A Different View – The Director

In the second of our blog series “A Different View” Neil Sheppeck tells his tale of being a director in the Significant Other Festival.  

Limitations can give birth to some very fruitful results, and boy did we have limitations! Seven days for Polly to write a seven minute play, and seven days for me to direct Matt and Dani. Then twenty minutes to tech the play before performing to a sell-out audience!

None of us knew each other so the afternoon we had to get to know each other on day 1 of the writing process was vital. We spoke a lot about what inspires us – playwrights, actors, characters etc. Then Polly had six more days to write a play for Dani and Matt to perform.

I really enjoyed working with Polly. She came up with the idea of two comics and the implications their ambitions had on their relationship within the first 24hrs. She would then send me copies of the script and I would give her feedback. Some writers prefer to work in isolation, but communicating during the writing process was both fun and productive. With only 7 days to rehearse (only 3 really, due to our personal commitments), it was vital for me to have a thorough understanding of what Polly had written before rehearsals started.

In the same way that I was an ‘observer’ to Polly’s writing process, she was then an ‘observer’ to my directing process. Matt and Dani had a couple of days to look over the script before our first meet-up as I was out of London. Both really liked the play and their character. I drilled them really hard on learning lines, as I believe any percentage of the brain unsure of the lines isn’t in the moment on stage.

Our second rehearsal was memorable as we sneaked into a room at the Royal Festival Hall that wasn’t being used. We managed 90mins before we were asked to leave. We moved on to a quiet corner at the National Theatre to do more text/lines work. Projects like this are rarely funded and so guerilla tactics are essential.

We only had 20mins on the Saturday morning to rehearse all the technical aspects before the first performance. We had managed to wrangle a spotlight for the beginning and ending of the play when the characters are ‘onstage’ performing comedy. Fortunately everyone was very focused so we only overran by a few minutes.

The first performance went very well. Matt and Dani were fantastic, and Polly and I were very proud of what the audience saw.

The whole project was very enjoyable and rewarding.

Neil Sheppeck

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