Naomi for Observer MondaysAs 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 of five, from the SCUTTLERS observing director Naomi Sumner.

Day 1: 5th January
The Initiation…

It’s 1.20pm and I am at Stage Door. I’m nervous, I’m early, Matthew said to meet at 1.30pm, shall I buzz or go for another walk around the block? Deciding not to risk being late on my first day I buzz and am directed to the Green Room. Some of the cast members arrive on their lunch break. I find it interesting that having spent only a morning together they already look/feel like a gang. There is banter and personalities already being displayed.

Matthew arrives and over coffee fills me in on what to expect and what is expected on of me (a lot of looking and not much talking). We talk about why I wanted to observe this production and how it fits into my creative journey from community and participation work towards directing, new writing and literary development.
Back in the Green Room I meet Wils the Director, Charlotte the Assistant Director who will be my mentor over the coming weeks and the rest of the cast. My nerves are dispelled by how friendly, welcoming and generous with their time people are being: I thought in the “first day of rehearsal madness” I would be very much “in the corner.”
The afternoon begins with a read through – it seems by arriving at lunchtime I’ve missed a hardcore physical session involving circuit training – lucky escape? Charlotte says getting up and “doing something physical” is a great way to start rehearsals relieving nerves and the pressure to perform before a read through or discussion. The read through is a pleasure as the characters begin to come to life and their voices are heard in the space.

Fly the designer then shows us the set model and with Wils, talks us through the design elements and concept, how the space will be used and costume ideas (clogs are mentioned a lot!). However, don’t think we’re going all period drama, Rona the writer was keen to emphasize that this is NOT simply a history play but actually a response to the riots of 2011. We are playing with “Then and Now” and this is reflected across the whole production from language to costume. Cast members point out that events in the play mirror recent violence in the city centre.
Then it’s time for Meet and Greet – having worked in a producing theatre I should be used to the “circle of terror” but it’s different from the other side – so many faces and names to remember.
Walking away from the theatre and reflecting on the afternoon these things stand out – the youth, energy and enthusiasm of the cast and the feeling in the whole production team that we are creating something special, unique, that could only happen here and now. A word to sum up today? “Fizzing.”

Day 2: 7th January
“Something is in the air”

First of all a confession. Shhhhhhhh….It’s not a Monday, it’s Wednesday morning. After speaking with Matthew on Monday it appears that it’s very much up to me to get the most out of the placement which means (if it’s ok with Wils) that I can come into rehearsals at other times too. Again I am grateful for everyone’s openness and generosity.
Being here on a Wednesday means a working lunch and my first production meeting with the Scuttler’s crew. Looking around the circle it’s a reminder of how many people (often unseen) it takes to stage a production. It’s inspiring to see the commitment and attention to detail every member of the team is bringing, there is talk of floor samples, thread samples, experimenting with different sounds in the space. It’s definitely not a case of “Oh that will do,” everyone is wanting the best.

However, I’m getting ahead of myself…
The first thing I observe in the morning is Eddie’s (the movement Director) epic warm up – an hour of cardio, stretching and circuit training. As the show is so physical it’s important the cast are as fit as possible to perform at their best plus many of them are playing characters who do manual jobs so they need to look the part!

It look’s tough but I want to join in. Gareth the DSM and I agree to join in next time. In the meantime Gareth shows me his scene break downs and colour coded charts showing which characters are in each scene – it’s a lesson in organisation and detail.

Then we read through a short section of the script – a scene where the two gangs “face off” for the first time. Wils says we are using the script to find the detail in the physical work. Rona, the writer, is on hand to answer questions from the cast clarifying objectives and the images she had in her head when writing. Then it’s time to get the scene “on it’s feet.” From my corner of the room it is fascinating to watch the interactions and negotiations between Director, Movement Director and Writer as they block the scene. Ideas are worked out physically, with the actors being asked to move through the scene in a number of different ways while Wils and Eddie observe. It’s amazing the feeling in the room when they find the right combination – even without set, lights and costume there is a strong visual impact which is arresting. There is an intensity words can’t describe….there is “something in the air.”