Turning the Tables – NB Studio's theatrical manifesto about creativity

Date
18 February 2016
Reading Time
3 minute read

NB Studio founders Nick Finney and Alan Dye have turned their hand to playwriting. Their production Turning the Tables was premiered in Cape Town as part of Design Indaba. The story revolves around a pitch by a self-nominated “creative genius” called Peter – who offers gems of wisdom such as “The client needs bullshit, subtlety is wasted on the client.” – and Jo, who he is presenting to. “Peter is a bit of everybody, he has hopes and fears and dreams,” says Nick. “He has anxieties, charm, he’s creative… he’s got an ego,” adds Alan. “He’s Not Nick and I. Both the characters are an amalgamation of ideas.”

The play jumps between the pitch itself, formative moments in Peter’s life and fleeting insights into the internal monologues of the protagonists as the story unfolds. The script reveals the dangers of adhering to hackneyed observations and schools of thought that prevail concerning the client/creative relationship and is delivered with wit. The performance is punctuated with a nine point “manifesto of sorts” written by Nick and Alan that shares some of the lessons learned while delivering countless pitches over the course of their careers.

“Ravi came to us about year ago and talked to us about Design Indaba, but told us not to just present our work,” says Nick. “We had been talking about our project with the Almeida Theatre and he said then ‘you should redesign the opera.’”

“Then he stopped and said ‘that’s what you will do. Something different.’ When he said that to us, he probably saw two rabbits in the headlights,” adds Alan.

The process was fraught with doubt, particularly in discovering how to produce work for the stage. “We started by scribbling ideas down and came to the idea about a pitch and a table and went off in search of a writer. We procrastinated,” says Nick. “We realised that the table was a metaphor for people coming together and the dynamics always change.”

“The search for a writer proved difficult – lots of people told us to fuck off. But we put a lot of feelers out and got a response. The whole time we thought ‘we don’t know what we are doing’ and ‘how will we get this done?’ The enormity of Indaba made it scary and we took it very seriously,” says Alan “We worked with actors, playwrights, directors. We told them about our experiences and feelings and they helped turn it into a production. It was as much about letting go as it was about controlling thing. “

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“Peter and Jo”Turning The Tables, Cape Town, 2016

“I remember thinking at one point – we started with one table, we have five fucking tables now.” Says Alan. “and all of a sudden the stage was revolving. I ended up thinking ‘fuck it – it’s great. we have to trust them.’”

At it’s heart the play is about what Nick and Alan call “creative courage” It is the ethos that governs the way they run NB Studio, and an ethic that they try to encourage in employees. “I think you have creative courage when you are young. When you are our age we need to ensure we enjoy what we do and the people who work for us enjoy what they do.” Says Nick “The industry has changed so much over the years and creative courage is about asking ourselves why we still do this. Before our Spring Chicken Project we had never done an exhibition, before Turning the Tables we had never done a play. We can’t do it for all our projects, but it’s about finding new challenges.”

A nine point “manifesto (of sorts)” to Turn the Tables:
- Leave your comfort zone
- Learn the rules before you break them
- Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups
- You can’t know too much
- Indecision kills
- Become your customer
- If everything is important – nothing is important
- Tell the truth, be on time
- Life’s too short not to be a designer

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“Peter and Jo”Turning The Tables, Cape Town, 2016

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Alan Dye, Design Indaba 2016

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“Peter and Jo”Turning The Tables, Cape Town, 2016

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“Peter and Jo”Turning The Tables, Cape Town, 2016

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Nick Finney and Alan Dye, Design Indaba 2016

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Alan Dye, Design Indaba 2016

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About the Author

Owen Pritchard

Owen joined It’s Nice That as Editor in November of 2015 leading and overseeing all editorial content across online, print and the events programme, before leaving in early 2018.

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