Observer Monday Director for SWEAT gives us an insight into rehearsals

Week 1

Day One. I was so excited to get the Observer Monday scheme but now it was finally here, I felt so nervous! So many questions raced through my mind. What right did I have to be in the space? What authority did I have to observe anything? Would I be accepted? What is my place here? Where is stage door ?!

Luckily Marcello (who plays Oscar) also couldn’t locate stage door, so we teamed up. He shared that he was also feeling a little nervous about meeting the rest of the company but that his curiosity and excitement outweighed it.

It was such a small yet comforting interaction and reminded me that everyone, regardless of role, experience or involvement gets a hint of imposter syndrome on the first day. I think it must be a curse inhabited by all creatives.

The ice was broken swiftly though as within moments of entering the rehearsal room, Jade (director) got us in a circle to do a check in. She highlighted the importance of autonomy and feeling comfortable within the space. We then played a game of Go, which really got everyone going.

She then handed over to Sara (movement director) who got the cast to start exploring their characters physicality through various exercises. It was fun watching them interact with each other and the mock set (which is stunning) for the first time.

After lunch there was a zoom meeting with Sweat’s playwright, Lynn Nottage, in which Jade talked her through her artistic intentions for the production and the cast were able to ask any burning questions they might have.

The day concluded with the first full read through with the whole company followed by a discussion.

The main takeaway from the day was the levels of trust that need to exist within a company. Between Playwright and Director, Director and Actor, Actor and Actor, Stage Manager and everyone! The work can only flow if people feel empowered to do so. Trust can only be established if you have belief in yourself, your intentions and the intentions of others. It was such a lovely introduction to the company, the play and The Royal Exchange. Can’t wait for more!

  • Rehearsal Photos by Ella Mayamothi, VAGUE

Week 2

Due to the Bank Holiday weekend, I was able to observe a Friday session. It was really great to see how much ground had been covered, particularly how costume/props had begun to be implemented. I got to see three scenes at three different stages; the initial read through/ discussion, provisional blocking and then fully up on its feet. It felt really valuable to experience because I think sometimes there is a misconception that the main preoccupation of a scene work should be to carry the plot forward but in reality, it’s an opportunity to unearth the layers upon layers of intricate moments that are woven into the script. It’s something I’m going to be more conscious of moving forward in my own career. I also helped Amara (assistant director) to create a map of the town in which the play takes place, marking every location mentioned. It was really useful because it allowed us to get a feel for the ecology of the town and how the characters operate within it. It was also Carla’s (who plays Cynthia) birthday so we all celebrated with cake and biscuits during afternoon tea, which was delicious.

  • Rehearsal Photos by Ella Mayamothi, VAGUE

Week 3

The morning check in was held in The Module, which was incredibly exciting for me, as it was my first time in the space.

Sara led the majority of the day and focused on locking in the transitions for Act 1. It was quite a slow process as everything had to be meticulously planned out but it was a necessary evil in order to make it all look seamless. It really highlighted to me the importance of transitions, how they need just as much attention as the scenes themselves. The characters entrance and exit to the space has to be intentional in order to sell the reality of the world they’re apart of.

After lunch was a full run through of Act One. This was naturally quite a daunting task for everyone but Jade reassured the actors that intention was more important than perfection, which lowered the pressure.  It went really well and served as a nice initial blueprint for the final product. It was a longer day they carried on till 8pm but everyone was in good spirits. I cannot express enough how lovely and generous everybody has been so far. In the tea breaks, I’ve had some wonderfully creative chats with some of the cast and particularly Amara. Even though I am observing these rehearsals, I haven’t felt like an outsider at all, which I am grateful for.

  • Rehearsal Photos by Ella Mayamothi, VAGUE

Week 4

Week 4 has been the most eventful week as I’ve been invited to attend more sessions in addition to my usual Monday slot. This gave me a massive confidence boost and showed that passion can pay off!

Jade won an Olivier! I know awards shouldn’t matter but I would be lying if I didn’t say the reality how lucky I am to be shadowing a high calibre director was emphasised in that moment. As a fellow woman of colour, I found it incredibly empowering and motivating to see someone else from my community be recognised at that level by the wider industry. It made it feel like the dream is possible.

Since Amara was away for a few days, I was able to step in and help with assistant director responsibilities.

Sara allowed me to sit in on her 1-2-1 sessions with Kate (who plays Jessie) and Jonathan (who plays Stan) to work on their characters physicality.

I was then able to work with Jonathan independently, talking with him through his research and consider how Stan’s  injury would present itself on stage . Since Jonathan is not an actor with a disability, there was a lot of conversation around the sensitivity of his performance and experimentation with different levels of physicality. I think it is something that will continue to be workshopped and I think that’s important; different audiences will have different opinions and they need to be listened to and considered. It requires a lot of care and attention.

I also got to experience the brilliance of Kaitlin Howard’s fight and intimacy coordination. As someone who has an interest in stage/screen combat myself, it was such a treat to watch the fight call and the meticulous planning needed to execute a realistic fight. There was such emphasis on making sure the actors felt safe before the movements were locked in, not just for the big action scenes but for smaller moments as well like hugging, touching arms etc- things that some may not consider “intimate moments”.

  • Rehearsal Photos by Ella Mayamothi, VAGUE

Week 5

Tech week. Nerves and excitement filled the air.

Initially I was a bit unsure as to what the week would bring as the focus is with the technical teams rather than performers/director but thankfully, I was able to shadow the stage management team and experience cams for the first time.  It was honestly such an education. Naively, I don’t think I’d ever really appreciated just how much coordination goes on between the technical teams during performances; everything has to be an exact science in order to make sure there is a steady flow.

I also spent a lot of time helping the actors run lines, which has been such a buzz. As someone who has trained as an actor myself, I think the excitement that comes with reading line runs on stage, never really leaves you, regardless of what creative capacity you’re in now. It’s so nice to see everything come together; the set, the costumes, the sound design- it’s incredibly impressive how much has been accomplished in a considerably short about of time.

Next week is my final week with the company and to be honest, it feels like it’s flown by. I’m excited for dress, previews and press but I’m also keen to start implementing what I’ve learned from my time here into my own work and practice.

  • Production Photos by Hellen Murray