Human Animals Rehearsal Room Blog (Week 5)

And here we are. On the flipside. Just as I said last week. We sailed the seas of tech week and for our final blog I decided to steal some time with our playwright, Stef Smith.

I wanted to get an insight into her playwriting process and inspirations. Stef tells me that her love of and taste in theatre is always evolving and she has always been interested in how we are complicit in events by witnessing them. In particular although not exclusively, in relation to environmental disaster. She likens this to how quickly we can read a sad story on twitter, 140 characters, a snapshot of chaos, and then scroll straight past it if we need to.

Having had a life long interest in animal welfare, Stef was drawn to how we can dramatise our relationship with animals. She tells me that first incantation of the play was much more disjointed than it is now, it was much more chaotic and not in chronological order. Her journey has been finding a cohesion to the play. Which had been a challenge for her, because the play had been written so instinctively. The task at hand was to go back to the initial starting point and find the instincts of the play in order to follow them through. Her relationship with the fundamental themes of the play has stayed as a constant throughout. The journey has been about finding a way for the audience to relate to the themes without being too explicit about them. What I love about Stef’s writing is that it’s both subtle and precise, I feel like every word in the play is there for a reason.

Writing a play, Stef explains to me, from the first draft right through to the rehearsal draft can be a very solitary occupation that suddenly becomes very public. It’s quite a journey, to go from having an idea in your head privately to explaining the ideas of a full-length play in front of brilliant actors and an amazing technical team. That’s why being in the rehearsals rooms has been really rewarding. Stef talks to me about the ‘economy of language’ (which by the way is a beautiful turn of phrase, I’m definitely talking to a writer who knows which words sound good together). The economy of language, is about how much we do and don’t need to be told and where the balance lies. The company have been so important in allowing her to understand her play on an even deeper level. Intelligent reading and performance breathe a physical life into the play and I agree with Stef that its important listen to what a cast are bringing to a production.

Before going into rehearsals, Stef spent a lot of time with our director – Hamish, talking specifically about the ideas of the play and getting to know their writer/director relationship. What Stef really loves about Hamish is that he’s a very visually thinker and that he’s a real collaborator in exploring the possibilities of the play.

We talk about how theatre is so much about collaboration, between the cast, crew, writer and director. And now as I write this it’s hours before our first preview. Stef tells me that she’s feeling excited and nervous. She’s baked peanut butter cookies and brought them in for our pre-first preview tech. (They’re amazing, I need the recipe asap). Anticipation is a strange emotion, she says, but that this is ultimately why we make theatre, for our audience. Sometimes it can feel like the hardest part, the last stretch of a long and exciting journey but I realise that audiences (yes you!) are the final participators and join us as the last piece of the puzzle.

Stef tells me that it has been a privilege to be at the Royal Court and that she still gets a genuine child-like excitement about having a play on here. The kind of child-like excitement that sets your stomach aflutter. A lot of the plays that Vicky Featherstone has produced and commissioned are some of Stef’s favourite of all time, so Stef feels that to be given this opportunity is something really special.

I’ve loved assisting on Human Animals. Every director and every show has different needs of an assistant, but every day is about growth, planning and learning. Our company of cast and creatives is extremely talented, conscientious and forward-thinking so it’s been amazing to be a part of it. I’ll bring with me the energy and the skills I’ve learnt. It’s about moving from one thing to the next, every minute counts when making theatre. It’s also about multitasking – often I’m thinking about the scenes coming up at the same time as making notes for the one we’re rehearsing. As an assistant it’s been about being alert. It’s about being able to plan ahead, think quickly, make notes and know when to give them and every day I get a chance to get better at it.

And that’s a wrap from me. I’m looking forward to the press night and the rest of the run for Human Animals. I’ll see you there!

Written by Sian Davila – Assistant Director