“It’s like a boiling pot – figuring out when it can bubble over is the key.”

Get to know You Can’t Tell Anyone director Caitlin Baker and her approach to the second show in our season.

2 Aug 2023

We sat down with the director of You Can’t Tell Anyone, Caitlin Baker, to gain an insight into her life, journey and why she does what she does – and loves it!

So, tell us a bit about yourself! How did you get into your craft, what is your favourite play/tv show/anything, tell us all!

My first step into the directing position definitely came from being an actor in fabulous rehearsal rooms, and feeling the power of when a perfect scene crystallises into a moment. As a first year at ANU, I was dead set on becoming a lawyer and maybe working in international law, but on a whim I auditioned for a university production of Much Ado About Nothing. I didn’t even expect to get a part, and was shaking in my boots in the audition. Now that show is so fundamental to my choice to direct that everyone who knows me is frankly annoyed by how often I talk about it. I was the baby in that cast, but distinctly remember walking off from one scene and not remembering anything that happened – except for the fact that it went brilliantly. I think I knew from around the second or third rehearsal that I was never going to be able to push theatre to the side – and I haven’t really gone more than two months without a show since. 

As a director I love looking at things from the top down. A show is like a messy brilliant puzzle where you are always sorting pieces and switching angles. Whether or not someone stands down or upstage, or turns right or left can totally change the implication of what they’re saying and doing. Theatre is one of those special arts where the performer and audience are in an active relationship – a social contract where the parties are literally sharing breath. For that reason, I am particularly fascinated in genre work and plays that put both the audience and cast in extreme positions, but asks both to be kind in response to this extremity. This can be violence or sex or simply very intense complications and friction between people. I think You Can’t Tell Anyone has been such a brilliant exercise in looking at that dimension – and Jo really put it best. Why do we stay at a party that we no longer enjoy? 

My favourite show would have to be Buffy! (like hands down, nothing will ever beat it – although I also hold a torch for Fleabag and The Last of Us). I think it’s a perfect genre study that is committed to pushing through crises and capturing the chaotic feeling of being young and doing bad things and striving to be better. In that universe, everyone is redeemable. 

As the director of You Can’t Tell Anyone, what drew you to this particular story? What aspects of the script or themes resonated with you and inspired you to bring it to life?

I had the joy of being with this show from the early developments, and have always been taken by the overwhelming power of social pressure in the script. In a sense, the friendships and expectations between the characters has become its own character, lagging behind each scene, and standing in the doorway when anyone tries to leave. That sort of haunting that isn’t just supernatural marks the play from the outset – even if we don’t realise it. Creating that third presence in the corners and shadows alongside the fear of the outside has been a really interesting process. I mean they don’t just fear what will happen when they leave, moreso if they will recognise who they have become. 

I also adore theatre for young people that allows them to not always be saints. Jo has done a fabulous joy at acknowledging we can love and care for people even when they make mistakes – and in fact that that act of caring is all the more powerful when you find it after things have gone wrong. 

In rehearsing the show, I have really focused on the web of desires that make up this friend group. Everyone has who they are closest to, and who they are furthest from. This means that as they move through the play, a balancing act is always occurring. And of course, they’re all in an enclosed space, which means this balancing act is messy and overlaps with the problems they find themselves opening up – freely and under duress. Jo’s dialogue is really fascinating in that way, in that it bubbles and fades in and out. There are no scene breaks, no neat way to divide when and how things happen in this space. Rather everything builds from the first moment someone moves on stage. It’s like a boiling pot – figuring out when it can bubble over is the key.

The play explores complex relationships and emotional dynamics. How have you approached working with the actors to create authentic performances and capture the nuances of these intricate connections?

Starting text first was essential for this play. We began our rehearsals by breaking down the text and drawing a massive map of what everyone wants and from whom. This helped me guide the actors to consider what they are already entering the room with – if the ten years before were their own play, what are we in the middle of? I prompted each of the actors to build their own list of actions alongside our cast wide event list. What they want, and where they change may not always line up with the script’s own ebbs and flows.

Then for each secret that comes out we played with coil exercises. Specifically, I pushed the actors to imagine their dream objectives. When the rules fade away and it’s just instinct, what do they want? If you start with the impossible, the primal, you can build up to the millions of influences and forces that stop people from getting what they want. That conflict and friction is where people make choices that create unique individuals. 

Having a safe and caring rehearsal is also essential to allowing actors to push themselves to authentic yet challenging spaces. We begin all rehearsals with tap ins, and have consistent discourse about both context and direction throughout scenes. When we know each other, and we trust each other, they trust me to push them. 

The party game seems to be a pivotal moment that triggers tensions and conflicts. Can you discuss your approach to building suspense and maintaining a sense of unpredictability during this sequence?

One of my first rules in the rehearsal space is to forget what you know, until you know it. When you read a whole script and then go to the beginning, it is very easy to lose the naivety a character has to have before a secret is revealed. So, to remedy that, you figure out the exact line or moment where the room shifts and you learn what you need to know. And of course, it isn’t just one secret – it’s an avalanche of them. That means figuring out when each person knows what for the entire play. So for each character, we have a timeline, and that timeline is staggered by levels. Each secret leaves a residue on the next scene, and each new moment is a layer of revelations and relationships. 

So, you build in red herrings. You look to see what is the anticipated result of scenes before the secrets come out, and you lean on that expectation before you reach the end point. The characters don’t know what is coming, and therefore, you have to get the audience in that same space of the unknown. That is what makes the revelations scary. 

Can you share some insights into your collaborative process with the production team, including the set and costume designer, lighting designer and sound designer, to ensure a cohesive vision and bring the story to life in a compelling way?

The joy with this team is that it’s a wonderful combination of people I have adored working with before, and new creatives that I would love to work with again. The first ever show I directed (The Tempest in 2021) was sound designed by Patrick Haesler, and returning to our working relationship this year has been so much fun – mostly because we have grown so much as creatives since we first worked together. I am a very visual person, and have chucked the most obscure references at Patrick, and he has caught them with open hands. My Pinterest account has gotten more mileage during this show than any other period in my life. Being able to have the sound design samples early has been essential in building the world.

You Can’t Tell Anyone will open at Canberra Theatre Centre in The Courtyard Studio on August 10, running until August 20. Don’t miss out, buy a ticket now through our website!