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 first blog from the Little Shop of Horrors observing director Joshua Val Martin

I waited nervously in the Royal Exchange green room for newly appointed associate director Matthew Xia to find me. Matthew drips cool from every pore and so I suddenly became aware of the toothpaste stain upon my jumper and the way my laces have become heavily frayed since I bought them from Matalan last Christmas… luckily, Matthew has a natural ability to make one feel immediately comfortable. After small talk about how welcome the theatre café refurbishment is, Matthew got down to business and quizzed me about my previous experiences and my aspirations and what I hope to achieve being a participant of the Observer Mondays scheme. It was all very exciting, particularly as he shared his ambition to further integrate emerging artists into the working fabric of the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Soon enough, we were in the rehearsal room, in which I was introduced to the Assistant Director (Charlotte) and the Director (Derek… or Derektor as his twitter bio amusingly states) and the other creatives who’d managed to get to the building a little ahead of schedule. After interrogating poor Charlotte about her post-graduate studies and her experiences working as an assistant, I met pretty much the entire building as we all went round and said our names and what we were doing in that room. I would have been daft to have attempted to retain every name in that single quick fire round, and so I instead enjoyed the experience of listening to names and job titles of varying accents and dynamic crashing into one another to form a soundscape of the people who make theatre happen at the Royal Exchange.

It should be said that unfortunately there was one party missing; the workshop team were busy putting the final touches on the plant, Audrey II. Whilst we’ve all been sworn to secrecy, I feel I can now say with authority having seen the plant since in action: this is the definitive Audrey II. In fact, Derek and James’ entire initial talk about their vision to the company had the room’s excitement bubbling over.

After finding a little more about the actors over a hearty dinner made by green room staff Yvonne and Anne (who are apparently quickly carving a name for themselves as characters of theatre legend) we got straight into a read through. This is undoubtedly a vulnerable experience for the actors, many of whom have only just met, and it was an honour to observe Derek using the exercise to rather casually go into more detail regarding his ultimate hope for certain moments, taking pressure off of the actors to perform or impress. And then, after a quick look over the costume designs, it was all over. All too soon.

Stage Management announced marketing were having drinks and we were all invited to attend. It proved a universally amusing idea that the marketing department were professional drinkers. The evening was taken up to be a fantastic opportunity for nerves to be dispersed, the beginnings of fruitful artistic relationships, and for me to beg Derek to allow me to observe Thursdays as well as Mondays! Actually, I was a little nervous to approach Derek (I’m shy, honest) and so I was enormously grateful for him to come right up to me and talk to me about Little Shop, his previous experiences, his rehearsal techniques… he was so generous and honest with his words. He’d not just allowed me into his fare ground, but invited me along with his team onto the roller coaster… hmm, I’m not too sure about that analogy, but it will have to do.

And so in this first week, the foundations have been laid in table work and knocking out those musical dots. It’s been a privilege, and I don’t think I could have been made to feel any more welcome.