Eleanor Manners - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the first and second week of rehearsals for Black Men Walking, directed by Dawn Walton

REHEARSAL WEEK ONE - 11 DEC 2017

The day has arrived. I boarded the train to London (yes London!) at 7:15am after a drive from home in Stockton Heath. I bounded nervously into Shoreditch Town Hall and made my way up the staircase, took a deep breath and entered the room. There were far more people than I thought, around 17, sat around tables, most with scarfs and coats on, sipping from polystyrene cups. No one said anything for what seemed like ages but on reflection was probably about 8 seconds. I was met with a warm welcome from Emma (Producer) who suggested I helped myself to a cuppa. Dawn Walton (Director and Artistic Director of Eclipse Theatre Company) noticed me from the other side of the table and smiled knowingly. She told me to take notes and she would try her best to set some time aside to talk and answer my questions. I felt a sigh or release, got myself acquainted with the room and sat eagerly for it all to start.

The day began with Dawn who briefly introduced the piece and process that had gone before. Everyone was then asked to introduce themselves - the room held actors, assistant director, set, marketing, stage manager, playwright, producer - an abundance of roles that would contribute to the production.

The cast of Black Men Walking in rehearsals

It was then followed by a read-through by the actors who also did an improvised version of the choral poetry. The read-through captured all in the room for almost two hours and was filled with moments of laughter and nods in agreement. Throughout the rehearsal, questions were asked about the script and Dawn had a warm way of checking in with everyone in the room for agreement or understanding.

After lunch the actors took part in a movement session – this was necessary due to the physical element of the piece. There was a need to look after actors’ bodies with proper warm up to perform daily. The session was also a first feel of the way walking would be performed in the play, such as exploring each others' bodies to create "obstacles" that the characters may come across and, and also discussions on how to differentiate between natural and spiritual characters. The day ended back round the table looking through the script and deciphering the language. There was a clear intention to facilitate everyone's understanding of the intended meaning in the imagery and metaphors of the poetry in order to deliver the story clearly and take the audience on its intended journey.

Image of Black Men Walking Rehearsals, Royal Exchange Theatre

REHEARSAL WEEK TWO - 18 DEC 2017

Arrived to find actors already in the midst of their physical warm up. Dawn approached me and gave an update on the past week. There had been an updated script printed that morning, and the company had begun work on songs and movement.

But today was the first day of getting the play up on its feet after the previous week’s rehearsals and the beginning of cementing ideas. The chanting song at the beginning was rehearsed, and it really gave a sense of the spiritual element to the show.

Black Men Walking Rehearsals 15 12 17 1

Dawn was supportive through this and aware of the challenge of pitching the precise note for the actors with no music to base on. This was then built into the first piece of poetry. The actors had specific lines but practiced in unison to get the sense of one voice and then returned to rehearsing their specific parts. Dawn worked hard to clarify the intent of the lines especially those spoken in unison, unpacked each character’s details and context – all to ensure the performance was clear. In the afternoon, the movement director and actors worked on the first few scenes on their feet, bringing with them all the content found in the previous week of rehearsals.

Next week, we're home-bound towards Manchester as rehearsals continue in the Royal Exchange Theatre!


Black Men Walking runs 18 January - 3 February 2018, Studio

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