Vital Assistance

With The House Of Bernarda Alba, Marcia Vanderstraaten had the opportunity to work closely with director Glen Goei to learn more about the art, craft and sheer hard work of making theatre. She talks about her role as the show’s assistant director, and muses about what she’s learnt in working with the 26 women who made up the production’s chorus.
Marcia (holding bouquet) and Ivan with the chorus

Tell us about your experience as assistant director (AD) on the show.

My job as AD was to look after the chorus in terms of the dramatic aspect of their roles. I worked with our choreographers, Ix and Hock, to help the chorus members get a better sense of the play and their role in it, and also help them inform their movements and words onstage. It was necessary because, with such a big cast, Glen’s focus was going to be on the main actors. So I was there to ensure that the chorus members knew and delivered what was expected of them.

Hock and Ix were in charge of teaching them movements, like the walking-in and the fanning, and that was a challenge because not everyone had a strong sense of rhythm. But we managed to work it out in the end. I went through the script with the chorus and talked about their motivations and what they could do to amplify or complement whatever was happening on stage.

That must have been both fun and challenging! Was this the first time you’d done directing work on this scale?

Yes, it was both fun and challenging! It was the first time I have done such work on this scale but I didn’t think about that really. I just thought about the play and, keeping in mind what I understood of Glen’s vision, I tried my best to follow that vision with the actors entrusted to me.

What was it like for you to work with Glen and the rest of the cast?

I didn’t see the main cast much, as Glen worked separately with them and usually while I was with the chorus. I managed to sit in for several of the mid-week rehearsals and that was interesting for me, because I got to see Glen’s process and how each of the actors took notes and gave notes of their own. I learnt a lot from just watching them at their craft, and I think that taught me a great deal too about what the actors contribute to the piece in the rehearsal room.

Working with Glen is great. He has all these ideas and he often will try things different ways just to see what works better – there were things changing every day of the show, and I think it made the process a more exploratory one. I think, by watching Glen at work, I have also unconsciously understood more about what I want to do as a director when I have the chance to helm a work on my own.

You’re also a playwright. Was it interesting for you to experience the entire theatre-making process in this way?

I think it was interesting in a different way. I’ve been in productions where the playwright is around to supervise any edits to the script that the director might want to make, but in this case, Glen chose to make only slight changes. The bulk of his workshopping was with the actors and their movements and motivations. I guess it’s probably because Glen’s an actor and that’s his natural inclination. I have to admit that I was not used to the everyday changes, but as Ivan pointed out to me and the chorus, theatre is like that; it’s not static, it’s fluid and dynamic.

The text was also something good for me to look at because I’m interested in adaptation, and trying to understand Chay Yew’s intentions was an exercise for me as a playwright.

What did you take away from the whole experience?

I think my biggest takeaway from this is just the simple fact that when everyone works together, everything will fall into place. The chorus members were great in that they were all focused on the same goal and they were a great bunch to work with. I appreciate that they respected one another and gave one another support – once they had ownership of the process, it all went smoothly.

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