Nikki Kalkman’s Girl in the Machine Assistant Director Blog #5

12 April 2017 ← return to listing

Nikki Kalkman’s Girl in the Machine Assistant Director Blog #5

Fight over the best seats… It's press night!

Wednesday marked the world premiere of Girl in the Machine. Wed 5 Apr has come screaming around the corner at such a great rate of knots that I have legitimately wondered where I put all those days in March. Did I misplace them somewhere? Surely it's can't be over yet?

Press night opened to a sold out crowd of reviewers, Traverse staff and friends and family. Since then I've watched as several glowing reviews for Girl in the Machine have poured in.

But can I tell you a secret?

Here, lean in close, it wasn't exactly an uneventful few days leading up to press night.

Monday and Tuesday night were preview nights. Previews are always an interesting experience. I've heard some practitioners refer to them as dress rehearsals with an audience; others view them as practice runs for opening night; a few productions I've worked on didn't even get previews.

But regardless of varying opinions, I believe they are quite an important part of the process. You learn things in a preview that you just couldn't have learnt in the rehearsal room. Those first two hundred or so eyes are some of the most critical, and their feedback is invaluable. These first few audience members give an insight into the show that we didn't and couldn't have known for ourselves.

The all-powerful, all-seeing audience

Live performance is exactly that; live. It takes place from one single moment to the next. It is a cacophony of dramatic elements all working together to create a theatrical experience.

Liveness and that of its audience are what makes theatre so wholly incredible. And an audience is a very powerful creature. I've seen productions fall to their knees at the hands of the unforgiving audience and there is absolutely no way of replicating that undefinable pulse, that energy of audience in the rehearsal room. We try. Directors, writers and performers can all make predictions on how an audience might receive a piece of the theatre, we can bring outsiders in- friends, family or colleague to see runs, but ultimately until that audience are actually in the space- bums on seats, cell phones on silent, lights down, curtain up- there is no way of knowing exactly what they are going to do. What they are going to feel.

Will they laugh?
Or cry?
Will they walk out?
Or fidget?
Will they lose interest?
Will they lean forward in their chairs?
Will they applaud? How long will they applaud for?

It all sounds a little neurotic, doesn't it? It's not. Our currency is storytelling and we have to know if we are telling it right.

The biggest realisation we've had over those wonderful few days of previews was about the pace of the performance.

Rhythm and Chaos

Stef's words are snappy, with a rhythm of their very own. But with a performance so heavily embedded in the concepts of technology and future, they also contain a great deal of information, exposition and emotion. Striking the right balance of gusto and stillness is something we have been exploring from day one.

Speed and a bouncy rhythm can reflect playfulness and humour- something critical to the beginning of the play. But speed could also mean the audience lose valuable information about the plot? How can we sure they'll hear us?

Stillness creates tension but driving through a high stakes moment can also invoke a sense of chaos and inevitability.  Are we giving them enough time to hear the story? Feel all of those emotions? Or are we giving them too much time? Are we not getting to the point fast enough?

All of those questions came crashing to the forefront after our first preview. And so, I watched as Orla and Stef not once but twice, after our second preview, made several incredibly bold and courageous decisions.

While the wine was quietly chilling and canapés were being prepared for press night, words were cut, blocking of tweaked, lighting states were shifted and soundscapes were changed. I sat and watched as Michael (Owen) and Rosalind (Polly) dived straight into the changes with the bravery and laughter that I've gotten to know so well over these last few weeks. As the contained rolled closed on the freshly edited ending, only two hours before the audience was due to arrive, I knew, we all knew, that it had been the right choice. The performance was exactly where it needed it be, we all breathe deep and broke for dinner.

That was it.

Slap on some lipstick and shimmy into your party dress and lets get this thing running.

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.


Sign up to receive news from the Traverse Theatre.

Please enter your details below to join our e-list.