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Detroit: Director’s Diary

Ahead of its Australian premiere on July 21, Director Ross McGregor takes you on a weekly behind-the-scenes look at the making of Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s upcoming production, Detroit
 

Director's Diary Entry No. 3

We are now in rehearsals and discovering, when deeply exploring the text, that Detroit is an even a greater play than we thought. This is pretty high praise as we already knew, even from reading it, that it was something special. The rehearsal process has been very rewarding right from the beginning. Our first day started with introducing the cast – Lisa Chappell (playing Mary), Claire Lovering (Sharon), James O’Connell (Kenny), and Ed Wightman (Ben) – to Stage Manager Amy Harris and Assistant Stage Managers Kez and Kirsty. Unfortunately Ronny Falk (Frank) was not there as he was not starting rehearsals until later and lives in Melbourne. (A wonderful actor who’s age is a well kept secret – look him up on Google – you will know him I am sure, if you have been going to theatre for a long time.) We then read the play and prepared for the afternoon’s reading of it for the creative team Tobhiyah Stone Feller (Set and Costume Designer) Ben Brockman (Lighting) and Jed Silver (Sound), all of whom I have spoken about in my previous diaries. Also the Darlinghurst Theatre team attended. We got lots of laughs and, I’m guaranteed, the odd tear which is pretty amazing when the actors had the scripts in their hands (and faces) and spent a lot of time trying not to run into each other, as I had insisted they do it on their feet and could move in whatever direction they felt like at any time. Everyone escaped, feeling great, without injury. When you see the play you will see what I mean. It would be a SPOILER if I told you what happens on stage.

We are rehearsing in a church hall in Camperdown which has all the facilities we need including heating except we hope that the walls are not hurting from the odd rude words (perhaps a few more than “odd”) that bounce off them. We spent the first week going through the text line by line, sometimes word by word, searching into the reasons for saying them, whom they were meant for as a target, how high the stakes, how to avoid self-pity and getting to the end of a thought, which is usually signposted by the punctuation. The better the script the more choices you actually have in how you deliver the line – what thought regulated the tone – how best to win your point etc. The actors need agility of the body and mind and emotions, and a brain that can analyse and find the themes, and come to a conclusion of what the play is about. My problem in this case is the actors seem to be brainier than I am so the only way I can survive is by either knowing more than they do, not listening to them, telling them to shut up and listen to me or bringing out my shotgun. So far, we all think we are winning – which I hope is not delusional, otherwise you are going to get a **** show.

We then started blocking it, scene by scene – one a day – stopping and starting until we were all ostensibly happy. Then we would go home, all think about it, come into rehearsal, all speak at once about new ideas and start all over again. After three times it should work (!). It is great fun though and a magic journey. At dress rehearsals we will still be wrestling with very small moments. Thus we went through seven of the eight scenes. Ronnie Falk arrived for rehearsal, having driven from Melbourne. He (show off) said he had learnt his lines and could we run the scene straight away (I thought we had better as he may have short term memory and has to relearn them every day). He really did know them (word for word, polished, professional, ready to rock) BUT, he had received an earlier draft of the script and Lisa and Ed could not follow him. Doom rolled across my already stretched brain. But, no, he is a trooper and by the end of the day we had run the required three times through it. Thank God for actors with grit, imagination and style. And we have five of them!!!

I could go on about food allergies to the ingredients mentioned in the script, assistant stage managers laughing in a spot the actors did not think should be funny and vice versa, actors breaking furniture which had not expected the rough treatment thus giving up under the weight, the production manager staying calm (in our presence anyway) after having replaced the chair for the third time with no money left in the budget, and the stage manager reduced to knocking back a request for asparagus that is mentioned in the script with the question “Will you be eating it?” And the director having the best time whilst imagining that he can’t make a mistake and knows everything and offering to buy the asparagus.

Hope you have more fun watching the play as we are having rehearsing it. We promise we will be considering your needs as the primary function of theatre.

Cheers for now. Will get a fourth entry to you about moving into the theatre.
 

