• Cyphers Theatre Company

Beauty and the Beast

Co-Artistic Director, Marcus Bazley, describes his time working as JMK Assistant Director on Beauty and the Beast at Wiltshire Creative…

So January is over and the gloomy bit of Winter seems to be very much upon us. A time that feels all the more grey after the last few months being dominated for me by so much glitter!

On Sunday 13 January the curtain closed on the final performance of Beauty and the Beast at Wiltshire Creative. A production which marked my first Assistant Director role on a main house regional theatre show. And what a show to start on! The scale of it was truly epic, as our wonderful DSM summarised at the end of the run with some statistics: over the course of 57 shows, 23,370 lighting cues were called, 889 cloths flown in and out, the downstage trap moved 1km, and there were 2,451 quick changes. So, yeah, it was a busy Christmas!

Being an Assistant Director is a slightly strange role and one that always seems to defy accurate description. Loosely speaking, I would say that an Assistant Director’s job is to fill whatever gap there is in the room at any particular time.

In the early stages of rehearsals, that’s often being a sounding board and keeping a record of the staging. Working closely with Stage Management to help pre-empt any tight costume changes or impossible set changes before we fix anything that comes back to haunt us in tech.

At the same time, you’re the route into the rehearsal room for the marketing team. So

writing rehearsal room blogs and taking the odd cheeky photo becomes part of the job.

Different actors also use you in different ways. Some actors use you as a route to the director – raising any issues or concerns they have with you first. Some actors run ideas by you first to see what you think before they show it to the director. Similarly, stage management might be running notes through you, to pass onto the director when the time seems right. So a lot of the job is being tactful, sensing when the moment is right to feed ideas on to the director.

With this production, we had understudies to rehearse too. So one of my main tasks was to create an understudy plot and rehearse the understudies so that they would be ready to go on if needed. The biggest challenges with this were the constantly changing script and the lack of time. All the understudies were on stage either as swings or in other roles so much that we only had a handful of short rehearsals to get them all ready. But we got there and when they were needed, watching them perform in their cover roles was one of the most nerve-wracking and rewarding experiences of my career so far!

So in many ways, I feel like your main task as Assistant Director is to be adaptable, open and communicative. The more you make it clear that you are there for people, the more people come to you with thoughts and then the more you can give to the room and the production.

The joy of assisting is that you get to learn from more established directors on the job, whilst also building relationships with buildings, actors and production team members. You pick up new ways of working or new approaches and it can also help clarify why you work in the way you do.

As such, I’m really looking forward to getting back into the Cyphers rehearsal room for another stint of development on Orlando next week. It’s a great opportunity to take what I’ve learnt over the past few months and put that into immediate practice. More than anything, it has given me a renewed confidence that I can work in bigger buildings and on larger scale productions. This coincides well with Cyphers making its first steps into these buildings with our week of R&D at Wiltshire Creative next week, followed by our work in progress performances at the Nuffield Southampton in March.

I had an absolute blast working on Beauty and the Beast, met and worked with some incredible people; sometimes it was incredibly stressful, but this was more than countered by the moments that were filled with laughter, joy and, of course, pink glitter!

Marcus Bazley

Marcus Bazley co-founded Cyphers in 2013 and has been co-Artistic Director since then. For Cyphers, he has directed Northanger AbbeyHenry V, adapted & directed Great Expectations and The Three Musketeers. Freelance directing credits include: Communicate; Knots; The Life and Crimes of Reverend RaccoonLost In Translation: A Bilingual JourneyCailleach OgLe Journal d’un Fou.