Nikki Kalkman’s Girl in the Machine Assistant Director Blog #2:

20 March 2017 ← return to listing

Nikki Kalkman’s Girl in the Machine Assistant Director Blog #2:

[3 minute read]

It takes a village.

A piece of theatre is a complex beast. A performance is more than just a combination of bright lights and loud noises. It moves. It breathes. It has a life of it own. It doesn't happen overnight and it takes an armada of people, with each individual making their mark on the mould that is Girl in the Machine. Shaping it, asking questions, solving problems, contributing, collaborating until it's fully formed and delivered to the world in a few weeks' time.

It's an incredible process to watch. You can feel the pulse of everyone working to one shared goal. Every day the rehearsal room buzzes with new ideas and I tell you, if innovation could be spun into gold we would put Rumpelstiltskin to shame.


Reading and re-reading. Cutting and shaping.

During the first week, the words were honed and crafted. Hours, days even, were spent reading and re-reading. The team sat, surrounded by coffee mugs and chocolate treats in the cold air of the rehearsal room questioning; each scene, each line, each word.

What do they say?

What do they not say?

Is it clear? Is ambiguity better?

Ambiguity vs. clarity. It is the basis of all dramaturgical work and it's a hefty process.

My first production's dramaturgical framework covered three full walls of the director's living room, a cacophony of craft paper, coloured marker and post-it notes addled together on adrenaline and caffeine until three in morning.

Girl in the Machine's process was far flung from the shaky coffee filled days of my younger career.

This was careful, precise work. Each question, each comment, each edit, each cut brought us closer and closer to exactly what the play is. What it needs to be.

As Stef went away at end of each day I could see the pool of thoughts swirl around her brain. When a fresh draft was presented to us in the morning, I almost wanted to dust for the prints of the previous day's discoveries.

Then suddenly, before the ink had dried on the final copy of the rehearsal script, it was up on its feet. No time for crawling when you can run. Move. Even dance.


Finding our feet. Feeling the world.

This week I have witnessed the early stages of Girl in the Machine's blocking -setting the action of each scene. Much like our table work, Orla's process of exploring each scene is careful, considered, precise but also playful and investigative. Moments are stretched and compressed, outwards and inwards. Turned around. Examined from all angles. Questioned and discussed. Nothing is certain and that is where the freedom lies; the freedom to play, to get it not exactly right and to stop and try something completely different.

I watch as Michael (Owen) and Rosalind (Polly) explore their characters and each other with curiosity, trust and laughter. They carefully trend the boards of this world, inspecting its edges, studying its dark corners and gaining a better understanding of its rules.


Just as I pause to think - yes, maybe that's it - this is what this play will look like. White and Givan (choreographers) stand it up, brush it down and throw it against the wall. Roll it across the set. Press it into the floor and hold it tight in a tender embrace.

Then, it starts to breathe as Kim Moore's composition gives the piece its electric heartbeat.

Victoria Liddelle's carefully considered voice work rings out over prominently placed speakers.

Set pieces arrive and props change shape through the diligent work of our Stage Management team.

And this is just the work I bear witness to. There is a team of individuals outside this space working to deliver Girl in the Machine to Traverse 1 on April 5th. Costumes are being sourced. A team of builders are currently constructing Neil Warmington's breathtaking set design. Sergey Jackovsky is sitting at a desk somewhere deciding on what the sun will look like in the world of Girl in the Machine, plotting each lantern, which will then need to be focused and rigged by the Traverse team of technicians.

Budgets are managed.

Paperwork is filed.

Marketing plans are executed.

It's people. Lots of people - more than I can name, or even know.

Cogs in a clock. Cells of an ecosystem. Birds in a flock. I struggle to find the right metaphor to aptly explain what happens both inside and outside that rehearsal room every day of this process.

Where do I fit into this clock, ecosystem, flight of birds?

Can't you tell? I'm the voyeur. Sitting, thinking up questionable symbolism for what I see before me.  

I am the researcher, the extra set of hands. I am the sounding board and the line reader. I am the tech operator and the provider of chocolate biscuits… actually, everyone has that last job.

I watch as this performance grows and changes. It might be cliché but it is almost like watching a child grow. Influenced by those around it. Educated and shaped by those to who love it. And it does indeed take a village.

You can book tickets for Girl in the Machine  here. 

The Assistant Director position for Girl in the Machine is supported by  The JMK Trust.



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