Director's Diary Entry No. 2

Time has come to update you on the progress of Detroit. I have been working with Set and Costume Designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller (with a name like that you would just have to be creative and imaginative and always have ideas that come from left field and land on the target), Lighting Designer Benjamin Brockman (whose imagination runs riot to such an extent that I was nearly having to ask the management to transfer us to the Opera House. I didn’t, but I still have him in an arm lock – just. He is kind of slipping out though, as he is bigger than me), and Sound Designer Jed Silver who knows so much about music, sound and technology that I just shut up and try to be a good boy. We have been all getting together to bring you a great experience in the theatre.

The advance in technology, when it comes to lighting and sound, is amazing. It allows the designers to come up with results that can be awe inspiring for an audience. How can I compete with that? I am stuck with, and totally reliant on, a lot of pages of paper with words printed on them and stuck together somehow to make up a script (if it hasn’t fallen apart or disappeared due to someone else throwing it in the bin, because, by the look of it, it can’t be all that important).

The process has been, first, for us to look at the action within the play and note down the practical requirements. In the case of Detroit, it needs two back yards and two front porches. So how do we present that on the Eternity stage that has no flies (to hoist the scenery up above and drop it in, or truck it out from the wings, of which there are none). So that took most of our time, with me lengthening the process by coming up with ideas (which felt great on first thought) and Tobhi coming up with others, until, finally, she found a great solution. I could show you drawings but that would spoil any surprise, so it is a secret. We then went onto colours and feel and environment and furniture (some of the furniture has to be trick as surprising things happen to it). Again, I would love to tell you more but…sorry! Costumes came next and that discussion was mostly about shape, colour and telling some story about the characters, which is difficult when you need  to keep them totally separate in feel but in line with the whole presentation of the play.

Lighting is taken into account during the whole preceding process. This gives Ben the time to come up with ideas, which he then presents. Unfortunately, although it will be exciting when you see the play, I can tell you even less about the lighting effects because it would give away the whole ending and THAT would be a real spoiler. But, I am really excited about what Ben has come up with.

This play has, as well as a complex set and wow lighting, a soundscape that actually tells a story on its own. Jed will be developing this by researching all the sounds of a city that exist from dawn to dawn, so many to which we have shut our ears.

So we are at the point to be able to present all this to the whole crew, staff and actors on the first day of rehearsals. A MAGIC DAY FOR ALL.

My next entry will be about the rehearsals.Take care everybody and stay in touch – especially by coming and seeing the show.
 

Director's Diary Entry No.1 

First was the excitement of discovering the play. Not very often do I come across a play that is totally driven by the characters to such an extent that the things that happen are so jaw dropping. Kind of like, “No! They are not going to do that!” And they do. You know you are not supposed to laugh either, but you do. When you have new, mysterious neighbours, post GFC, in what was meant to be the dream family community as was built in the late 50s and early 60s, and put them next door to an isolated couple who have been there for some years, you may be just in a little bit of trouble.

We had a great audition process, with many actors trying out for the roles. We have such a great community of talented people, it is always a disappointment not to be able to cast them all. We were able to use the Eternity Playhouse stage, which gives you a great feeling for how the actors will deal with the space. We had a casting agent which was a gift as a casting agent knows all the actors around the country and therefore can suggest people that you had never known existed or with whom you had not worked. To find out who is in the cast you will need to go to the Detroit webpage. They are pretty spectacular, not only for their talent but for their charisma. One of the roles does not need to be all that good looking, and the agents were told. So one actress came in daggy pants, sloppy t-shirt and hair greased down. Much good it did to hide her face! She was cast anyway. I promise you, no greasy hair.

When the casting was complete, we then got onto choosing the set and costume, lighting, and sound designers. How easy is that!

Sorry I cannot tell you about what the actors did in the audition as it would give some of the surprises away. But one moment was pretty disgustingly funny, I can tell you that much.

 

Image: Director Ross McGregor (centre) with cast members Ed Wightman, Lisa Chappell, James O'Connell and Claire Lovering. Photo by Helen White

Posted 06 Jul 2015

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