And so all good things must come to an end. As the summit of the mountain began to rear its pokey head, a new atmosphere descended upon our rehearsal room; one of focus, one of determination and one of dedication. The casual banter and chit chat of normal was cut to a minimum and a razor sharp silence took its place. No second was to be unaccounted for. This was going to be a good play or they would die trying.
At this stage, we had a play: The lines were learnt, blocking was in place, intentions were mostly there. The beast had been birthed, and an audience would certainly enjoy it. The intensity that had descended upon us, then, was not there due to any kind of panic that we had nothing to show for the past three weeks. Rather, it was there because of the whole team’s obsessive desire to perfect and fine tune our piece; to bring the beast to its best potential. Thus, the final week and a half comprised of one final rehearsal session in a rehearsal room where Jen could rub out and re-sketch any niggles that came to mind, the bringing of the piece into the space where it could be adjusted accordingly and then finally the showing of it to an audience to gauge their reactions before the official opening. As I observed this final stretch, several learning points came to me.
It became clear to me that a perfectionist mindset is a key thing for a director to have. At this stage we had been over each scene a multitude of times. However, even now, the process consisted of re-watching them and re-noting them; avidly searching for any tiny thing that could be improved. In this sense the director has to have an eye for detail and an inner willingness to constantly go over their work to discover ways to better it.
It was vital that we were attentive to how what we had made might need to be adapted now that we were actually in the space. Although we had the dimensions of the space mapped out with tape in the rehearsal room, then, it was still an imaginative task to see how what we were making might translate. Now that we were here in the real space, and the lighting and sound were fully in place, things needed to be adjusted, namely: audibility now that the space was bigger; audibility over the music; opening scenes up so that they were more visible and adjusting scene transitions that now felt over-long or clunky. Furthermore, with previews we could see and feel how an audience reacted to the piece: how, if it all, the humour landed and how engaged they were throughout. Observing this gave us yet further data with which to guide our process of readjustment. In this sense, we were listening carefully to how the space, and the audience within it, were speaking to us.
Whereas in the initial three weeks the creatives, besides the director and movement director, were present on a sporadic basis, in this final stretch everybody was there full time: the director, the movement director, the sound designer, the composer, the writer and the set designer. The Royal Exchange Studio was transformed into a den of creative experts and it was here that one learned the true meaning of collaboration. Although Jen took an overarching executive role, each artist was empowered and independent in making their contribution to the piece in the way that only they could. In this sense the job of the director seemed less burdensome. Instead of Jen having to, herself, create complex movement sequences, for instance, she could give an indication of what she’d like to someone who is an expert in this field and focus instead on her own field of expertise. This made it clear that, as a director, one must be humble enough to give over creative control of the facets of your piece that someone else has greater expertise in, knowing that this will lead ultimately to the emergence of the piece’s best self.
And just like that, it was over. I packed up my bag and exited. A month ago felt like yesterday, yet paradoxically like a life time ago given the tremendous scope of my learning. Whilst prior to this process I knew lots in theory about the process of directing, now I had seen it in practice and observed the effects of certain directorial choices in the flesh. I shall spare you the burden of listing all of my learning points (doing so might double the length of this post!) and rather assure you that many of the questions I had going in have been answered. More than this however, the most important take away from this experience is that, should I be lucky enough to hold my own rehearsal room any time soon, it will all be that bit less scary as seeing a skilled artist such as Jen take a piece from genesis to conclusion has made the whole process so much more familiar. Tremendous thanks to her, and the rest of the team. And congratulations to them all on creating a truly stellar show!
Mountains runs 22 March - 7 April 2018, Studio