Directing, purple rabbit and baby-friendly theatre

guest blog post by Oliver O’Shea, theatre director

We are sat at a table, reading a new section of the script. Written in the very early hours of the morning, this text is based on the previous day’s work, in which we were devising a new scene for the updated version of Wonderwoman. We are trying to concentrate, and both Kristina and Tina are closely considering the words as they read their parts aloud.

Today, we are not in a windowless basement, but instead in a rather spacious room which overlooks a calm lake of Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham. In fact, it is sunny today and the light pouring in through the windows is bright and pleasant. But we are squinting at the papers and tablet screens in front of us. Not gazing out of the window.

And yet…out of the corner of my eye, I spot something concerning which is happening in the corner of the room: one of the aforementioned large windows is slightly ajar, and poised between the frame and the ledge is one of our props. Not just any prop, but a purple toy rabbit, which we have recently decided will now play a rather prominent role in the performance. Gripping the leg of the rabbit, and determining its fate is a grinning two-year-old; Kristina’s son to be precise.

I hasten to reassure you that we had already established at the start of the day that the windows of this first storey room were (as expected) childproof, and could only be opened about an inch or so. The only danger was to the rabbit. And perhaps any unlucky jogger or pram-pusher who might be strolling below…

Before it could be dropped to its demise, the rabbit was reclaimed from his grip, and our renegade Assistant Director set new ‘tasks’ with other toys instead. Perhaps we should have foreseen that using children’s toys within our performance about motherhood would only make rehearsing with young children in the same room more challenging. But then again, we probably would not have decided to use these toys in performance, if we had not been inspired by their presence in the rehearsal room in the first place.





Kristina, Tom (stage manager), Oliver (director) and Tina

As a young, single, male theatre director without any caring responsibilities, joining the Notnow Collective for this project was a revelatory, inspiring, at times challenging – and, yes, occasionally frustrating – experience. Typically when early-career directors receive training, a more experienced director passes on their ‘process’ and ‘practice’ from a predominantly aesthetic perspective. Now, having had time to reflect on my two weeks with Notnow Collective as their rehearsal director and dramaturg, I wanted to consider in what ways the conditions in which they find themselves working, are influencing their artistic practice. And more broadly, whether we should be as bold and imaginative in our working practices, as we attempt to be in our productions.

Even in the most formal and conservative of rehearsal processes, invisible and unspoken influences affect the atmosphere, and thus shape the work which is being created in ineffable ways. Working with a toddler in the rehearsal room, changes the rhythm and the manner in which a scene is rehearsed, for instance; it changes how we approach the scene and shifts the priorities of attention. So, the performance itself diverges from its existing form – when working in a rehearsal room, everyone in the room contributes indirectly to what is created, whether actively or not.

In addition to evening performances, Wonderwoman will be presented with baby-friendly matinees on-tour. I was delighted and enthralled watching the first performance of Wonderwoman at mac, Birmingham, observing how the dynamics of the performance are transformed by having over twenty babies and infants in the auditorium. And on reflection, I wonder whether would Kristina and Tina be so resolutely focused and unflappable during these performances, had they not rehearsed with distractions and interruptions from their own children?

And as for my own work as a freelance director, I contemplate how my own rehearsal style might shift and adapt as I work on other upcoming projects. Perhaps I will welcome the interruption, the disruption, the tangent more readily than before; and perhaps the greatest discovery is that the real moment of drama is to be found in the dangling of a prop from a window on a sunny day, rather than from the words on a page.

If you want to know more about Oliver’s work check his website