A Seventh Man: Notes on Dramaturgy

Guest blog by one of our dramaturgs, Emily Cook, MA Theatre student at University of Lincoln, on working on A Seventh Man at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre and Primary (Nottingham).

Tuesday 14th January
LPAC

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Myself and Natalia have arrived for our first day acting as dramaturgs on Pinchbeck and Smith’s A Seventh Man. This is part of our MA Theatre placement, but also an invaluable professional experience. We are nervous and excited, and grateful for a relaxed chat as everyone grabs coffees before the rehearsal starts. This is the first Research & Development week at LPAC. It’s our first day, the actors’ second day. The script has been performed a few weeks before by Michael and Ollie, and today is the first full reading with the female actors. Gabby, Emily and Olwen take their scripts and a pen in hand, and as they read, they edit. As a script writer and director myself, watching as the group ripped the script apart, changing lines, cutting sections and rearranging, I realised I was not in Kansas anymore! I’m used to the script being sacrament, so this is a great moment for me to see how the devising process can work.

Managing to honour the original text and Berger’s world while also not being precious about the script felt a fine line to toe, and yet the changes made the text feel more current as well as comprehensible to an audience who would be listening not reading. Natalia and I spent some of this day listening to audio, working out what could be useful and what was less so, whilst the actors played with scenes in a tape skeleton of the Shed. We were invited into the Shed to watch scenes, and feedback on the linearity. It was interesting watching the scenes being created out of order and wondering how they might fit together, and how the various pieces of research would fit in. But for now, we left them to their work for a week.

Tuesday 21st January
LPAC

A week later I returned, to find the dissociated scenes were now a performance piece! The room was littered with suitcases, printed pictures and toy cars. I sat in the Shed (taped on the floor), immersed in the performance, taking notes on things that didn’t work to an audience, suddenly feeling the benefit of missing a week, and ever amazed by how quickly a show can come together.

The rehearsal felt relaxed, with in depth discussions on the meaning behind certain movements interspersed with practical issues and jokes. Michael would like to make it clear he is not against pockets (regarding an ongoing costume debate about boiler suits and utility belts – MP).  With only three days until the work in progress performance, today was about ironing out smaller issues, creating fluid movements between scenes and allowing the actors to get in sync with each other.

Friday 24th January
LPAC Work in Progress

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I supervised the rehearsal in a corner of the stage at the LPAC, whilst a Shed was built behind us. The hypothetical space we had all been waiting for was suddenly very real. Three shows in three hours, including audience feedback. It was an intense afternoon, and admiration for Gabrielle Benna, Emily Bickerdike and Olwen Davies grew as they performed in a still-changing performance. After the first run at 2pm, a quick discussion between Michael and Ollie meant the 3pm showing got live sound effects as they banged on the Shed from the outside and shouted.

I was able to be a part of the 3pm showing, and mentioned a moment where the silence felt too short. The 4pm showing had longer silences, slicker movements, and even more live sound effects. The movements of the actors changed as they worked out the easiest and most effective ways of including and avoiding the audience, the best way to give them bread, or advice. A truly ever-changing project. Audience feedback was generally very positive. Notes were collected together, and I really enjoyed hearing an audience experience and seeing where it echoed and differed from my sentiments.

Wednesday 12th February
Primary, Nottingham

From the work in progress I last saw today, the cutting has continued. The rehearsal this morning is just myself and the actors, and we manage two runs. The first is purposefully relaxed, allowing the actors a chance to make mistakes off book, ask questions, remember the changes made the day before. The second run is incredible. Movement is focused, we workshop some minor practical issues around wearing high-vis jackets and make a decision around teaspoons. It feels organised, linear, engaging. Alive.

When Ollie joins us after lunch, he has further positive feedback. We workshop more suitcase movement, poor Olwen is bashed with suitcases some more. The piece feels stronger, and cleaner from its edits, the performers are more confident, ready for their second work in progress.

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Images: Emily Cook