Week one of Crocodile Fever rehearsals marks a week full of exploration and exciting discoveries. In her first Assistant Director blog, Shilpa gives a glimpse into the world of research and discovery that takes place long before rehearsals begin.
It’s the end of week one of rehearsals and my internet browser history is full of 1980s tunes and decorating references, mixed with a sombre collection of articles and films on the history of The Troubles. This seems entirely appropriate to a rehearsal process for Meghan Tyler’s Crocodile Fever. I fully expect to laugh as much as I grimace over the next six weeks and that’s part of what makes it such a glorious and meaty play to explore.
In the lead up to rehearsals beginning I spent time trying to learn as much as I could about Northern Ireland’s complicated history, and any other contextual information I could find about the setting including maps, images and old news reels. On day two, it was my job to share what I’d learned with the team. But as most of our cast, the writer and the dramaturg are all Irish or Northern Irish I opted for more of a dual sharing process. I must say it was very satisfying for me as the bits of information I’d gathered were met with personal anecdotes and inherited knowledge. On reflection there’s something that feels hugely useful about this personal feel, since The Troubles form the backdrop to this story of two sisters and their problematic father so it’s the day to day details that really help form a picture of their life.
Week one also brought the reveal of the model box. I’d seen it once before but there’s a different kind of excitement when the whole team look at it together on day one. Everything suddenly seems a bit more real. I’m particularly excited about some of the more complex staging challenges which the play throws up in some of its more surreal and/or action-packed moments (there are some fairly daunting sounding stage directions!) I’ll be keeping a very close eye on these technical elements ready for when I work with the team to transfer the show to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast in September.
In the meantime, this week has felt exciting and full of possibility. Meghan the writer has been making edits in the room as we explored the script, paying meticulous attention to the rhythms of the text. We worked through the play once reading and discussing round the table and then beginning to play scenes in the space, getting to know the characters and their world. I love the freedom of this stage when we don’t quite have to start making decisions yet, but every day is full of small discoveries.
A NOTE ON FINDING YOUR FUNCTION
‘Assistant Director’ is a job title which can (in the worst circumstances at either end of the spectrum) be everything from glorified tea maker, to accidentally now the director because something hideous happened.
I’m fortunate enough to have thus far escaped any of the assistant director jobs which become early career woeful tales. Undertaking a JMK Assistant Director position at the Traverse is of course none of these things. In most circumstances though the start of the process presents an interesting task for the assistant. Every production is different so needs something different from its assistant.
I find the first few days of any process intriguing as I begin to know the dynamic in the room, the way the director works, the demands of the text, who else is in the room (the writer, a dramaturg?) and try and work out where the gaps are, what I can add. I may not know exactly what that is yet, but I’ve had an enjoyable first week in an open room with a rigorous discussion of the text and as we head into the second week I am ready to get stuck into whatever it throws up.
The Assistant Director position for Crocodile Fever is supported by The JMK Trust. Shilpa T-Hyland is a Leverhulme Arts Scholar and recipient of the JMK regional bursary funded by the Leverhulme Trust Arts Scholarships Fund.
Find out more about the show here