It’s the first week of our process and, for me as director, also the most important. My role this week is to build a strong foundation from which the work of the cast, design team, and production team can be built upon in the weeks to come. There are so many ideas, so much enthusiasm, and, perhaps most importantly, some incredible talent throughout our company; it’s my responsibility to make sure what we eventually put up on stage reflects that.
In other words, I make everyone else look good.
With the actors, this has meant playing lots of games and improvisation exercises. The relationship between Marianne and Roland is the centrepiece of Constellations and, although Hattie and John are both brilliant individually (don’t tell them I said that), they have to be brilliant together if we want our production to be successful. These games, hopefully, instil a sense of fun, a willingness to play, and build the confidence to try out new ideas. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when we start going into really close and detailed analysis of the text, so playing these games early on establishes something fun and experimental that we can easily return to should we find ourselves stuck.
The actors’ response to these games has been unsurprisingly incredible, and I am yet to leave a rehearsal without my face hurting from excessive laughter. Notable mention goes to the game ‘did you hear?’ which involves making up rumours about someone else in the room that become increasingly absurd. At least, that’s what happens when we play it. It’s quickly become the actors’ favourite, as they get to do something completely unprecedented and say negative things about me as their director (and as a person), a task they’ve enthusiastically embraced.
My work with the design team this week has been far more boring (because of the work, not the designers) and has mainly consisted of discussion; effectively, ensuring we’re all on the same page. Megan, our scenographer, has brought some incredible ideas to the table and I have to make sure the work in the rehearsal room complements that. Equally, I have to be careful that none of these ideas are too imposing on the actors. Although having ideas early on is useful, if rehearsals starts heading in a different direction the design has to adapt, or that new direction has to be reconsidered, otherwise the final product seems a bit disconnected. A relationship like this demands compromise, and it’s my job as director to mediate the discussion, a difficult task given how … passionate … our design team are about their ideas.
I’ve been informed that taking on such responsibility by myself (although entirely manageable I assure you) would be foolish. Luckily, I have an incredible production team to support me. In rehearsals, the assistant director and deputy stage manager provide a greatly appreciated second opinion, ensure the room stays focused, and provide an essential level of pastoral care for the actors (and often times, me) that I, as director, would be unable to do (they give really good hugs). In a short process such as this efficiency is so important and it’s very difficult as a director to maintain this without becoming a touch tyrannical (I assume, I’ve never actually tried), making this pastoral support all the more important.
Outside of the rehearsal room, I’m being supported by the producer, who provides an “invaluable critical eye” (our producer, 2017) over the entire production allowing them to point out things that apparently I would have missed without them. Understandably, communication between these roles and my own is essential and I’ve personally seen to it this week that these lines of communication have been established (we now have a group chat).
A great leader is a humble one, so discussions have also focused on what the other members of the team expect from me as a director. I like to have these conversations before a process starts, as it fools my colleagues into thinking their opinions are valued but it also gives me a standard I can then hold myself to. My logic is, if I know when I’m dropping the ball, it should be easier to pick it back up again and luckily my colleagues have no reservations about telling me when these (rare) instances occur.
If I’ve done my job well, the coming weeks should be easy, or at least a lot easier then if I had I done my job poorly.
Be sure to come and behold the fruits of our (my) labour on the 19 – 21 October at the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television.