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 fifth blog of five, from the SCUTTLERS observing director Naomi Sumner.

Day 9: 2nd February
A million tiny threads

As I arrive in the module for the first technical rehearsal I see the “cotton ring” being flown into place and a CO2 cannister being winched up to Level 5. The cast are in costume and the stage management team are trying to gather excited ensemble members into one place. The fact we are literally days away from opening night is physically and emotionally tangible.
The day begins with Lee, the company manager doing an induction to the space for the cast as they have not yet worked in the module with the set in place. As the production includes a stage with different levels, haze, water, dim lighting, fight sequences and a lot of people in the space it is important that people navigate the space safely.

Technical rehearsals are very much about logistics and problem solving. The question always being “How can we make x happen?” Roles for specific tasks are assigned, exits and entrances are changed, decisions about cue lights are made, light and sound cues are built, tested and amended. Charlotte plays an active role in the problem solving process as a “second pair of eyes and hands.” The Director, Designer, Stage Manager can bounce ideas off her, ask her for a second opinion or help in solving an issue. Charlotte also supports the cast by looking/thinking ahead, anticipating what is coming and what might be needed and advising the cast accordingly.

A lot of different things are happening in the room at once, as the various elements of the production, lights, sound, costume, set, props, actors, fake blood(!) are brought together. Clear, specific instructions are key. Julia the Stage Manager is managing the stage area but overseeing all operations and running the technical rehearsal is Lee. Observing Lee’s role in the room was a huge learning experience for me as I had not seen rehearsals run this way before by a company manager rather than a member of the stage management team. Lee managed the whole performance space and communications between stage management, technical team, directors and cast members, an invaluable bridge between activity taking place on and off the stage. With so many bodies in the room with competing voices and agendas it’s essential to have an anchor and focal point to keep things running smoothly. Lee also keeps a strict eye on the clock!

What I’ve learnt from today is don’t just get “dazzled” by the spectacle of seeing something for the first time, whether it’s a piece of set, a lighting cue or movement sequence. Look, look again, check. Don’t be afraid to try things a different way – it might be better e.g. amending how something is lit, the speed something is flown in or out. At this point a director must be looking critically at everything.

This process of looking, checking and amending means progress seems slow, there is a lot of waiting around for the cast while things are worked through off stage. Leaving the theatre at the end of the day it’s a bit overwhelming to think that in two days the public will be in watching the show – and what will happen between now and then.

Day 10: 5th February
Dress Rehearsal

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, in a few hours time the house will be open and people will be watching the world premiere of “Scuttlers.” How exciting is that?! But in the meantime there is still a LOT of hard work to be done.

I am amazed at how much progress has been made since Monday’s rehearsal and how the piece has changed and evolved over the past few days. Cuts to the script have been made, lines have been added or changed, movement sequences re- choreographed. I am impressed with how the cast are coping and adapting to these changes, I am sure if I was them that I would be really confused.
With the first preview just hours away minor adjustments are still being made. Rona wants a few lines changed for clarity and flow, Eddie is adjusting a fight sequence, people are re-working sections right to the last minute. And it doesn’t stop tonight!

Preview performances are different from performances after Press Night, as each one will be slightly different and the opportunity for the creative team to test different ideas in front of an audience. The day after a preview performance the cast and crew will re-rehearse and amend based on yesterday’s show. This process stops on “Press Night” when the “official” version is launched.
Even though there is a sense of urgency the atmosphere in the room is focused efficiency rather than stress or panic. Although the pressure is on and tensions may be running high, the team always communicate with each other in a courteous and respectful manner. There is a hierarchy and protocol that everyone just seems to know – everyone knows their role. There’s no “airy fairyness” about this bunch of creatives they are a slick, streamlined well oiled machine.

Watching the dress rehearsal is like that moment when you’re doing a jigsaw with a lot of pieces and you begin to see the whole picture coming together. This production is multi-sensory with beautiful images on stage enhanced with the live soundscape being created offstage. A feast for the senses that NOW we are ready to share.