GUT: Isla Cowan’s Assistant Director Blog #1

02 April 2018 ← return to listing

GUT: Isla Cowan’s Assistant Director Blog #1

Week 1 of GUT rehearsals went by in a flash! So why not grab a cuppa (heck, throw in a biscuit) and let the show's Assistant Director Isla take you beyond the rehearsal room doors and inside this week's action in her first production blog…

It's actually happening!

It was a normal, grey, Edinburgh day as I made my way up Lothian Road towards the Traverse Theatre. But, as soon as I got down into the theatre bar, I was hit by sunshine and warmth: the bar was full of people, there was coffee and croissants and a buzz of energy that could only be described as first-day excitement.

Danielle, the Artistic Administrator, made her way through the chit-chatting crowds, handing out production lanyards. Soon, it was my turn. I smiled and thanked her, and she moved on to locate the next lanyard holder.

I looked down at the tag:

Isla Cowan
Assistant Director

And there it was.

It finally hit me.

I had known I was going to be the Assistant Director on Gut for months - I had been to interviews and meetings, sent emails back and forth, met up with Zinnie and Frances - but, it was in that moment, as I stood looking down at an official Traverse lanyard bearing my  name, that I realised it was actually happening.

I pushed down a small scream of excitement…

Let's set the scene…

The day began with a read-through. I was overwhelmed by the attendance. We were not only joined by the team directly involved in the production, but by many members of the extended Traverse family and The National Theatre of Scotland.


Nothing compares to the first read-through of a play. No matter how many times you've read the text, no matter how many scenes have been read aloud by actors in development sessions, the first full read-through on the first day of rehearsals is magical. On top of this, Frances'script is so powerful and utterly moving that the room was electric - pure energy and emotion. Her play is tense and intense. It explores how we perceive the world around us, and the power of fear to change us.

After the read-through, we assembled around the model box and Fred guided us through her stunning set design. For those of you who don't know, the model box is like the best doll's house you've ever seen: it is a small black box containing an exact miniature of the set. Fred's set design creates the sense of something lyrical; it is a liminal space which allows the piece to shift seamlessly between scenes and states of being. I cannot wait to see this beautiful set in real size in Traverse 1 in a few weeks' time!

Then, we moved on to a production meeting and the logistics of the set were worked through. This is where the artistic vision and reality collide. Sometimes this can be tricky to navigate, but, fortunately, the team at the Traverse are fantastic and, by the end of the meeting, the initial logistical problems were resolved - the vision could become a reality. I listened to talks of trucks and flies and props and lights with awe and admiration.

So, we'd heard the words we were working with and now we had seen the space we were working in…

It was time to get going.


Research, reading and getting to grips with the text…

Much of the first week was spent sitting around the table, reading, discussing, and making notes. It's important, particularly when working with new writing, to spend time sitting down working through the play scene by scene before getting it up on its feet. You have to make sure everyone is on the same page (literally!) regarding the basic feeling of each scene, before you begin to play. This first part of rehearsals is also a very special part of the process as we share our own stories of fear and misjudgment, coming to a place of understanding for these characters, their situation and their world, as we work through the text.


I also had the chance this week to share my research with the group. In the weeks leading up to rehearsals, I had been researching dangers surrounding children (finding lots of scary statistics) and the different 'types' of parents who, not only react differently to potential threats, but also, treat their children differently in day-to-day life with regards to the child's satisfaction and responsibilities. Although none of the characters fall into clear-cut categories, it was interesting to see which characters aligned with which 'type' of parent and how this could colour our understanding of their motivations. These questions in the play of danger and safety, risk and protection, have been buzzing around my brain all week.

Do we live in a dangerous world that pushes us into certain behaviours?

Or, is it our distrusting behaviours that create a dangerous world?

What and who can be trusted in a world where threat is created, perpetuated and perceived by all?

You can book tickets for Gut  here. Meet the cast and creative team  here
Assistant Director Placement in Association with University of St Andrews'


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