.
I certainly don't want to direct any other theatre apart from Tim's shows any more. I enjoyed being a theatre director but it's not for me. So why do I keep working on Tim's shows?
Is it because I love Tim's plays?
No. (Although I do.)
Because I love co-directing with Andy Smith?
No. (But I do.)
Is it because I can't resist the draw and excitement of a glamorous opening night in London's theatre-land?
Are you kidding? (I'll be quietly having a cigarette somewhere where no-one can find me.)
No. The true answer is none of the above.
The real answer is a simple one and it's to do with dialogue.
It's because the quality of thinking, of care, of consideration, of purpose, of company that happens in this particular work place is by a clear head and shoulders above anything else I've ever experienced. Anywhere.
Ego exists (of course) but it's acknowledged and put in its place.
Tension happens - but it's dealt with, not ignored.
Spontaneity is definitely required - but no less so than preparation.
Honesty and discretion, rigour and playfulness, endeavour and relaxation, ambition and modesty; these essential elements for dialogue are sought out and allowed to happily, creatively co-exist in our rehearsal room.
So, if you look in my diary, The Author isn't a special thing happening in September to the exclusion of everything else. It's part of my work at The Dialogue Project.
In fact it's Project #168.
And I'm looking forward to it.