‘Theatre is the art of looking at ourselves.’ – Augusto Boal
Upon reading Dayshift by Darren Donohue, I knew that I wanted to do something different. It’s a script unlike anything I have encountered during my years in the theatre, a play that both excited and frightened me as it meant I had to abandon my beliefs on directing and acting style for the most part.
The early process though involved staying close to my practices of Stanislavski and Stella Adler for characterisation work. After reading sections of the script with the cast I had the actors on their feet, embodying the characters encountered in said reading and imagining themselves as the characters in different situations. For example, during a date, on holidays, being made redundant, in an accident.
This was to give the actors solid foundations for characterisation and material to reference during the blocking process. It was interesting to see the discoveries that the actors made about their characters. For example, one actor said they felt during a scenario of running out of a burning building that he found himself trying to use a fire extinguisher although the character didn’t know how to use one which suggested that the said character had good intentions but not necessarily the right ones.
The directing style used amplified the apparent madness and absurdity of the script by highlighting the exaggeration and satire. Taking inspiration from fast paced comedies such as Fawlty Towers, the direction style used was also heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s stage adaption of The 39 Steps. I encouraged a fast delivery of lines, exaggerated facial expressions and expressive reactions. Other elements explored in the rehearsal room included the use of puppetry and mime, inspired among other additions to the world by Sabrina Kelleher’s design. For example, two poles had multiple uses including a door, bus handrails and a window all of which added to the absurd world of the play.
Another thing I wanted to emphasise was Day losing himself as a person and conforming into this ‘system’ of nine to five. He appears to be a happy well rounded individual who by the end is revealed to be trying to appear that way, trying to find himself in the world and make a difference only to be oppressed by the said ‘system’. This was achieved through the actor’s unsettled and shaken portrayal of Day which contrasted with his performance at the beginning of the play.
If there was a particular tone or speed required for a scene, I would challenge the actors to add different movements while saying the lines to enable them to build muscle and sense memory. For example, if lines needed to be delivered with a fast pace and urgency or panic I instructed the actors or actor to jog on their feet while saying the lines and asked them to do the scene again using that new delivery.
One thing which I knew I wanted to achieve during the process was to make the rehearsal room a calm working environment, this was achieved by encouraging mindfulness and meditation. I had the actors find a spot in the room to sit or lie still for five minutes before and after the rehearsal session. The first was to enable them to leave the outside world behind while transitioning into the space while the later was to transition out of the space and be ready to return to the outer environment.. This practice also enabled them to let go of that said rehearsal and to be ready for the next one.
The directing process itself was one of challenging problem solving, seeing the
actors evolve as characters and actors, and discovering a new form of directing and
gaining an appreciation for a wonderful script.
Behind the scenes at the Town Hall Theatre