My last couple of weeks observing Jubilee have gone by in a flash and the play has developed and changed significantly in this time. Throughout the process, the approach to staging has always been fairly loose and focussed on the comfortability of the actors as I have previously observed. This means that when, on the morning of Monday the 23rd October, the play was first run in the Module, the actors could feel comfortable exploring the actual performance space in the same way they had done in the rehearsal room. This also meant that certain scenes which relied very much on the use of the unique qualities of the Module could finally be plotted.
As usual, a lot of decisions were made by the cast and then further developed with the assistance of Chris Goode (Director) and Atri Banerjee (Associate Director). Chris made it very clear that the pivotal chase scene was something he was not looking forward to staging as, not only has he never staged a chase before, he desperately wanted to ensure that it did not come across as comical. The ability to use the Module to block the scene allowed for a concrete vision of the scene to be established after previously only existing theoretically. The retention of the ability for the actors to play meant that the scene could be successfully staged quickly and with close proximity to Chris’ intention. This is not to say that this was imposed on the scene at all and indeed one of best things I have taken from this process is the ability to change vision and adapt to suit the needs of the situation and the production.
Chris’ involvement in these last two weeks was very present but often was focussed towards the more technical side of the production, so his trust of the actors and their ability to work actively certainly came to the foreground from this moment. Atri was on hand throughout these moments to ensure the actors had an additional directorial eye to discuss their work with and to provide help where necessary. He helped the actors to really get the specifics of their character experiences into their performance by reminding them of chronology and the character biography that they have created over the process. Other techniques such as filming a fight sequence, so the actors can follow their own movements and replicate them were also employed during these rehearsals.
When a director is working with such a visually and technically complex play like Jubilee, much of the work when the production is at this stage, becomes wider than the performance of the actors. Solutions to problems with setting and striking props, scene changes, sound and lighting become much more important as the final vision of the play fits into place. The luxury of working with the Royal Exchange and any other large theatre is the ability to take time in the performance space troubleshooting issues to ensure the final production operates as smoothly as possible. Time was taken to ensure that the importance of the performances was not lost which involved notes such as: “Cut the time down by utilising silences to move forward rather than to hesitate” and “The most valuable thing is the company’s relationship. You should help each other whilst having fun and tripping each other up”. Chris’ most telling note during this period was: “We must neaten everything up so we can f**k it all up again.” As with the entire process, the punk of the show and the people working on it was never lost in the melee of staging a ‘play’. The technically ‘straight-laced’ elements of the play were utilised to emphasise the messy punk attitudes at the heart of Jubilee.
The preview of the production proved that Jubilee’s punk attitude never went away. Seeing everyone replete in colourful make-up and eclectic costumes working on the unique set with a lighting design more akin to a Pink Floyd concert than a Royal Exchange show reminded me that fun is at the centre of the play. The show is as politically charged in performance as it was in the first read-through and seems even more so in an environment where the actors are no longer preaching to the chorus. Jubilee enjoys its radical core but it is always taken with an ounce of seriousness. Important messages are conveyed amongst the indulgence.
For me, Jubilee really succeeded when the first people walked out of the show in the interval of the preview. Travis not only pointed this out during the play but commented that: “This play’s poster has a black trans actor on it, so if you didn’t realise that this might be something a little different for the Royal Exchange then I’m glad you’ve left.” The intentions of the production as set out by Chris, the cast and creative team really are paying off in performance. Everything has come together to create a production which is challenging, offensive and constantly educational.
Observing this production has been an incredible experience. I came into the process wanting to discover how a director adapts a film to the stage and deals with a text that utilises multimedia and I have left with an entirely new approach to directing. I have learnt that to have a rewarding experience, you really must be entirely comfortable with the process and tailor it to the needs of yourself and of the team you are working with. There is no rule book to follow, only personal preference to achieve the goals that are set for the production. Confidence to be experimental and to try things that may not be totally successful is key to development and to achieving success in directing. Nobody is expecting you to know all the answers and its totally okay for a director to ask the actors questions and to really be open with a process. No matter what has been taught to you about how you should direct, it is only you who can decide what techniques to utilise and what to leave by the wayside.
Actors really are an active part of the process and should be treated in a collaborative manner. Hierarchies in the rehearsal room, although sometimes helpful, can be a crutch when trying to connect to a cast and really open a rehearsal room out to their active input as theatre makers beyond the level of performance. The process of observing Jubilee has really revealed to me the lack of boundaries in theatre. I’ve always felt distanced from more contemporary, experimental theatre because I have limited experience with watching it, but now I feel much more confident in seeking out those productions that push the boundaries and letting that inform my own choices as a director in the future. I have tended to brand myself as a certain type of director who will only direct a certain type of work and that has been a limiting factor for my engagement and has prevented me from really feeling comfortable in what I am doing.
Jubilee, Chris, Atri and all the wonderful cast and creative team who have been so kind as to accept me into their ranks, have shown me that the most important thing is to always be engaged with the work at hand whilst feeling free to be comfortable and have fun during a rehearsal process. I come away from this process feeling enriched as a director and as a person and would like to thank the Royal Exchange and Jubilee for allowing me to have this experience.
I’d also like to thank anyone who has read these blogs for doing so and if you are reading this wondering whether or not to apply for the next set of Observer Mondays positions, please do.
You will undoubtedly learn so much that no classroom will ever teach you.
Jubilee runs 2 - 18 November 2017, Theatre