A Light Grilling: Amit Lahav

Amit Lahav is the Artistic Director of Gecko, for whom he has created six critically-acclaimed shows all of which have toured nationally and internationally. Recently he created The Time of Your Life, which was commissioned by the BBC for its live arts season On Stage. He was born in Israel and trained as a physical theatre performer, working with several dance, visual and physical theatre pioneers prior to Gecko including Lindsay Kemp, Stephen Berkoff, Ken Campbell and David Glass. He has also worked as a director, facilitator, writer and choreographer for companies around the world, and alongside his work with Gecko he mentors young artists and companies seeking a theatrical language.

What inspired you to make theatre? Did you grow up in a theatrical household?

I’ve always been an ideas person and once I’d worked out that I wanted to be an actor and started working, I found that my head was endlessly flooded with ideas which in my mind were better than the director’s …. Eventually it sort of became problematic in that I could no longer deny the fact that I was a maker who needed time and space to explore and grow.  Coupled with this powerful inner drive was a huge disappointment with almost everything I was seeing in the theatre.  It was time!
My upbringing / household was theatrical in that it was pretty unpredictable and very varied - this meant that I had to be adaptable and inventive.  My elder sister and I invented games and theatre throughout our childhood.

Have you had an encounter with a ‘turning point’ piece of work (or artist) that changed the way you saw what theatre could be?

I don’t think there was absolutely one piece but these were all important at some point:
Oyster – Inbal Pinto (in Bogata)
Faust on Stilts (Southbank)
Via Via – De la Guarda (The Roundhouse)
The Street of Crocodiles – Complicité (Young Vic)
Give us a quick overview of your career journey so far.
89 - 91 street mime company called Quick Change
92 - 95 actor/physical theatre training as an actor
96 - 98 Lindsay Kemp Company
97 Stephen Berkoff
98 - 2001 David Glass
Gecko - 14 years - 6 shows - all of which have toured internationally; Taylor’s Dummies, The Race, The Arab and the Jew, The Overcoat, Missing, Institute. 1 BBC film called The Time of Your Life. We begin working on the new show in 2 weeks!

How do you decide on the subject matter for a Gecko show?

It emerges as a seed idea; a compact genesis consisting of something I find important about the world (my world or the world I see and feel), an idea with enormous poetic potential, something that won’t go away, something I've tested in my mind and in numerous scenarios (workshops, discussions, drawings, music).

How do you go about making a Gecko show? Is there a ‘process’ you tend to go through or is it different every time?

There is a very strong process which allows for great freedom and playfulness, for persistent failures to work themselves out and very complex problems to resolve and blossom.  The process is hugely dependent on the right amount of time in the studio and the right amount of time away from the studio with the right amount of times in-between all of that.  It requires a lot of money to resource the journey which is mostly people costs.  Finally the success of the process is heavily dependent on healthy creative relationships and a crazy level of passion and belief from all involved. Once the structure is in place, I then follow a cyclical process which endlessly goes from experimentation to refinement and back and forth for bloody years…

What is a typical day in your working life like?

I’m afraid I absolutely don't have one.  If I’m not going to a studio somewhere (in which the typical bit doesn't apply either), then I'm trying to find a space and a place where I can be comfortable enough to imagine possibilities - this could be a new coffee shop or it could be the docks or a beach… I could be playing with my children or flying to Kazakstan.  I pop in and out of the office to make sure everyone is ok but I don't get stuck there.  Unless I have to be somewhere, I don't really know where I'm going until I step out of the house and start walking - then I arrive somewhere, by which time I've done quite a lot of thinking.

What do you most and least enjoy about your job?

It’s probably the same answer: people!
I love people and I adore being with and playing with people - I am most definitely a people person who can’t live without social interaction.  Being good with people is a huge part of why Gecko works and why Gecko is successful.  Worrying about people, employing people, dismissing people, monitoring people, finding brilliant people - getting the balance between work and play - these are very difficult and exhausting elements of the job!

If you weren’t doing this job, what would have liked to do instead?

Some sort of animal conservation.  I look up to and hugely admire people like Jane Goodall.

If money were no object, what would you do (that you can’t do at the moment)?

I would buy up huge amounts the planet’s precious forest and jungles currently in the hands of logging companies and protect this planet’s vulnerable treasures!!