As part of our ongoing commitment to nurture, support and inspire local theatre-makers, the Royal Exchange Theatre are able to offer directors based in Greater Manchester the opportunity to observe the journey of a production through rehearsals with our OBSERVER MONDAYS SCHEME.

Here is the final blog from THE ROLLING STONE observing director Monique Touko.


There's an old African saying- By labour comes wealth.

The finished product is what I observed week four, the final session. This consists of a full scale production with talented professional actors and a tale that is the Rolling Stone all coming together on stage ready for the masses. The vision of Ellen McDougall spoke for its self throughout the tech rehearsal. As an amateur it was necessary for me to observe the stage were the director interacts with the wider creative team, lighting, sound and costume to create a seamless and accurate performance. The want to get it right was what I saw most and this was achieved through negotiation, repetition and working to a strict schedule. Observing in the actual stage space was a bizarre experience for me, in the final week as I saw the tech rehearsal not through an audience members eyes but a person who had observed the process. From Week one, table work and understanding the plot to the final week, hitting points on stage and final positions.

When watching the tech, I felt myself in my head really taking on what I had learnt in this scheme. I used this day to mentally track my development. For example, in the first session, the old African saying I used to sum up my day was wisdom does not come overnight. The importance of building a lengthy backstory, I tried to spot in the actors and when delivering lines in the tech. It was apparent that circumstances before in the plot greatly impacted the way the lines were said. Regardless of it being a tech, the actors used the time to really get into character. This was shown most effectively through the establishing of powerful and in sync ensemble who throughout the day encouraged each other and worked efficiently. The power of song and the play's setting in Uganda was really displayed in the tech, the harmonies and sense of unity was very much in the air. The atmosphere Ellen managed to maintain within a rehearsal so close to the show I would like to take away as it was organised and focused yet calm.

From week two, the old African saying I used was unity is strength, division is weakness and this I observed yet again on the final week. In the tech rehearsal, there was numerous people, with pens and paper, headphones and electrical equipment at the ready to insure that the performance came together. The phrase that was said on loop that day was "Stand By" by the Stage manager, -. This really summed up the amount of concentration and man power involved, that all had to work in sync when putting on a production. Ellen and the team all worked to insure the architecture of the space worked in conjunction with the speech and the movement. The importance of understanding a space I learnt week four. In the round, sight lines, acoustics and levels is what I will also take away from a discussion I had with Ellen the director, Charlotte the assistant director and Chris Urch the writer.

From week three, you learn how to cut down trees by cutting them down was the old African saying I used to explain that session. This again was apparent in the tech rehearsal, stopping and starting again was the way the tech played out. For the tech team to establish cues and Ellen effectively inserted her notes on blocking and intentions around the tech run. In order to achieve accuracy, the scene were run numerous times to achieve countless aims for example stylised transitions, insure the piece is visually engaging and making sure technically everything makes sense. The repetition was also a way to overcome challenges whether it was with the creative team or with the actors. Ellen navigated herself to insure issues with solved and time wasn't wasted.

In the final week I had the delight of spending Lunch with the cast and also Dinner with the creative team, the tips and advice gained really verified for me that this is an industry I would love to get into. I really learnt that by labour comes wealth and the importance of working at something. Directing theatre for me is a task I want to execute and execute well. The power and ability to put something together with soo much depth and weight which is visually entertaining and moving is what I want to do. My lasting moment of the final rehearsal was the running of the emotive final scene and the lights went down. I was sat in the second gallery and had a bird eye's view. That Moment being reflective of my time on the Observer Monday's scheme. Being a spectator on the side-lines being given the unique opportunity to look in on a director, cast and creative team who brought Urch's poignant piece to life. I was left in awe.