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JenniferIswara

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 fourth blog from THE CRUCIBLE observing director Jennifer Iswara.

This week the set build had started so rehearsals decamped back to the rehearsal room. As I entered the building through stage door pieces of set were being unloaded onto dollies from an articulated lorry by a crew in hi vis jackets. The main hall of the Royal Exchange Building resembles an extremely organised building site and the smell of adhesive fills the air.

An entirely different smell greets me when I enter the rehearsal room and not an entirely pleasant one. Following some investigation from Kate, the Assistant Director it transpires someone had put food waste in the paper bin and it had gone rotten. Amy, the ASM (assistant stage manager) deals with it swiftly and without fuss, restoring the room to its usual rehearsal roomish smell. She issues a friendly and sensible reminder for everyone to use the recycling bins appropriately at the next suitable break.

This is a neat example of the stealthy and stalwart work of the stage management team. Amy is in the room at all times, noting blocking and requirements, keeping the room on schedule by ensuring breaktimes are adhered to and external appointments for fittings are met. On her desk, a bewildering array of stationery, tape and goodness knows what else, all neatly arranged in a plastic box. I've started blogging about the stage managers and really, although I can appreciate what they do, I'm pretty sure I don't even know the half of it. It reminded me of an excellent blog by Jess Gow 'A Girl in the Dark' about the whys and wherefores of her job. Check it out here: http://justagirlinthedark.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/boring-bitch.html

It's a salutary reminder that theatre-making is as much a logistical enterprise as it is an artistic one. The creativity of the rehearsal process is all for nothing if it doesn't practically transition to the theatre space - if the play isn't presented to an audience. The backstage goings-on have always fascinated me as much as the creative aspect, and the passion for the piece and the enterprise among the technical and stage-management teams is, rightly, as strong as those calling the artistic shots. This is what theatre-making should be - building, crafting, organising with great care and attention to detail. I'll always be in awe of the photographic memory skills required for stage-management - how they track the movements of props, how blocking is locked down, how they manage to visualise the set in the rehearsal space. This is all part of the craft - it can be too easy to reduce theatre-making to an academic exercise, but the show is being built for you and it's a glorious thing to watch.