MGCfutures recipient Franny Anne Rafferty writes about her experience as Assistant Director at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
It had been a few days since my interview with Daniel Buckroyd (Artistic Director, Mercury Theatre) and Tracey Childs (Producer, Mercury Theatre), and I’d convinced myself it was going to be a ‘no’. I had arrived especially (and stupidly) early for my interview and seen the other two candidates. Now, no one should ever judge a book by its cover but they both looked like perfect choices in comparison to me.
Anyway, it had been a few days and I was in rehearsal with The Fun Club. On our tea break I checked my phone… MISSED CALL from DANIEL BUCKROYD lit up across the screen. “Oh, here comes the rejection” I think as I quietly back into the corner of the rehearsal room to listen to the voicemail message. “Hello, it’s Daniel…” the message begins. I prepare myself… “we would love you to come and work with us.” My eyes spontaneously start leaking, I explode with happiness, and my fellow Fun Clubbers give me the best celebratory hug; they know what this opportunity means to me!
I am the 2017 MGCfutures Assistant Director bursary recipient at the Mercury Colchester. Whaaaaaaaaat?!
The MGCfutures bursary is an amazing program that helps and supports people from all areas of the industry develop their careers and work. My particular bursary has enabled me training to be placed with an experienced director, and for me to receive funding through the placement. Without that funding I would not have been able to undertake this training. It is thanks to MGCfutures and the Mercury Colchester that I will have my first professional credits.
The Mercury has a busy producing arm called Made in Colchester and the two productions I’m set to work on are Spamalot (UK Tour) and Turn Of The Screw (Mercury Theatre and UK Tour). A perfect contrast of medieval musical silliness with Monty Python’s Spamalot and a chilling adaptation of a classic ghost story – both right up my street!
Skip a couple of months to my first day in the rehearsal room with Spamalot and I have to pinch myself several times. I’m in a professional rehearsal room, with professional actors, and I’m assisting the director.
Once I’ve peeled my face off the wall following an epic sing through (the cast pack one heck of a vocal punch!) we get down to work. Spamalot is back in rehearsals following a run at the Mercury Colchester earlier in the year and a trip to South Korea, with a few new cast members and two new swings (‘swings’ are actors who understudy several roles. These company members tend to be cast when productions transfer for longer runs or tours).
Daniel tasked me with rehearsing the swings into the show, and gave me a couple of conundrums to offer solutions to when it came to cover tracks (‘tracks’ are the physical journeys each actor has through a show. Cover tracks are plans for when an actor is not able to perform for any reason). This meant I needed to get to know the show inside out, and quickly!
Before rehearsals began I had made as many notes as possible from the archive recording.
Daniel is a very musical director, not just in terms of Spamalot being a musical but also in the rhythm of his direction - there is a 1-2-3 punch to many of lines and comedy. My job as an Assistant Director is to understand the mechanics of a directing style, and find the best way of communicating it by-proxy.
I love the challenge involved in best understanding a director’s technique, and there is nothing more inspiring than when you can see the understanding in practice - like our first rehearsal with the swings. Jigsaw pieces fall into place, detailed notes pay off, and you see characters grow before your eyes.
The entire company were incredibly good-natured and hugely welcoming. I’ve heard some horror stories, but there are no signs of any Stephen King worthy behaviour from the #SpamFam (yes, I went there with a hashtag). There was a tremendous amount of laughter and some spectacularly wry ad-libs. Some of which would never travel further than the rehearsal room but kept the mood brilliantly buoyant. One of my favourites was when a sublimely deadpan King Arthur would call Patsy ‘Propsy’ while handing him his sword. A joke that emerged during rehearsals because of the number of props that Patsy juggles throughout the show, and one that never failed to make me cackle.
We had two weeks in the rehearsal room before boarding various trains for the longish journey up to Blackpool. I do love to be beside the seaside!
The first stop on the Spamalot tour is the Winter Gardens Opera House, and what a venue it is! Standing on the stage for the first time with the company was an incredible moment as we all looked out into the cavernous auditorium. It’s the sort you view you see in films when a character needs a visual metaphor for their first understanding of the magnitude and magnificence of theatre.
Technical rehearsals began, and due to the size of the venue Daniel and our Company Manager had to coordinate a tight line of communication between the stage management team in the wings, the cast onstage, the Musical Director in the pit, and the team in auditorium. I was stationed with the sound team where my meticulous script notes start to pay off for a second time. I also took great pride in holding one of the two Holy Grails aloft in the auditorium for the knights to clamber towards during rehearsals. The latter proved supremely helpful when then briefing the ushers on their Holy Grail moment!
A few days later it was time to welcome the tour’s first audience: there is no feeling quite like the moment when you get to sit alongside an audience who lap up every laugh, revel in every song, and take to their feet at the end of the show to celebrate the performances and applaud the obvious amount of hard work put in by the entire team… something I will never tire of experiencing either first or second hand.
As the #SpamFam continue to perform around the UK it is time for me to start thinking about bone chilling ghost stories!