Written by Rachel Nwokoro, Assistant Director Lela & Co.
“Never. Is a very long word”
If it weren’t for the undeniable truth of the above quotation from the text, I would be pretty tempted to say that I have never seen such concentrated effort put into the telling of a woman’s story.
Actually, I’m going to say it anyway.
I have not written a rehearsal room blog on an Assistant Director job before so this will undoubtedly be an experience of feeling my way through the dark… essentially, bear with me. I hope that by the end of it I have written something near comprehensible (and if not, at least it’ll be honest).
I think that with this production it is important to start with the text. The Royal Court Theatre is impressively dedicated to the support of new playwrights and directors. The script “Lela&Co.” was written by the talented Cordelia Lynn (who has previously taken part in the Royal Court Writers’ Group). Her ability to create believable voices and dialogue is refreshing – but more of this later.
So we began with a traditional Meet and Greet with all the Royal Court staff. It was warm and full of offers of support and tours of the theatre etc, which is important to mention in relation to communicating the difference it can make to be in such a welcoming environment when working on a new job. Then, Jude Christian (Director) asked the room to have a look at the set model by Ana Ines Jabares Pita (Designer). I often find it informative to observe the relationship and communication between the designer and director of a project. It’s always interesting to see the significance of their ability to speak the same language (in relation to the play) but also their rapport. Ana and Jude both have a seamless discernment of Jude’s interpretation of the text and that shows both in rehearsals but also in production meetings.
After looking at the model box, the production team and cast sat around a table and we had a read-through. At this stage I have to admit that before hearing the text read by the actors, I did not realise how much more effective the text is if the audience is broadly unaware of the story. So, with that in mind, I apologise to my Mum for the spoiler (not that she’ll read this) and to anyone reading now because as a result, although I said I would speak more of the writing later… the mention of the text itself from now onwards will be purposefully sporadic and vague. Sorry, but not sorry – it’s with good reason!
Right, so after that, rehearsals were under way. I have particularly enjoyed working on this project so far because, with a two-person cast (Katie West and David Mumeni), myself, Jude, Ellie Williams and Nic Donithorn (Stage Managers) there are not many people in the room. This has meant it has been easy to quickly form familial relationships but also it means that it is much easier to know when it is useful to contribute creatively and when we all need time to think. It also means that you’re constantly immersed in the process and there isn’t the occasion not to be involved or to be running to get cups of tea (which can sometimes be a misconception of the Assistant Director role).
Jude Christian is just brilliant to work with because she has this admirable ability to be able to read what an actor is looking for and to help them find it. If there was ever a yearning to find the through line for a character, Jude would explore different exercises in the space in order to find it, and they always did.
We began with writing a timeline for the play on big pieces of paper, which was useful in working out the ages of the characters at different points and significant life events. I was immediately happy because I am a big advocate for a rehearsal room full of coloured whiteboard markers and research on the walls.
“A marriage will begins as it means to go on”
After that, we continued through our first week breaking the play into units or beats, which we then named. In each of these units we wrote a list of two things – facts and questions. Cordelia Lynn was largely involved in this process and it has been wonderful to be able to work so closely with a playwright. I loved the collaborative nature of this process and how it allowed us to question and challenge each other in order to retain accuracy when exploring the play. This was essential as it enabled us as a team to take an incremental approach to the text and it also meant that when any of us referred to a particular part of the script, we were all on the same page (pun intended).
At some point during this week, we also created some family trees for the characters (also, on big pieces of paper – just brilliant). It was useful to have visual representation of the characters in the play and allowed us to see how they were or were not connected.
Although this play is not grounded in any particular place or time, it was integral that we conducted extensive research. This manifested in several different ways. We read through reports, watched related films, actors made presentations to the room as their characters, drew illustrations of their interpretation of the characters and photos, posters and maps were placed on the now (in my opinion) beautiful wall. This has personally been one of my favourite parts of the project, simply because I love learning new things and I was able to further educate myself on subjects that are important to me.
There have also been breaks in rehearsals where it has been necessary to book appointments for more specialist work. This has varied from work with a fight choreographer to a magician (whom were in a word – excellent), plus production meetings, and talks with the marketing department.
So that is as much as I can give of my experience of the rehearsal process of Lela&Co. at the Royal Court so far. I could speak unendingly on David and Katie whom are such determined and perceptive actors to work with but… it is better for you to see the results of that in the production. I know I have written a lot but a lot has happened! I am in the fortunate position to be part of a production with such an important story but also to come to work and have my initiative and creativity to be of value. It has been a brilliant experience with some wonderful people and I’m looking forward to the lead up to the run.
Oh and Steak Night tomorrow. Definitely that.
@RayNwoks – [email protected]