When asked what is my favourite moment in the journey from page to stage, I usually say the moment when the house lights go down on the very first performance and there is a silent buzz of expectation, and nerve-wracking fear combined…and then it starts, and there is a sense of joy that all the pieces of that intricate jigsaw puzzle came together. I realise my second favourite moment is the production meeting. It is about watching masters of their craft…let me explain.
After all the script planning, budgeting, fundraising, creative planning and recruitment, there comes a moment when each of the creative team – sound, stage, lighting, music, costume, producer, designer, director, and others gather in a room together. In a sense it is the point when each piece of the jigsaw is turned over and the pattern is revealed. They are not joined up, but each is intricate and essential to make the whole.
This month at Mountview, our Creative Producers are involved in a festival of 10 new plays with 10 different directors, 5 different designers, a range of lighting, sound and video specialists, 5 producers, and one amazing overall stage manager (may the gods protect her). Each play goes through a white card model meeting, where the designer and director explain their three dimensional vision of the show. Then a first production meeting where everyone explores their element of the puzzle. Then a final model meeting where budgets are assessed and materials, textures and palettes are agreed. Meanwhile the directors are directing, the producers & directors together are marketing, and the stage manager is holding it all together. So I guess you could say we are making 10 jigsaw puzzles at the same time – which is where madness lies.
So why is it my second favourite time in the process. Very simply because it is the moment that you see each person step into their own wisdom and specialism and, very quietly, push for what they need and check-in with their fellow creative to ensure it is moving towards a shared and interlocking partnership of creativity. The role of the producer at this point is to chair a meeting, and get out of the way except when needed.
There is a polite, calm, dance going on. A dance of time and money and space and vision. Through many dozens of production meetings across the years I have rarely heard cross words spoken – because the best teams respect each other for their individual skills. There’s never enough time and money and space. The sound designer needs quiet to prepare her aural experience. The lighting designer needs darkness to focus individual lights. The stage team need to make a noise in good working light so they don’t screw themselves to a rostra. And the actors need space with no ladders, noise, technicians or darkness to move their particular dance from the rehearsal room to the theatre. Four mutually exclusive activities which, through the magic of the production meeting, will work together seamlessly.
I have written before about the huddled corners of international creatives working through a show like Les Miserables after a dress rehearsal or preview. The same is just as true here – calm, supportive negotiation for time and space. In this case a mix of experienced professionals and students. Some problem solving, some give ‘n’ take, but infinitely respectful of each other.
In the rehearsal room, the director is in charge. In the theatre the stage manager is god, and she will lead the mass array of creatives through the process. There is an old tradition in the theatre of asking permission from the stage manager when entering their domain – whether you are a junior staff member, or the owner of the theatre. That respect is part of the magic of making the impossible happen.
As the next 6 weeks of fit-ups, tech rehearsals, and performances play out I hope that everyone in the creative teams will remain calm. I have watched with growing respect the skill and quiet confidence around the production meeting table. Each of the jigsaw puzzles is being lovingly interlocked and, with a fair wind and a calm sea, each of the 10 shows should be ready for an audience on first performance.