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Behind-the-Scenes : R&D

When I was first starting out as a theatre director I kept hearing this phrase 'R&D' being bandied about and had NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANT, especially in a theatre context.

It felt like this mystical thing that Proper Theatre People did and that I wouldn't be a Proper Theatre Person (PTP) until I knew and understood what it was. Until it was a tool in my kit. A weapon I could wield. A dragon I could ride and use to smite my enemies!!!

View from the caves 2016

Ahem. Sorry. I may have been watching too much Game of Thrones lately.

"R&D" was enticing, though. A handy acronym wielded by the cool and popular theatre kids, who clearly knew exactly what they were doing. But whenever I asked anyone what it meant, or how to do it, their answer was terribly vague: 'we're doing some R&D in a Devon barn this summer', 'we're R&D-ing the play', 'there's this R&D I'm going to watch, wanna come?' It felt incredibly formal, used (and done) by a select few.

I quickly learned that 'R&D' meant 'Research & Development' and was a coverall for saying: 'we're doing some work on a theatre production but it won't have a public performance', except it might under the certain circumstances. And producers might watch it. Or publicists. Or it might be filmed. It might be 1 day or 1 month. Or even a series of weeks taking place over two years.

Yeah. I was confused too.

Basically, R&D's are rehearsals for potential theatre productions, but in themselves don't specifically generate income and so are difficult to pull off if you want to pay everyone. But they are, nonetheless, invaluable.

So, this week Insane Root went into R&D mode in a big way: we have spent five days researching and developing THREE upcoming productions: questioning texts, testing sound and music, exploring staging ideas, debating the merits of keeping or cutting characters and being able to play in hidden corners of Bristol.

Trying out a song on the steps

A successful R&D week is as much about working out what doesn't work as what does. Next year we will be going Open Air for the first time, so there were many lessons to learn and lots of experiments to try. It is fairly easy to create atmosphere when you are able to plunge the audience into darkness and play on their senses (as we did in the Redcliffe Caves and Suspension Bridge Vaults respectively), but it is a different challenge entirely to create intimacy and tragedy when there are planes flying overhead and children playing loudly nearby. The discoveries we've made this week will not only inform the performance style but even the script edit, and help make the shows bigger, better and more exciting.

Martha trying out a soliloquy

We have been fortunate to have a group of imaginative and enthusiastic local actors in our team including Insane Root stalwarts BEN CRISPIN (Macbeth, IR @ the Underglobe) and KATY SOBEY (Orpheus & Eurydice), and were delighted to welcome CHRIS YAPP, MARTHA SEIGNIOR and recent BOVTS graduate EUAN CAMPBELL to the fold. Huge thanks to them all for their open minds and bright ideas.

After months away doing our own separate projects, it was a joy to be back in an Insane Root rehearsal room, and we leave this week with our brains and hearts full, excited to take more steps to bring these exciting productions to life. Look out for our next production announcement in mid September!

All-important vocal warm-ups

Hannah Drake - 2017

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