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Wils Wilson: The Most Charming of Manipulators

by Martin Green

You can hear more about how Wils Wilson and Martin Green work
together on The Making of The Portal on 
Spotify, Apple, & Google

Martin Green tells all about collaborating with Director Wils Wilson on The Portal and other Lepus projects.

People sometimes refer to a collective making something together as “like a family”. I understand this, but in projects like ours it tends to be a slightly transient family. People arrive in and out, and you work with them very closely for a period of time and then you all move on to the next thing. My mum, observing this lifestyle I had ended up in, described it as “an endless succession of best friends”.


Well I love that idea, who wouldn’t want as many best friends as possible? So it seemed like it might be nice to write about some of them.


First up Wils Wilson, director of both The Portal and our current project, which keeps changing name.


Let’s start with her name, Wils would be a nickname, except that at this point, it just is her name, it’s just short for Wilson. I do know her birth name, but I’m not gonna tell you it. I have always been jealous  of people with nicknames, but I’ve always felt you can’t really choose them, they happen to you.


Wils is a theatre director and I asked her to come and be involved in making what was then going to be a live show of The Portal. Some of that experience is detailed in this Making Of The Portal podcast episode, if you’re interested.


But the new project has been quite different. We are making another audio drama - we had such fun last time, but we know a lot more now. There are 5 stages to making them:








Research I started in earnest as soon as we finished The Portal and is mostly a thing I do on my own, so that’s for a different bit of writing, this is about Wils.


I think I asked Wils to do this show the day we signed off the last mix of The Portal.


Writing is where Wils and I really started working together. Wils has a wonderful understanding of writing and its function in any given situation i.e. a good bit of writing isn’t the same as a great script.


And this makes her a truly brilliant editor. And the power and value of this is not to be underestimated. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys having ideas and talks a lot, then writing a load of them down is relatively easy. Someone who will patiently sift through them looking for something coherent is a gift to be cherished. So our process was like this, I write too much stuff, and Wils reads it all (to my constant amazement) and says “this is confusing, this is funny, this isn’t funny” etc


I have stated this elsewhere, but if it hadn’t been for Wils’s belief, I never would have written anything, so she feels very connected to the process of writing for me. 

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"if it hadn’t been for Wils’s belief, I never would have written anything"

Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

Where Wils and I spent the most time, and indeed I think it is the hardest part of the whole thing, is in story. Wils is a storyteller, I am trying to become one too, and that all hinges on having a good story to tell. Which I think is much harder than it sounds, making up characters, putting them in difficult/amusing/dangerous/exciting situations is all much, much easier than giving them a satisfying journey through a plot.


The mighty David Greig helped us with some big decision early on, and then we worked with script editor Kate Leys, who deserves her own one of these and will get one one day. Wils was at every session with Kate (unusual for a director) and had such a huge amount to do with how the story ended being formed (and thus is rightly credited now as part of the writing).


Once there is structure, then there is dialogue, which is the most fun bit for me and led me to realising Wils’s next super-power - editing dialogue. I would send over drafts (lots) and Wils would cut out words, whole lines, massive portions of scenes, and the scenes were always better for it. She just has a remarkable skill for getting rid of words, it’s awesome. Occasionally I’d see her cuts and leave stuff in anyway, it invariably ends up coming out in the end, she’s always right.


So we have made this script together and we’re happy with it and it is time to actually turn it into a thing. The next big step is casting.


Casting is new to me (almost all of this is new to me) and I get the impression different directors work in different ways, but Wils, I know has this huge faith in actors to know their characters, (rather than giving millions of notes) and so casting is really vital.


Very rarely have we felt differently about casting, because Wils is so involved in the writing, I feel she knows the characters as well as I do, so we tend to feel the same way about how actors approach them. It is interesting to observe Wils in casting meetings (all online for us) and how she very gently nudges actors a little to see how they respond. I realise part of this is just to see how they respond to notes, because she needs to know that.


With a cast in place, we start recording (again online), and it truly is Wils’s time to shine. I don’t really do much in recording, except keep a second ear on the sonics, and constantly message Wils about how I think it’s going. Like any job, the tests are not in when it’s all going great, but when it’s not landing like we want it to. And herein lies her second super-power.


Wils is, in the very best, most charming way, a manipulator. And it becomes clear that this is part of every director’s role, so this is in no way a criticism. You hear about directors that are bullish, autocratic, bullying even, to get what they need. Wils is none of these things. But she does have clear vision. And we need that, the production needs it and the actors need it. Wils’ amazing magic comes in how she manipulates, because I have never seen her tell an actor what to do, not in so few words. She talks about circumstance, rather than emotion. Wils explains to me the danger of adjectives. They leap out to actors like fluorescent signs, don’t say “sad” or “excited” or you run the risk of melodrama. Instead Wils reminds actors that e.g. they lost a friend the day before, or have won the lottery. In this way the actors make logical emotional journeys, and Wils gets what she wants.


Finally there is editing, editing after the recording, is not so different to editing before and again Wils shines, snipping words that never needed to be there and adjusting pauses in dialogue, it’s another form of her marvellous manipulation.


They do say - never trust the quiet ones.


You can hear more about how Wils Wilson and Martin Green work together on The Making of The Portal on...

Spotify     Apple     Google

Martin is a multi-award winning musician and Ivor Novello winning composer. As a member of Lau he has won four BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for Best Group. In 2015 he was nominated in the Best Musician category, has received the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in recognition of his talent as a composer. In 2019 he won the Ivor Novello award for his sound walk “Aeons” that was part of The Great Exhibition of the North. Examples of his other work can be seen here 

Wils is a theatre maker and director whose varied work often has at its heart an interest in and exploration of the relationship between audience and performer, space, story and experience.
Sometimes her work is called immersive, site-specific, site-generic or experiential.
The backbone and muscle of her work is collaboration with other people. These people are often performers, writers, musicians, choreographers, film makers, sound artists, producers and technicians.  They are also academics, activists, chefs, hairdressers, sex workers, bar staff, shopkeepers, teachers, transport workers and people from all walks of life - wherever each new project leads. You can learn more about Wils here 

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Want to read more? Suggested Articles:

Working with Actors
Martin Green looks at what makes actors like Anna Rusell-Martin remarkable.

Why we made The Portal
How lockdown inspired Martin to create some of his most experimental, and unique work to date.

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