Georgia Tillery recently worked with The Wardrobe Ensemble on ‘The Last of the Pelican Daughters’, as the JMK Assistant Director bursary recipient at the Royal & Derngate Northampton. In our latest blog, she describes the development process of the show and her career path to date:
The 5-week placement with The Wardrobe Ensemble as Assistant Director was a great insight into the world of professional theatre – shedding a light on the intensity of a short rehearsal process, the creative collaboration and the excitement that a live script can promote amongst a company.
At the start of the process, the role of Assistant Director was an interesting one to have. I began questioning myself and what I could bring to the company. I wanted to be a valued member of the team but I also didn’t want to step on any ones toes – as the company had been working together for such a long period of time, I didn’t want to disrupt their ethos. Once I began to bond with the company members and experience that my opinion was valid and really appreciated, I was able to get out of my head and really immerse myself in the experience.
Assistant Director is a very fluid role where often you are having to jump from one role or responsibility to another quite quickly. I really enjoyed this part of the role.
I believe that I was given this opportunity because of my self-motivated, adaptable and collaborative nature, which suited the way in which the company worked. This is the kind of work and theatre I believe I will go onto make and produce in the future.
“I had successfully directed many youth theatre shows including for the National Theatre Connections, I had also devised my own work on a small scale. I felt ready to take on the next challenge and really make a go at seeking professional directing work. I struggled to be listened to, without having professional credits on my CV.”
Why did you apply for the JMK bursary?
I applied for the JMK bursary as a way of furthering my professional career as a director.
I found myself at a cross roads, questioning whether to carry on with the work I was currently doing or take on a new route into professional theatre. Having graduated from LIPA six years ago studying Community Drama, my passion for devising, making and directing theatre was sparked. I was part of the great art scene in Liverpool and had a great time making new work and collaborating with fellow artists. Like most graduates I had to sadly return home, leaving the vibrancy behind. Once on home soil, I began to get itchy feet and needed to make theatre again. This is where I started seeking work in Youth Theatre provision. Five years down the line I had successfully directed many youth theatre shows including for the National Theatre Connections, I had also devised my own work on a small scale, I felt ready to take on the next challenge and really make a go at seeking professional directing work. I struggled to be listened to, without having professional credits on my CV. I then stumbled upon the bursary advertisement and felt it would be an ideal opportunity to receive support; to make contacts and be given the chance to demonstrate my abilities as a director on a professional stage.
What were your main tasks in the rehearsal room?
My main tasks in the rehearsal room included supporting Jesse Jones and Tom Brennan the co-directors of ‘Last of the Pelican Daughters’ through the creative process, giving ideas, sharing stimulus to aid the theatre making. I had the opportunity to write new scenes for the piece. It was great to see the development of the work over the process.
I led warm-ups with the cast and also had the chance to choreograph sequences that featured in the show – which was great and really added value to what I could bring to the ensemble. I read in for cast members who were absent or were in costume fittings; I took extensive notes and adapted the script where needed. I attended weekly production meetings and was present throughout the tech rehearsal and preview run at The Royal and Derngate.
“What was most exciting about the process was the fact that the piece was constantly developing or adapting even during the technical rehearsals. This encouraged a real positive energy and vibrancy to the production”
What was the process for developing this production?
Week 1 of the rehearsal process became an explorative week, re-watching the original R&D that The Wardrobe Ensemble performed in January. From this, the cast and team recorded any notes that were flagged up highlighting any areas of weakness to do with narrative, character or over all storytelling. From here the ensemble began to explore filling any gaps or establishing clarity in weak areas of the narrative, creating new material, drafting new scenes and ensemble movement. There was an extensive period where the company worked with their dramaturg Bea Roberts. This was to track the history of the play, the life of characters, their context in relation to social/political history. It was fascinating to see how this would influence the play, adding subtle detail to the piece and the world of the play.
When the company landed at The Derngate rehearsals intensified, the script began to solidify. We started to get the piece up on its feet, exploring the theatrical languages of the piece being mindful on keeping the piece synced and relatable to the audience. It was an exciting process as the piece was constantly developing in mood and atmosphere across the journey of the production.
The company focused on getting solid run throughs of the piece to ensure it flowed and the ideas were clear. The creative team then responded to any notes in the next rehearsals.
What was most exciting about the process was the fact that the piece was constantly developing or adapting even during the technical rehearsals. This encouraged a real positive energy and vibrancy to the production – it was always challenging and new.
It was a great privilege to see the piece come together for the previews and then see how the production changed once it got to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival which I made sure I attended. The piece had to adapt to the constraints of the Fringe and it did this very successfully.
“The work of The Wardrobe Ensemble opened my eyes to the power of making an audience laugh – which I will take forward and use in my work.”
What surprised you about this experience?
I was surprised at my adaptability and how quickly I bonded with the ensemble. They really respected my ideas and my direction. They listened and took on board any feedback that I had which I really appreciated as I had apprehension that my opinion would be seen as invalid.
In the past I had been a ‘one stop shop’ when it came to producing theatre shows, being present at production meetings showed how beneficial it is to have a great team around you and the reliability and trust you need to have in each other.
I wasn’t surprised how much I loved the process and being present in the rehearsal room, it affirmed to me that it was where I want to be.
What did you learn from the artists and audiences of this production?
I learnt that productions can change and develop at any point during the rehearsal process, all the way up to the piece going up. It is about being open to trying new ideas and sharing interpretations – there are no right or wrong ways in creating work. I also learnt not to become too precious over work. It may not be suitable for that specific moment but it can always be brought back into the mix at another time.
It also reaffirmed the camaraderie that theatre can create amongst cast and crew. You begin to live and breathe the production and really support each other.
How will your next projects be influenced by this bursary experience?
In my next project I will take exercises and ideas that were discussed during the process. I will try to re-create the same positive and dynamic energy that was created in the rehearsal room. It was a vibrant and inspiring place to be. I am inspired by the company and intend to follow any work that the company produce in the future.
The work of The Wardrobe Ensemble opened my eyes to the power of making an audience laugh – which I will take forward and use in my work.
I now know that I need to find a solid creative team to have around me and support my work moving forward that share my vision but also open to collaboration.
“[The JMK bursary] allows you to feel supported, a motivation that you are not the only out there struggling to break through.”
What would you most like to work on next?
I would most like to develop my own work and develop scripts and plays. I want to also focus on choreography and movement, supporting directors to add a flourish of my own style to existing companies.
What support would you now like to receive at this stage of your career?
I would love to be given the opportunity to apply for new work and be part of productions. I would like to be shown where these opportunities happen and how I can implant myself in new companies. I am hoping to work alongside the Royal and Derngate to be involved in new productions there, supporting the creative team. I aim to strengthen my CV and demonstrate my abilities in a variety of different styles and pieces.
Why is it important for local theatre-directors and makers to be supported through the JMK bursaries and National Programme?
I believe it is important to be given the opportunity to be introduced to professional companies. Without this, it is very hard to be given the chance and make that step up into professional theatre. It allows you to feel supported, a motivation that you are not the only out there struggling to break through. It is nice to have a network of other young directors and the workshops that are provided by JMK act as great networking and skill swapping opportunity.