So what does an Assistant Director actually do? Andy Bewley, our AD for Blue Heart, spills the beans and tells us what makes this production so special…
I don’t think there are any rules to what an Assistant Director is and does. An AD’s role is entirely defined and dependent upon the personality and working style of the director they’re assisting.
My first job on Blue Heart was to get a gauge of how our director David worked and what he was like as a person. What I’ve discovered is that David is about as friendly, welcoming, honest and ego-less as a director can be. His openness and simplicity in the rehearsal room has quickly made the actors feel comfortable in a production that could so easily be intimidating. His working style is collaborative but firm, discussion-based but pacey and completely to the point. Undoubtedly, the most important thing I’ve learnt from him is brevity; it’s possible to say helpful, insightful direction in less than 20 words (my average has been about 256 previously).
Blue Heart is unique in that it is made up of two short plays; subsequently our rehearsal process has been split down the middle between Heart’s Desire in the morning and Blue Kettle in the afternoon.
Heart’s Desire is the more formally peculiar of the two. A crucial aspect of the process has therefore been readjusting our normal expectations and protocol for rehearsing a play to suit the needs of this wholly non-mainstream piece of work. We very quickly landed on the best way to go about rehearsals and since then my role in those rehearsals has centred on covering for actors not called, covering stage management and checking sight lines. An important aspect of our production is that it is being played in the round. I basically try and make sure that the actors have people all around the rehearsal room to play to so that they don’t get into the habit of playing to the front.
Blue Kettle offers a more traditional linear scene structure which means that I can get out of the rehearsal room and let David get on with it. I use this time to work on two other aspects of the production: line-learning and research. Line-learning is always an elephant in the room, but in Blue Heart the learning of lines is a stomping challenge. I can’t remember a piece of theatre I’ve watched where the sheer act of learning the thing is impressive in itself, but Blue Heart is worth a watch purely to see actors being tested to the limits of what theatre can do to them. Why’s it such a difficult thing to learn? You’ll just have to come and watch it to find out…
Research on this production has gravitated around the process – emotional and administrative – of adoption, con-artistry (particularly the case of Frederic Bourdin, made famous in the 2012 film The Imposter), lying (exploring the lives and cognitive make-up of compulsive liars) and memory (the self-manipulation and the fabrication of it).
To conclude, Blue Heart is a really, really cool play. Day-by-day it humbly proves to be one of the most ground-breaking pieces of work in British theatre history. It’s evidently inspired some of the most exciting writers of today (it’s difficult not to watch Ali McDowell’s Pomona and X and think that he has read Blue Heart, for instance) and it’s inspiring me every day. At a time when I personally have felt almost anaesthetised by the indulgence and staleness of theatre, the rehearsals for Blue Heart are bubbling with a precision and playfulness that marries the piece’s natural rebellious, maverick edge beautifully. Shockingly — almost unbelievably — it was written almost twenty years ago, yet it feels like we’re working on new, completely original, writing.
Being the AD is totally awesome, in short.
Blue Heart runs at Tobacco Factory Theatres from Thu 22 September – Sat 01 October. For more information and to book visit the main show page.
Check out the rest of our Blue Heart blog:
Posted on 16 September 2016