Tech week and I was able to attend Friday's rehearsal in the module, which also allowed me to see the second dress rehearsal, ahead of the first preview in the evening. I was excited to look at the set that Rosanna (Designer) had shown us as a model 5 weeks earlier, and to witness the world of the play take shape physically. Rosanna designed a flying structure that will be used to intensify the action and share what is happening inside the main character, Anna's, head, which I'm eager to see in operation. Rosanna also designed an intriguing and effective floor that mirrors the performances and hints at the alternating fog and clarity inside Anna's mind.
I sat near Lucy (Lighting Designer) and Katy to gain an insight into their discussions about the lighting and sound design. Katy, Lucy and Giles (Sound Designer) brought lighting and sound notes from the first dress rehearsal to the morning's tech and worked with Rosanna to find a way for lighting and sound to compliment the action and each other, the lighting effects 'mimicking' the sound and vice versa. The actors wait patiently on stage, moving into the set to cue the effects, with communication from the stalls to the stage managed efficiently by Harriet (Stage Manager). The lighting and sound effects develop throughout the day with an open policy for ideas and experimentation, trial and error.
I enjoyed watching 5 weeks of teamwork come together in the afternoon's second dress rehearsal, before final technical adjustments, a break, notes, a warm up for the actors and the first preview, which went fantastically.
I applied for this opportunity and attended the rehearsals of THE ALMIGHTY SOMETIMES hoping to observe another director's process, gather insights on how best to develop a piece of new writing from page to stage and to discover how a play is produced in a large space with a full production team. These are big questions, but discoveries that would consolidate a solid toolkit for making work in the future.
Though by no means a small play, the Almighty Sometimes is a four hander and, as such, might seem too intimate for the Exchange's main space. With this in mind I was keen to learn how Katy would approach the direction. I noticed that Katy uses the full space for the majority of the time, if not as one location, then broken into two settings. I realised that not only does the movement work enhance the story, but it also allows the stage to be filled with energy and height. In addition, the overhead structure, with all its capabilities, adds another dimension, along with the soundscape and lighting. With all of this combined, there was no point during rehearsals or performance that this play ever felt like it only had 4 actors on stage and it would've swamped any smaller a space.
I wanted to know more about how a new play is developed at the Royal Exchange and how the relationship between the writer and director, dramaturg and writer, and producers and director, would be balanced. I was interested to see at what stage the director draws the line and feels that the text is 'ready', with no scope for additions or cuts to be made.
I observed that Kendall (writer) attended the first full week of rehearsals, rewriting and making cuts, and was there for at least 1 day of rehearsals in the weeks that followed, until being present daily in the tech and previews. The conversations between dramaturg and writer, and director and writer, were ongoing during the process until the point they may conflict, when the conversation remains between the director and the writer. The producer will give notes after the first run-through, but after that will feed their thoughts to the Artistic Director, who will in turn give these to the director. I realised that the script is still being edited until press night and that major cuts are not uncommon at this stage in a production of this scale. It seems so obvious but can sometimes be forgotten in work of a smaller scale, that the ambition to serve the story and make the play the best it can be is what is most important, at any stage in the process.
I was keen to see how the relationship between Katy, as director, and the Royal Exchange, as producers, would work at this stage in the process. As someone working in smaller scale theatre, with artists often taking various roles in the company, I wanted to learn more about the distinction between producer, artistic director and director. I realised that by tech week and previews the play is now in the hands of the director, with the production team stepping back and only the opinion of Sarah Frankcom, in the form of big notes, affecting its direction. The Exchange are there to support Katy and leave her to complete the vision she has for the production, which she does in collaboration with the designers and her creative company.
I feel very privileged to have been welcomed so openly into the rehearsal room for The Almighty Sometimes and to observe the work of all of these talented artists. I'm grateful that the play I was selected to observe had a relatively small team, as this allowed me even more opportunity to stay close to the director and pick up useful insights that will be useful in my future practice.
The Almighty Sometimes runs 9 - 24 February 2018, Theatre